The Mecca of Guns

In the course of my job, I often travel past an icon of gun culture. Visible from I-66 at the back of an 80s era office park is the headquarters of the National Rifle Association. It would be indistinguishable from all the other Beltway buildings but for the large NRA logo on the outside.


After passing it dozens of times I finally had time to kill between appointments and decided to tour their museum. Admission is free and it takes up one wing of the ground floor of the building.


As you might expect, the primary artifacts are firearms of all varieties. But the sheer quantity is a bit overwhelming.


There are several thousand weapons, mostly rifles with plenty of pistols and a smattering of machine guns.


Each case is stuffed to overflowing with plaque noting the semi-famous collector who donated them. There are so many in each display that even the numbered keys aren’t very helpful in distinguishing the distinctive feature of one gun from the nearly identical version just above or below it.


The galleries are arranged in roughly chronological order running from colonial times to our various Gulf Wars. The largest segments are devoted to the Wild West days with another display devoted to the sport hunting trophies and weapons of Teddy Roosevelt.


The modern era weapons case had plenty of weapons nearly identical from the ones in the “modern sporting rifle” case except for the affixed much recently maligned bayonets.


The current exhibit in their rotating gallery is a tribute to Hollywood movie weapons. They have the actual prop gun used in the movie along with a poster or still from the movie. The oeuvre of noted Republican stand-up comic Clint Eastwood is well represented.


The items which caught my attention were the blaster and lightsaber from Star Wars. As I stood there taking a photo of them with my cell phone one of the other guests that sparsely attended weekday afternoon chuckled that I must have a kid at home if in this enormous display of weaponry those were the items I wanted to photograph. No, I thought to myself, I’m a nerd. Just a little different for the type that usually tours the NRA museum.

Like any decent museum, and plenty of crappy ones, they have a gift shop full of coffee mugs and tee-shirts and trinkets for kids. And on the way out they have a newsrack with the most recent issue of their magazine and a catalog of their wares.


The museum isn’t much different from all sorts of narrowly defined special interest organizations. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is stuffed full of gold records and rock star costumes. The Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian has more beaded blankets than you knew existed. And the NRA museum has guns. And as I mentioned, it sure has plenty of guns. Really way more than is needed for any sense of historical context. The museum fetishizes its collection with highly technical descriptions of each item.

But what it lacks is perspective. It is all about the role of guns in American history. Each gallery tells how guns were used to gain our independence, resolve the issue of slavery, and settle the West. Perhaps we need at least one display about how they are being used today in our schools and malls and post offices.

49 Responses

  1. Southern Poet Laureate Lynyrd Skynyrd had a relevant point several decades ago.


  2. I hate guns, I’ve always hated guns. I have a 35 year old niece whom I am very close to who has the mind of a ten year old. She reads and writes at about a second grade level but suffers the emotional pain of an adult. I encouraged my sister in law to let her begin posting on facebook about a year ago as a way of expressing her thoughts and feelings to others through short sentences and photos of things and events that are important to her. Her first comment on Friday was “I hate guns”. That pretty much says it all for both of us.

    We had a shooting here yesterday at a mall in Newport Beach. A man fired about 50 shots in the parking lot outside of Macy’s. Luckily the gun wasn’t pointed at anyone but in the air or at the ground and no one was injured…………….terrorized but not injured thank God.


    • I like guns. I have always liked guns. My father gave me a .22 rifle for my tenth birthday, but had to take it away from me. One weekend morning I tried to pick pigeons off our barn roof with it. Two bad things happened: I put holes in the roof and I scattered shells across the woods in another farmer’s turkey yard. I had to help our hired hand patch the roof and I had to personally apologize to the neighbor, who really chewed me out.

      So I understand the concept that not everyone should have a gun at every time in their life. And I don’t think assault rifles and big clips should be readily obtainable. And I believe every gun should be registered, and always have.

      Most murders are still related to handguns, not assault rifles. It would take 30 years of intensive registration to finally know where most of them are. But I wanted to start registering them 50 years ago, so the 30 year time frame is not my problem.


      • While I support all ten amendments, not exercising your right to the legal limit is no shame. My usual flip comment is that nobody knows their loved ones well enough to keep a loaded weapon in their house.

        My drycleaner once told me of a relative’s kid who got killed when he was playing at a friend’s house when they found the parent’s gun.

        My boss tells of the difficulty of cleaning up after his brother committed suicide with a shotgun in the back bedroom of their house.

        In the first house I bought, I discovered the owner’s gun while looking at how deep his master bedroom closet was.

