- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

Have you ever asked yourself the following:

A. What did the first handguns look like in the 14th century?

B. What is the difference between a fowler and a rifle?

C. What type of guns did markswoman Annie Oakley use in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show?

If you have, the answers easily can be found at the National Firearms Museum, part of the National Rifle Association Headquarters in Fairfax. (Or you can look at the bottom of this story.)

The museum, which showcases more than 2,000 firearms (half of its collection), gives visitors a chronological overview of handguns, shotguns and rifles. It focuses on U.S. firearms but includes a few foreign examples.

“We tell the story of firearms,” says Doug Wicklund, senior curator at the museum. “That includes technology, competition, military history, manufacturing, law enforcement, even guns as fine jewelry.”

One display case holds dozens of bejeweled guns with ornate engravings and ivory details.

One of the most popular cases among children is a re-creation of a circa-1950s child’s room, complete with furniture and toys, Mr. Wicklund says. The display room includes cowboy-themed wallpaper, a Davy Crockett coonskin cap, a Daisy air rifle, and a Lone Ranger puzzle, but no television or PlayStation.

“It’s also fun for parents and grandparents to relive their childhood a little. They tell the kids, ‘That’s what my bedroom looked like,’” Mr. Wicklund says.

To that, children often respond, “I didn’t realize you had it so bad,” referring to the lack of electronic gadgets, he says.

Another children’s favorite is a case displaying a restored 1903 Coney Island shooting gallery, complete with moving targets in the shape of stars, squirrels and bull’s-eyes.

Other early-20th-century firearm history includes Theodore Roosevelt’s interest in guns and gaming. Re-created at the museum is a close copy of the library at his home in New York, Sagamore Hill.

The library includes pictures of the former president, a stuffed rhinoceros head and dozens of firearms, some of them said to have been used by Roosevelt, including a .450 cordite caliber hammerless double rifle with presidential seals on both barrels.

“We think Roosevelt’s is the largest firearms collection assembled by any president,” Mr. Wicklund says.

The museum also showcases weapons from the American Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Among favored firearms in the Revolution were flintlock muskets with bayonets, with a range of 80 to 100 yards. The latest 18th-century technology allowed troops to fire as often as three times a minute.

During the Civil War, in which more than 2 million men served (before then, the U.S. Army had just 18,000 men), new technology produced breechloading carbines, which meant troops could load and reload in the saddle.

The North had access to the best in gun manufacturing, while the South had very little production, and many soldiers used personal weapons, according to the exhibit. The South also would import weapons and use captured firearms.

The North, on the other hand, had massive production of firearms, particularly in New England, where several rivers — essential for providing factories with hydraulic power — flow through a valley known as Gun Valley because of its high density of arms manufacturers. They included Smith & Wesson, Colt and Remington. One display is a re-creation of a Smith & Wesson rifling machine.

Other exhibits include arms used in World Wars I and II and pistols used in law enforcement, such as the .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver that belonged to New York City police officer Walter Weaver, who died during the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Also on display are firearms used in competitions and hunting as well as several regal guns, including a fowler once presented to a general by Napoleon Bonaparte.

A little too much for one visit? Visitors can always come back later to take another shot at it.


A. The earliest handguns were small versions of cannons.

B. The inside of the rifle’s barrel has grooves that help with accuracy at long distances; the inside of the fowler’s rifle is smooth but better suited for shooting certain game.

C. She used a .22 caliber pistol. Her tricks included hitting a dime tossed in the air and a cigarette placed in her husband’s mouth.

When you go:

Location: National Firearms Museum, 11250 Waples Mill Road, Fairfax.

Directions: Take Interstate 66 west to Exit 57A. Keep right at the fork to continue on Lee Jackson Memorial Highway. After less than a mile, make a left onto Waples Mill Road. The museum will be on the right.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; closed on major holidays.

Parking: Free parking.

Metro: The museum is not Metro-accessible.

Admission: Free, but donations are encouraged.

Information: 703/267-1600 or www.nrahq.org/museum.

Notes: The building has a cafeteria that serves lunch and snacks.

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