What is the 21 Gun Salute Meaning?

Throughout history, war has been waged between nations and within them. Often, conflicts arise out of the inability to communicate, and peace must be demonstrated in ways other than language. The demonstration of military weapons in a non-threatening position has become an international symbol of peace.

Today, this message of peace has become almost universally recognized by the shooting of 21 guns. But where does this tradition come from? What is the significance of the number 21? And does the 21 gun salute only signify peace at wartime?

In answering these questions, we find out about a symbol that unifies people and nations from around the world.

What is the 21 Gun Salute Meaning?

 Let’s review the origins of the tradition, the meaning of the 21 gun salute historically and its significance today.

The Origins of the Tradition: 7 Cannon Shots

The shooting weapons in a non-threatening way seem to have started in the 14th century when artillery first came into use. Originally, warships would fire their cannons into the water as they approached a foreign port. Because discharging these early cannons one time made them ineffective, this act showed the foreign nation that they meant no harm.

The significance of seven cannon shots has been said to be due to the symbolism of the number seven, which has biblical importance amongst other things. The Bible states that God created the world in seven days. But this reason behind the number of cannon shots has been disputed.

The 21 Gun Salute Meaning

Artillery on land had a greater supply of gunpowder, and would respond to each cannon shot with 3 gun shots. It has been argued that the number 21 was chosen because it is three times the original seven gun shots, and the number three had significance in many ancient civilizations.

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When methods of preserving gun powder were further developed, warships also began to use the 21 gun salute. An odd number was also chosen because an even number of gun salutes signified death for many cultures.

Because there was still confusion about the number of gun shots to be fired during peacetime, in 1875, the British Navy proposed a regulation to the United States where the international salute would be 21 gun shots.

Significance today

Although the 21-gun salute originated as a symbol for peaceful intentions between nations, it is now used as the highest sign of respect for government officials. Around the world, gun salutes vary based on the occasion, place and time.

The 21 gun salute is still recognized internationally due to its long-standing tradition, but is now used to mark important events for military, government and royal figures, such as inaugurations and deaths, and other memorial services and holidays.

In many countries, including Canada and India, the number of gun salutes is connected to the rank of the state official who is being celebrated.

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President George H.W. Bush funeral 21 gun salute

Here is a recent 21 gun salute so you can see it in action. This was in tribute for former US President George H.W. Bush.

Summary of the 21 Gun Salute

Although there exists much variation in the traditions around the firing of military artillery, there is at least one international consensus: the firing of gun shots is a deep mark of respect for the person, event or nation it is dedicated to.

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If ever guns are fired in your honour, it would be a sign of deep and important recognition.

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