        My house has been burglarized and they were very thorough. If I had had a gun, they would have found it. Fortunately my wife had come home after they left and did not surprise them. That would have been even more tragic if they had found a gun in my house.

        These are all anecdotal but they form a pattern to me. I will not keep a gun in my house. I don’t want the trouble and expense of gunlockers and separate ammunition cases that responsible gun owners use. And of course, that level of care runs counter to those who claim home defense as the primary purpose of handguns. Safety and defense are mutually incompatible.


  3. I also hate guns and always have as well. Although I have no issue with individuals owning and using guns for hunting (for food) or self protection, I simply cannot find any reason for any individual to have in their possession any weapon that is meant for multiple killings. As it’s been said over and over, our hearts are broken. And I don’t think mine will ever heal. I have no association with anyone in Sandy Hook but as a Mother and Grandmother, it seems as though my heart has melted right into the hearts of the babies and women that were killed and the hearts of everyone in that community. I for one will never forget this horrific event and will stand up and fight to keep these killing machines out of the hands of anyone that is not either military or police. This, and the many other killings, was senseless. And the NRA needs to stop worrying about profits for the gun manufacturers and themselves, and need to realize these horrible weapons only belong in the hands of military and police. And in my view, this horrible horrible event is the Number One example of why we should do away with Superpac lobbyist. Just because the NRA has the money backing they do is no reason why these killing machines should be allowed in the hands of citizens.

    I pray for the precious babies, the beautiful women, their families and friends, and for all of us who feel the very deep sorrow for such a horrific loss of life and innocence.


  4. YJ, that was an excellent photo-post. I really think I don’t have to go there now.


  5. I neither hate nor own guns. I could see owning guns, if I had time to take up hunting. In the last couple weeks, here in MN, a cop was shot when he was just checking up on a guy. Both he & his partner were armed, of course, yet he got killed & his partner ‘froze’; the murderer is still at large. A week or two prior, a couple kids got killed burglarizing a home in a small town up north. Clearly they were breaking the law, but there is no evidence they threatened anyone’s life. So the homeowner will probably go to jail for a long time, and the two kids are dead.

    I respect the 2nd Amendment & don’t think it needs to be overturned; I don’t respect the 2nd Amendment absolutists who fantasize about overthrowing a tyrannical government or whacking a burglar.


  6. I’ve used guns and respect them (and I beat you, Mark; my parents gave me a .22 single shot rifle for Christmas when I was five), but don’t feel a compelling need to own them. And, if stored correctly, they’re well nigh on useless for the very reason yello points out. I don’t have kids, but what if someone broke in and found a weapon that I was keeping for self defense, then I walked in?

    I think we need to have a long, adult-level discussion about application of the Second Amendment in the 21st century, but that’s not going to happen in the current political environment, that’s for sure.

    And I absolutely HATE the idea of concealed carry. I don’t think anyone other than military or LEOs should have concealed carry; I’d rather have all the other folks who want to carry do it openly so I know who to avoid if I should ever find myself in a shooting situation.


    • And I absolutely HATE the idea of concealed carry.

      Agreed. In spades. I don’t know the stats as to what effect concealed carry has had on gun deaths or self defense. But I don’t care, for the same reason Kelley suggests, but also because no civilian dare try to calm an erratic or apparently disturbed stranger in public now

      Addendum: JNC linked to an Atlantic article that is certainly worth the read. I remain dubious, however.


  7. And I absolutely HATE the idea of concealed carry. I don’t think anyone other than military or LEOs should have concealed carry

    I figure if you are military or a LEO, you’ll probably want to be carrying openly anyways as a deterrent (unless you’re an undercover cop or a spy).

    It’s a concealed carry playground here in FL. Sometime in the next few days, we’ll exceed 1 million concealed carry permits — in a state of ~19 million people.


  8. Not me. I passed the test years ago, — I’m getting my permit and will be carrying where permitted. my brother already does. I’d carry openly (its legal, no permit required) — but it’s not worth the hassle people who don’t know the law.

    but, I basically assume that everyone is armed . I was at a hobby shop in Maryland Saturday with dad to pick up some 027 train cars. model trains upstairs, guns downstairs. and everything was selling a brisk pace. Lionel trains, handguns, model airplanes, shotguns, and rifles. and this is in rockville, maryland, a blue suburb of DC, which is way more restrictive than VA.

    my dad was thinking about picking up a shotgun. he’s also a lobbyist and fairly well known (he’s on TV all the time). he’s had a couple of death threats. and it’s not out of the realm of possibly for someone to connect his last name to mine. and once you have that, you have my address.

    Prohibition of any sort will be as successful as the war on drugs. and instead of semi-autos, the cartels might as well bring in the battlefield weapons. the guns are out there, they’re not going away even if there was the political will to do so.


