Question: Why are there twenty-one guns in a salute for an arriving president?
Answer: The tradition has its roots in ancient history and, in our modern United States, it is now a matter of official protocol. A 21-gun salute is issued not just when a president arrives, but it is also done to honor a national flag, the sovereign or chief of state of a foreign nation, a member of a reigning royal family, the ex-president, and the president-elect of the United States. It is also fired at noon of the day of the funeral of a president, ex-president, or president-elect. The origin of salutes with weapons is as old as war. Early warriors demonstrated that their intentions were peaceful by placing their weapons in positions that rendered them harmless. While the weapons have changed over the centuries, the idea is the same. One can’t very well shoot someone with guns pointing in the air. As for the number of shots and guns, that’s had its own evolution. Once a salute consisted only of one cannon shot. When firearms and the availability of gunpowder improved, the custom became to use three shots, and eventually, seven guns. It is believed that the number three was significant in some ancient cultures, and the number 7 had importance in the Bible (it is the number of completion) and astrology. In 1842, the Presidential salute was formally established at 21 guns, while prior to that it had been equal to the number of states. We retain the salute by number of states on Independence Day, when 50 guns are fired in ceremonies at U.S. military installations. This state salute is also used at the close of the day of the funeral of a president, ex-president, or president-elect.