National Firearms Museum

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Arriving in the D.C. area on a Sunday, a friend recommended a visit to the National Firearms Museum.  As it was 1) open on SundayIMG_4426 and 2) free, this seemed like a good opportunity to delay the hotel room blues. 

The museum principally features guns donated by the late Robert Petersen, who was said to have offered as many of his guns as desired on the sole condition that they be displayed.  There are 85 exhibits, featuring over 2,000 guns from Petersen and many other donors.

These include weapons from all eras, including a carbine that arrived in the U.S. on the Mayflower to weapons in use in the Gulf war.  Primarily, the featured guns are segregated by types (rifles, shotguns, pistols), by periods during which firearms innovation were frequent and fluid (wartime), or by manufacturers (Colt, Winchester, Berretta).


As suggested by the skeleton arrangement above, there is precious little information offered within most of the exhibits.  Instead, each item is labeled with a number which can be referenced on a nearby computer screen.  Whether on paper or inIMG_4399 the computer, most entries generally say little beyond class, order, family, genus and species.

For those with an appreciative eye, there is beauty in many of these weapons.  Aside from general lines, exotic woods and finishes, artistic embellishments are ample, including various inlays, metal treatments, silver or gold encrustations, etchings, etc.  Otherwise, one has to be “in the know” to fully appreciate the history, the uniqueness, or the particular triumphs of the majority of what is presented here.

As I am not “in the know,” I had hoped for more immediately obvious and descriptive aid regarding technical IMG_4402innovations or other features that should draw the observer’s interest.  Going to a view screen and searching by item # wasn’t satisfactory in this regard (there were 1-3 “featured” items in each exhibit with lengthier information).

Such information wasn’t completely lacking, though, as evidenced by an explanation of the development of munitions from separate materials (powder charge, priming charge, ball) to a single paper-wrapped charge that halved the speed for loading musket.

But, the good folks at the NRA seem to understand that commoners like me may chance upon their exhibits.  That’s why they make a specific display of “really cool stuff.”  For instance, a submachine gun… just like in the movies.












Sometimes, they’re sneaky.













That’s a bunch of guns.  But what’s that at the bottom IMG_4410center?  You betcha, a light sabre (Regrettably, it’s a movie prop and not an actual working model…).  But as Luke’s fathers weapon would indicate, it’s not the murders-du-jour on the evening news that captures the imagination of America’s gun lovers, it’s our entertainment media.

So, they’ve devoted an entire section to people who think guns are pleasantly muffled when fired and who imagine any firearm to strike its target, no matter how far, by a simple matter of point and shoot. 

I mean, what’s cooler than The Outlaw Josie Wales’ Colt Walker 1847s?












Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum S&W Model 29, perhaps?  Not a Clint fan?  Well, the Duke has his corner as well, but to my eye, the patch was iconic enough.







There’s even a transition from westerns to a Sci-fi western (the sidearm of Capt. Malcom Reynolds, Castle’s Nathan Fillion).













Like your Sci-fi without a bullet?  Well of course, that’s why there’s a blaster (One of only three observed to meet “point and shoot” requirements in the original Star Wars).


More weapons, more guns.  Tom Selleck… yeah.  Mel Gibson… yeah.  Bruce Willis… yeah. Andrew Dice Clay?  Really? Really


Other tidbits.  There were, at most, five other people touring the museum when I visited.  There was no welcoming host and no tour guide.  Pamphlets were available, though, and a security guard made his round after about 30 minutes in the displays, the first staffer observed.  I would surmise that a thief might hesitate before calling upon the NRA’s front door.

There is a gift shop at the end of the tour for all of one’s NRA gear, but I was surprised that, other than a sign at the exit, there was absolutely no active solicitation to join the NRA.  I took that to mean that they’re happy to display a wide array of firearms to anyone who has the interest, just because they take such pleasure in them.  Kinda cool.

In closing, here are a couple of other photographs that I couldn’t work into the narrative:


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