Famous Assassination Weapons From History

Famous weapons used in assassinations and attempted assassinations often become lodged in pop culture lore. Firearms like the Carcano rifle used to kill John F. Kennedy or the pocket Derringer that shot and killed Abraham Lincoln are well-known, infamous, and can be identified by almost anyone.

But many other assassination weapons aren't especially familiar. For example, the pistol that started World War I might be the most famous individual firearm in history, yet almost nobody knows what it is. Likewise, the rifle that felled Martin Luther King Jr. is a common hunting rifle with millions of copies made - but do you know what it actually is? What about the guns that have killed other presidents, prime ministers, and historical figures?

Here are some of the most famous weapons used in assassinations and attempted killings in the past 100+ years. Before that, assassins mostly made due with knives, swords, and poison. The invention of small handguns changed the world and created the most common means of assassination.

  • Single-Shot .44 Caliber Philadelphia Derringer

    Single-Shot .44 Caliber Philadelphia Derringer
    Photo: Carol M. Highsmith / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Despite being less than six inches long, the Derringer used by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Abraham Lincoln was a hugely powerful weapon, known as a "pocket cannon." Booth was able to hide it in his pocket until the fateful moment where he shot Lincoln in the head.

    It's currently on display in the basement of Ford's Theater in Washington, DC.

  • Webley British Bulldog .442 Revolver

    Webley British Bulldog .442 Revolver
    Photo: Smithsonian photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Deranged lawyer and office-seeker Charles Guiteau shot and killed President James Garfield on July 2, 1881 with a Webley British Bulldog .442 revolver. Guiteau spent $10 on the pistol and bullets, and originally wanted a Webley with ivory grips, as he felt it would be more attractive in a museum.

    Following Guiteau's trial, the Webley was placed in the Smithsonian, but disappeared soon after.

  • FN Model 1910

    FN Model 1910
    Photo: Judson Guns / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0

    Designed by John Browning and made in Belgium, the 9 millimeter FN Model 1910 was the pistol used by Serbian national Gavrilo Princip to shoot and kill Archduke Franz Ferdinand, kicking off the complex chain of events that lead to World War I. After the shooting, the pistol found its way to a Jesuit priest and is now in the Vienna Museum of Military History.

    An FN Model 1910 was also used to assassinate Louisana governor Huey Long in 1935.

  • 6.5 mm Carcano Model 91/38 Carbine

    6.5 mm Carcano Model 91/38 Carbine
    Photo: Unknown/National Archives and Records Administration / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Likely history's most famous individual weapon, the Carcano rifle used by Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate President John F. Kennedy was made in Italy in 1940. Oswald ordered it from a catalog on March 12, 1963, and paid extra to have it fitted with a Japanese scope. It was found on the floor of the Texas Book Depository in the aftermath of the JFK assassination, and despite a Denver oilman's attempt to buy it, the gun is currently stashed in the National Archives. 

    The rifle is often improperly referred to as a Mannlicher-Carcano, after the manufacturer of the bullets used to kill Kennedy.