  9. This is a post and forum for active law enforcement officers. To get commenting rights, you have to be confirmed active or retired LEO.

    Takeaway, there’s only so many cops to go around. we need a force multiplier. good people who are willing and able to fight back when needed.


  10. Anybody who thinks arming teachers is a viable strategy needs to spend more time hanging around the faculty lounge.


  11. “needs to spend more time hanging around the faculty lounge.”

    I agree that it’s likely never going to happen.


  12. “Anybody who thinks arming teachers is a viable strategy needs to spend more time hanging around the faculty lounge.”

    I agree its an idiotic idea.


    • No more idiotic that gathering children on suburban campuses with no meaningful security and posting a sign that declares the area “gun free.”


      • What would be the preferred security set-up? Concertina wire with gun turrets covering the possible approaches of gunmen? School crossing guards in flak jackets and riot gear? Double-locking mantraps with metal detectors at the school bus entrance? I can just imagine the howls of outrage from people already upset at a gentle airport frisking.

        The fact that we have to bother to declare areas where children congregate ‘gun free’ is what is idiotic. Carrying a gun onto school grounds is the 2nd amendment corollary to shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater. Your right to own a weapon infringes on my right to a safe public space when it leaves your home.


      • I think gathering children on suburban campuses with no meaningful security and posting a sign that declares the area “gun free” is not idiotic. Stats are with me on that. It might be statistically neutral like declaring the campus free of tigers, but it is not idiotic.

        Arming “teachers”, willy-nilly, hasn’t yet been proven idiotic, but I wouldn’t gamble on its possibilities.

        NoVa, at Ft. Hood no one is armed but the MPs, and almost everyone there is well trained on firearms. Putting armed cops in schools is a possibility. I went to a truly violent Jr.HS where we had one murder in each of the three years I attended. So in 9th grade we had armed uniformed city cops in the halls, one on each of four floors.

        Armed teachers? Nah.


  13. “Carrying a gun onto school grounds is the 2nd amendment corollary to shouting ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater.”

    Your assumption is that having the weapon present is a threat. that’s a premise I reject. I also reject the idea that the government gives a lick about the security of me or anyone else. They provide an illusion of security.

    Re: schools, rather than armed camps, I wonder if implementing a different model makes sense. neighborhood schools don’t seem to fit with modern life anymore. at least not everywhere. the kids should be integrated into the community, not segregated. No reason we couldn’t have a few classrooms or in my building. you could likely run an entire elementary school on a couple of floors of my building.

    absent a full ban and confiscation, these incidents will continue to happen.


    • absent a full ban and confiscation, these incidents will continue to happen.

      I learned a new phrase the other day, The Nirvana Fallacy. More commonly expressed as ‘the perfect is the enemy of the good.’ The inability to totally solve something is no reason not to take steps which improve the situation.


  14. Alan Jacobs:

    This same warning against implementing policy decisions based on vivid-but-very-unlikely events applies to the people who are claiming that the answer to school massacres is arming our teachers. It’s especially ironic that this recommendation comes almost invariably from people who also believe in smaller government, because their chosen response to tragedy would be a government-mandated logistical quagmire: some government agency would have to buy the guns, train the teachers, set and enforce policies about gun storage and appropriate use, and so on and so on. And of course all this would just leave teachers with less time to confront the real and often quite serious problems they face every day.

    I could write a very long blog post listing what’s wrong with the plan to arm teachers, especially the various unintended consequences that would spring from such a policy implemented nationwide. We can be absolutely sure that within a few years more people would be killed by teachers who fired their weapons accidentally or in misplaced anger or fear, or by students who stole their teachers’ guns, than have ever been killed in school massacres like those in Newtown and Columbine.

    But what troubles me most about this suggestion — and the general More Guns approach to social ills — is the absolute abandonment of civil society it represents. It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian “war of every man against every man” in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies. You may trust your neighbor for now — but you have high-powered recourse if he ever acts wrongly.


  15. “It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian “war of every man against every man” in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies”

    I don’t think it would take much to push us off that cliff. people in the country stampeded each other to save a few bucks on electronics every holiday season. a real crisis? forget it.


    • nova,
      It sounds like you actually yearn for a post-apocalyptic anarchy worthy of a Mel Gibson or Kevin Costner movie. Or are our visions of what constitutes a libertarian paradise that at odds?


  16. Lord no. But I’ve seen people do awful things to each other for a long time now. maybe it’s burnout.

    sorry to leave that impression.


  17. @Yellojkt: “My usual flip comment is that nobody knows their loved ones well enough to keep a loaded weapon in their house.”

