This is one of those eternal debates: Do guns belong in a fantasy setting?
Of course, seeing as it is fantasy, and you have things like fireballs and plane-shifting monsters, that discussion might be a bit moot, but some people believe that it impacts their sense of immersion. So I figured this was a debate worth taking up, especially as I did some fairly extensive research on the subject when I was writing the Black Powder Rebellion book.
So, lets loot at it in a historical perspective, and see if we can apply this to our campaigns.
I think it's fair to say that most of us probably play in some sort of European Medieval style setting as opposed to one based on cultures found elsewhere in the world (though I will admit that I have been sorely tempted on multiple occasions to try this out - but as I know less about these cultures and their history than I'd like, I don't necessarily feel that I can treat the subject with the respect it deserved), so looking at that, we will have a peek into what happened there.
When did guns or firearms first appear in the world, and what were they? Well, the first generally considered firearm was the fire lance, which was created somewhere in the mid-1000s, though it was certainly in use by the siege of De'an according to historical records. To call it a firearm is a bit of a misnomer, as it was really more of a rocket mounted stick (you've probably seen it in Mulan in fact), but an actual cannon (calling it a gun is a bit much) wasn't far behind with the hand cannon that appears somewhere in the 1200s. But the first gun to really be shown in D&D (in AD&D in fact) is the arquebus, so that is what we'll establish as our baseline for a gun/firearm for these purposes. And that was created somewhere around the late 1300s, with references to them being used by the Ottoman Janissaries during the 1390-1460 period.
So now we have our gun.
When did guns appear in Europe? Well, that seems to happen somewhere around the mid 1300s, at least when it comes to cannons and hand-cannons. But by the early 1400s the arquebus and the matchlock versions of the arquebus start to appear. Ironically the Europeans seem to develop this before the Ottomans even though they had arquebuses for longer, but since this is our first considered "gun", we'll assume that somewhere in the early-to-mid 1400s is where the first guns are available.
"But I play in the Middle Ages version of Europe".
Well, WHICH Middle Age? Because there are generally considered to be three: early, high, and late. Because the middle ages span nearly 1000 years - and some pretty drastic things happen in that time.
Early: late 500 to early 600 C.E./A.D., lasting until 1000 C.E./A.D.
High: 1000 C.E./A.D. to approximately 1300 C.E./A.D.
Late: 1300 C.E./A.D. to 1500 C.E./A.D.
In that time we go from using iron weapons to steel, gunpowder is invented, the printing press comes about, even something as simple as stirrups that allow for more effective mounted soldiers. GLASSES become a thing, allowing so many of us today to read. ;-)
It's a pretty significant time, but for this, it's pretty clear to see that firearms certainly could be a part of fantasy campaign. Certainly, many of us allow our NPCs to carry glasses, which were invented around 1300 (though the idea might be centuries older than that) - so why glasses and not guns?
The counterargument here of course is magic. Why have guns when you can have fireball? But I say that's more of a reason to keep it in the game. Simply put, no one is very willing (even in our day and age) to put their most powerful weapons into the hands of a few (uncontrollable) individuals. So you want something that'll allow you to fight back, if these individuals ever go out of control. While guns might not be as powerful, they are certainly an equalizer on the battlefield, giving range, accuracy and power to a common soldier, with little in the way of training.
So yeah: Keep guns in your game. :) Or don't, but if you don't, at least give some thought to what else you might want to remove for verisimilitude.
In any case, see you back next week. :)
(And before anyone comments, yes, some of this is Wikipedia - it is by far the most easily accessed database of knowledge. And despite what many might say, it is pretty accurate.)