I DIDN’T KNOW THE GUN WAS LOADED…
When I was a young lad in the 1950s, whenever we picked the old Mossberg 146B that he had bought for my brother at Billy Belgrade’s pawnshop, The Old Man ingrained the habit of firearms safety by singing the verse of a popular song of the time, written by Hank Fort and Herb Leighton,
I didn’t know the gun was loaded
And I’m so sorry my friend
I didn’t know the gun was loaded
And I’ll never, never do it again.
The song popped into my mind a few years later in high school when I was sitting in Miss Sullivan’s Modern European History class. She was discussing a celebrated incident during the latter day of France’sBelle Époquethatcaused an unsettling weakening of France’s body politic during the critical time with Europe on the verge of war.
Henriette Caillaux, wife of the head of the left-leaning Radical Party, called upon Gaston Calmette, whose influential newspaper theLe Figarowas engaged in a campaign of vilification against Mme. Caillaux’s husband, Joseph, the Minister of Finance. It seems that Henriette and Joseph had been engaged in an extramarital affair while he was still married to his first wife. Fearing that Calmette might publish some private letters which had come into his possession to discredit her husband she visited his office on March 16, 1914.
Mme. Caillaux inquired, “You know why I have come?”
“Not at all, Madame,” Calmette replied.
Nonchalantly Mme. Caillaux drew aFabrique NationalModel 1910 pistol from the large fur muff she had used to protect her delicate hands from the harsh weather of a Parisian March. Before Calmette could react, she let loose six .380 Automatic Colt Pistol bullets. Four hit Calmette who would die a few hours later. When the police arrived Mme. Caillaux quietly surrendered but insisted she be driven to the local police station by her chauffer in her own car which was parked on the street below. In true gallant Gallic
fashion the gendarmes acceded to her wishes.
The sensational and salacious crime gripped the nation. Forests of trees and barrels of ink were sacrificed to report on Caillaux’s titillating case. At some point some wag opined that you can tell a lot about a woman by her hands. For example, if they are gripping a pistol she is probably slightly upset.
Mme. Caillaux’s legal team’s task was to convince the jury that hers was an uncontrollable crime of passion rather than a premeditated political act of murder. After a week-long trial they convinced the jury and Caillaux was acquitted on July 28, 1914.
By chance, on the same day the acquittal was announced, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his morganatic wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were on a diplomatic trip to Sarajevo, a hot bed of political unrest. Unknown to the authorities a small group ofYugoslav nationalists, called the Black Hand, planned to assassinate him during the visit.
The assassination conspiracy got off to a poor start when, a little after 10AM on the 28th, a bomb was thrown at the Archduke’s open auto. It missed its target and skidded under the following vehicle before exploding and injuring several people. The assassin swallowed a cyanide capsule and jumped into a nearby river to avoid capture and insure his death. The comedy of errors continued because the cyanide merely made him sick and the river was only inches deep. The police, understandably riled up, pulled him onto shore and beat him near to death.
The official party fled from the scene of the bombing, but the Archduke insisted he be taken to the local hospital to visit those wounded in the attack. On the way to the hospital they got lost. By chance the slowly moving procession passed by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand, who stepped up to the royal party’s car. Princip pulled out his Fabrique NationalModel 1910, serial number 19074, and emptied the six-shot magazine in the general direction of the royal couple. He was not as good a marksman as Mme. Caillaux as only two of his shots hit their mark,but his two bullets were just as fatal asMme. Caillaux’s four. The Archduke, struck in the neck, and Sophie, hit in the abdomen, were dead by 11 AM.
Within a month Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Interlocking treaties forced the Central Powers, Germany and Austria-Hungary and Serbia’s allies, France, and England, to declare war on each other, setting off World War I
Firearms genius Moses Browning designed the FN Model 1910. This blowback pistol used a novel operating spring which surrounded the barrel. Colt did not want to produce it so Browning patented it in Europe and had it manufactured by FN, then a partner of Colt. Noted firearms authority Massad Ayoob, noted that some experts will tell you that the .380 is barely adequate, and others will say it’s barely inadequate.”
The .380 is considered, by many, to be a puny and underpowered cartridge, an opinion probably not held by MonsieurCalmette, Archduke Franz, or Duchess Sophie.