    Yup. Like Mark, I like guns. Like Yellojkt, I don’t own one. That’s the primary reason, that I don’t want my wife to shoot me. I also don’t want to shoot her. By accident, you know.

    In any case, the genie is out of the bottle. If everybody was on the same page, we might be able to improve things via gun control and confiscation, but I don’t even see that happening.

    Interesting to note that in most states, the rate of death by firearm is a little more than half the rate of death by motor vehicle. Yet I imagine there are fewer gun owning households than car owning households. In my opinion, neither cars nor guns are going anywhere, anytime soon.

    I suspect it will take some combination of advanced scanning/metal or explosive detecting, facial recognition, or some other technological cocktail that helps finger futurecrime to truly prevent gun violence intended to overwhelm and horrify and make news worldwide.

    The only possibly solution that might even make a dent (before every campus is swarming with protective nanobots) is making guns illegally, and confiscation of existing weapons. Which will last as long as the politicians that pass that legislation, which is not very long.


  18. BTW, yellojkt: awesome tour of the NRA there. That was cool.


  19. Interesting to note that in most states, the rate of death by firearm is a little more than half the rate of death by motor vehicle. Yet I imagine there are fewer gun owning households than car owning households. In my opinion, neither cars nor guns are going anywhere, anytime soon.

    Neither stat is a reason why both shouldn’t be made safer.


  20. That was cool.

    ‘Cool’ is one word for it. Thanks for the compliment.


  21. When I said I hated guns it only means I would never own one and have no desire to ever play with one for target shooting, hunting or whatever. I don’t believe guns have a place in my home and I am likewise very uncomfortable knowing a stranger in my midst has a weapon hidden from my view. I’d rather know who’s carrying a weapon so I can avoid that person. I respect everyone’s right to have a gun in their own home if they feel the need. Whatever happens with that gun as in accidental or intentional use is then their problem, not mine. I find the numbers of accidental and domestic deaths by gun owners horrible but I don’t consider that my business even while I consider the threat to innocents tragic.

    I think what people, mostly liberals of course, are saying is why in the world can’t we place restrictions on guns that are capable of mowing down such large numbers of people in a matter of seconds? Why is it necessary for anyone outside of law enforcement or the military to even have access to those types of weapons? I don’t think it is. I don’t think most of us who are parents, or have young children in our lives, find that taking the risk of these weapons falling into the wrong hands is worth it. It’s both reasonable and practical to place these guns out of reach of ordinary citizens while still maintaining the individual freedom to own guns.


  22. In yesterday’s Washington Post, the did an article where they visited the NRA museum and interviewed the visitors. One had this to say:

    But the killings did prompt him to have a school safety talk with his daughter. “I just said to her, ‘Listen, if someone walks into your classroom with a gun, attack them. Don’t die in a corner. Because I can guarantee you that hiding under a desk won’t work.’ ”

    That just hits me in the gut.

    The dead trees article includes a photo of the NRA exhibit which is of a 1950s Christmas Story era boy’s bedroom decorated entirely with gun paraphernalia which doesn’t seem to be online.


  23. It sounds as though from everything I’ve heard and read that Republicans should get their marching orders today from the NRA but some churches are calling for action now.

    ….the one week anniversary of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. and clergy members plan to mark it at the Washington National Cathedral. Religious leaders from all faiths will start a campaign of support for gun control in front of the Cathedral, timed to coincide with the moment the gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook elementary. The Cathedral’s bell will toll 28 times, once for each victim: 20 children, 6 teachers, the shooter’s mother and the gunman himself.

    The clergy have vowed to exhort their congregants to push for gun control laws and to support politicians who are willing to stick their necks out on this issue and challenge the gun lobby. The group says that the time has come for more than prayer and counseling and comforting the victims of these horrible shootings.

    The congregation of the National Cathedral was moved to applause last Sunday as the dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, delivered an impassioned sermon. “Everyone in this city seems to be in terror of the gun lobby. But I believe the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby,” he said, creating a rallying cry for the new movement. The Rev. Hall added in an interview that he and his colleague, Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, have come up with specific remedies for parishioners – and others – to support: bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, tightening rules for sales at gun shows and re-examining care for the mentally ill.


  24. And Ohio keeps swimming against the tide.

    The bill would require Ohio residents demonstrate competency with the weapon only once rather than each time the concealed carry permit expires. It also would allow carrying concealed weapons in the parking garage of the State Capitol.

    Kasich signed the bill along with 41 others and did not hold a signing ceremony. A press release summarizing his actions put the gun law near the bottom of list of those signed.

