Except for the weird use of the word "automatic" to describe civilian guns, (automatics are only used by the military and are not accessible to the general public, but the media keeps trying to convince the public that they are, that they were used in Aurora for instance), this article is pretty good.
From Slate, By Brian Palmer
Going Postal, Pre-Pistol
The shooting spree that killed 12 people in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater on Friday has sparked a public debate about the availability of automatic weapons. Gun control advocates argue that mass murder is exceedingly difficult without them. One source told the Washington Post, “It’s kind of hard to be a pseudo-commando with a musket in the 18th century.” How did people commit mass murder before the advent of automatic weapons?
Often with fire. Revolutionary War veteran Barnett Davenport is widely considered the first mass murderer in U.S. history. On the evening of Feb. 3, 1780, Davenport burst into the bedroom of his employer, Caleb Mallory, and began to bludgeon Mallory and his wife with a club. When the club broke in two, Davenport beat the couple to death with Mallory’s gun. If Davenport had stopped there, he would be remembered as just an ordinary killer; most criminologists define mass murder as the killing of at least three people in a single incident. After beating the Mallorys to death, however, Davenport burned the house down, killing their three grandchildren.
Hundreds of other mass murderers have perpetrated their crimes without automatic firearms. Frenchman Pierre Riviere killed his mother, sister, and brother with a bill hook in 1835. In 1932, Julian Marcelino, a Filipino immigrant of relatively small stature, managed to kill six and wound 15 on a Seattle street using only a pair of blades. In 1915, Monroe Phillips shot seven dead and wounded 32 with a shotgun in Georgia. continue here