Since the beginning, we’ve made it our mission here at A1F Daily to not only bring you news and reviews of today’s guns, but to offer a look into the past. Our “Legends in Arms” series has told the stories of gilded firearms of extreme rarity and value, humble firearms made priceless by their provenance, guns serial numbered 1 million, and fascinating prototypes that never made it past pre-production.
But they all have one thing in common: No photograph can do them justice. To get the full NRA Museum Collection experience requires a trip to one of the three NRA Museums. With one on the East Coast, one in the heartland, and one deep in the southwest, there’s sure to be one not far from where you live.
The NRA National Firearms Museum
Originally founded in Washington, D.C., in 1935, the National Firearms Museum was moved to its current, larger location in May 1998. The 15,000-sq.-ft. facility hosts more than 3,000 of America’s most significant firearms covering more than 700 years of history. With an emphasis on firearms, freedom and the American experience, the 15 galleries follow a timeline of firearms usage and evolution. “Old Guns In A New World” is home to ornately decorated early arms, including a wheellock carbine that came to the shores of America on the Mayflower, as well as a hand cannon dating back to around 1350—the oldest gun on display in the United States. From there, the story of guns in America unfolds, culminating in “Firearms Traditions For Today,” which hosts modern Olympic rifles and the revolver of fallen hero and NYPD officer Walter Weaver, found in the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Within each gallery, life-sized dioramas depict exploration, manufacturing, competition, hunting and recreational shooting sports, and the myriad ways firearms have helped to secure our freedom and independence and preserve our liberties throughout our country’s history. Opened in 2010, the Petersen Gallery has been called the “finest single room of guns anywhere in the world.”
While the historical timeline comprises the majority of the museum, there are two other special galleries that can’t be missed: the Petersen Gallery and the William B. Ruger Gallery. Opened in 2010, the Petersen Gallery has been called the “finest single room of guns anywhere in the world.” This remarkable gallery features the nation’s largest display of Gatling guns; a stunning collection of high-end double barrel shotguns; firearms that once belonged to the likes of John F. Kennedy, Annie Oakley, and Hermann Goering; and a variety of curiosa and oddities that cannot be seen anywhere else.
The William B. Ruger Gallery is designed for hosting special exhibits in limited engagements. The gallery is currently host to “Hollywood Guns,” which consists of 120 actual guns used in movies and television over the past 80 years. These one-of-a-kind guns range from the first revolver John Wayne used on camera, through firearms from the sets of recent Academy Award winners such as the silenced shotgun from “No Country For Old Men” and the Barrett .50-cal. sniper rifle from “Hurt Locker.” Other perennial silver-screen favorites in the exhibit include the Beretta pistol used both by Mel Gibson in “Lethal Weapon” and by Bruce Willis in “Die Hard,” and the .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson carried by Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry.”
The self-guided museum, located at NRA Headquarters in Fairfax, Va., is open daily, and admission is free.
NRA National Sporting Arms Museum
After Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris made a trip to the NRA National Firearms Museum, he was impressed with the quality and depth of the collection. But he also acknowledged that, as the museum was a 16-hour drive away, many of the firearms enthusiasts he saw in his store might never have the opportunity to visit it.
Seeing a need for a similar museum in the heartland, Morris proposed opening a new location in the Bass Pro Shops Flagship Store in Springfield, Mo., with an emphasis on hunting, conservation and freedom.
The fruit of nearly a decade of work by NRA and Bass Pro, the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum opened on Aug. 2, 2013. The 7,500-sq.-ft. facility hosts nearly 1,000 sporting artifacts from the 1600s to modern day, including some of the finest and most historically significant firearms from the NRA Museum collection, tracing the development and evolution of hunting arms in America from pre-colonial times to the present. On the upper level, a Hollywood Guns companion display features firearms used in Western movies by the likes of Tom Selleck, John Wayne and past NRA President Charlton Heston.
“These guns came from the NRA collection built over 70 years, but a lot came from special collections that haven’t had a place for display,” NRA Museums Director Jim Supica said.
Some of the unique and fascinating collections loaned to NRA specifically for exhibition at this museum include the collection of the Amateur Trapshooting Association Trapshooting Hall of Fame, the Pachmayr Foundation collection of fine custom arms, a comprehensive collection of 120 U.S. military pistols from 1797 through 1900, and a multi-million-dollar collection of engraved Colt revolvers of the Old West.
The museum’s largest exhibit, the Timeline of American Sporting Arms, portrays the history of hunting arms in America from pre-colonial times to the present, including dioramas of an early Native American hunter, explorers Lewis and Clark as they mapped the vast Louisiana Purchase in the early 1800s, a 1950s hunting cabin, and modern day hunters.
On the upper level, a Hollywood Guns companion display features firearms used in Western movies by the likes of Tom Selleck, John Wayne and past NRA President Charlton Heston. The museum also features a variety of historically significant firearms, including a collection of flintlock fowlers used by English kings, an engraved shotgun presented by Napoleon Bonaparte to a general in his army, guns from Old West outlaw Jesse James, and firearms used by U.S. presidents like Dwight Eisenhower and Theodore Roosevelt.
In addition to hosting the Adolph double rifle that Roosevelt used on Western hunting expeditions, which bears the presidential seal on both barrels, the museum is also home to the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Gallery, which features several more of his guns and tells the story of his pioneering role in wildlife conservation efforts, including a diorama of Roosevelt, perhaps the quintessential conservationist, on safari.
In the three short years it’s been open, the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum has already established itself as one of the foremost firearms museums in the world. “There’s nothing to compare to this in any firearm-related museum,” Supica said.
The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and admission is free.
Frank Brownell Museum of the Southwest
The Whittington Center is home to the nation’s premier hunting, shooting and outdoor recreation facility, but it is also home to NRA’s Frank Brownell Museum of the Southwest.
This jewel box facility, the largest firearms museum in the region, features 200 guns exhibited over 2,750 sq. ft. Exhibits arranged around the perimeter of the facility tell the history of the region, from the earliest Native American inhabitants through early Spanish Exploration, the Civil War, the Old West, all the way up to competition firearms like those used today on the famous Whittington ranges. This jewel box facility, the largest firearms museum in the region, features 200 guns exhibited over 2,750 sq. ft.
Smaller than the Virginia and Missouri museums, the Frank Brownell Museum of the Southwest is, nonetheless, a fine facility with many outstanding firearms on display. It’s a must-see for anyone who visits the famed Whittington Center, or even for those simply passing through the area.
Among the outstanding guns on display are an 1860 Spencer .52-cal. carbine, a model that was immensely popular during the American Civil War and was utilized by both Union and Confederate forces; a beautiful Winchester Model 21 Grand American owned and used by George Whittington, former NRA president and a Whittington Center founder; and an ornately engraved C96 Mauser Conehammer, embellished with six nautical panels that seem to include Neptune (god of the seas) and the sinking of the Titanic and Lusitania, along with a whaling scene and a Viking ship.