    Kasich foreshadowed the action earlier in the week, telling reporters he would sign it: “Whatever we do, we don’t want to erode the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens.”


  25. Yello, most parents don’t encourage their kids to become martyrs, at least not in this country.


  26. “It also would allow carrying concealed weapons in the parking garage of the State Capitol.”

    In VA you can carry IN the capitol if you have a permit.


    • Texas only recently put up security stations at the state capitol building. It used to be a barrier free entry point.


      • The Michigan House and Senate, like Ohio, passed a “gun control” bill that allowed concealed weapons in schools, stadiums, bars, etc. Gun owners defended the bill because it required additional training and range time if you were going to be able to carry at these new locations. In a tragic irony, it was passed the day of the Newtown shooting. Fortunately, the Governor vetoed the bill. Unfortunately, the Governor did not veto the rest of the very conservative bills passed during the lame duck sessions including one bill that basically overturned a ballot proposal that had just been passed in November.
        I have been somewhat surprised by the willingness of some of my gun owning friends to agree to additional gun control measures. My wife’s counsins are super conservative and regularly open carry so we may have some interesting discussions when I see them on Christmas Eve. They seem to be of the camp that every citizen should arm themselves. But that completely ignores that many people feel like Kevin, lmsinca and myself and simply do not want a gun in their house. I feel like most people who want to arm themselves have already done so. So calling for more gun owners will likely fall on deaf ears (this problem is in addition to the many other problems with such a proposal).


    • Would the assault weapons definitions/categories in the expired law be the ones used in whatever is being proposed? We all know that any gun control laws will have no discernible effect on statistics and perhaps no real effect. Nevertheless, universal registration, limitations on the sale of big clips and certain weapons, training requirements, background checks and the like will have the one long term effect that thirty years from now law enforcement will find it easier to connect crime to perpetrator. That is enough for me. We have come from an era when 95% of homicides were family, friends, or barroom, to a time when over 30% are seemingly random. I wanted universal registration since college when I heard an FBI lecture on criminal investigation. Trouble is, it will take a generation to really make a difference.

      Mental health issues in America are enormously complex. Mass shootings are finally mental health issues and not gun control issues, absent confiscatory and unconstitutional responses. No one should think that similar terror cannot be achieved with a pump 12 gauge, for example.


      • Mental health is a factor in these mass killings but they are a small fraction of the gun related deaths which include suicide (arguably mental health as well), domestic disputes, and the drug trade. Focusing on mental health only chips away at the tip of the iceberg. Society is to blame because society tolerates a heavily armed populace and the havoc it reeks. If all gun owners were as safety minded and responsible as the majority of them are, we would not have this problem. But despite a lot of lip service the NRA’s absolutist stances do little to what measures can be taken to eliminate the bad apples ruining it for the rest.


        • Mental health is a factor in these mass killings but they are a small fraction of the gun related deaths

          Obviously we are in complete agreement.

          That is why I would concentrate on the law enforcement aspects, which I understand and think are straightforward, rather than the mental health issues, which I think are very complicated. I included training requirements, which should include gun safety classes, of course.

          Or were you taking issue?


        • I completely agreed with Mark’s posts on the gun control issue. The NRA’s refusal to even mention gun control measures is, while not surprising, pathetic. As Mark points out, the suggested reforms will not stop these events from ever happening again and may not show fruit for years down the line, but at some point they will make it easier to track gun purchases and determine where things went wrong. Even if the prevent one such tragedy, they will have been worth it. People who want a gun for hunting or other legitimate reasons should be fine with waiting longer or having to go through more training. They should embrace reforms that will further distance themselves from criminals.


  27. liked the NRA live stream in the morning report — its also on CSPAN

    he’s citing lack of security, mental health, cultural decay, etc.


  28. i’d have to check the transcript to confirm, but i didn’t hear gun control once.


  29. no — not really.


  30. I don’t want to take guns away from anybody. I just want to make them more onerous to own and easier to track. I want them treated perhaps like a motorcycle. Registration, background checks, safety classes (with biannual refreshes?), clip size limits, etc. All the standard middle of the road proposals that are complete anathema to the NRA.

    We do have to reverse the carry-everywhere trend. I do NOT want to share public schools, shopping malls, national parks, and airport lobbies with zealots there just to exercise their phallic insecurities by insisting that their right to own a gun is also a right to never be without it.


  31. I’ll jump through more hoops in exchange for expanded carry recognition. My security is ultimately my responsibility. I mean to ensure it to the extent that such a thing is possible.

    More testing is fine as long as it is not like a poll tax and designed to prevent someone from exercising a right. Basic competency. Not expert marksmanship.


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