- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2014

If Jacob ever needed a weapon to battle the vampire Edward in “Twilight,” he’d have to break into the National Firearms Museum, where the Native American werewolf would find the “Vampire Hunter’s Colt.”

Encased in a small ebony coffin, the silver-plated, snub-nosed revolver is covered with etchings of bats and is housed with a vial of holy water, a wooden stake and silver bullets shaped like tiny vampire skulls.

The Vampire Hunter’s Colt is just one of many hidden gems among the 2,700 firearms preserved by the museum located in the National Rifle Association’s headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia.

A tour through the museum begins with the Robert E. Petersen Gallery, which “has been called the finest single room of firearms anywhere,” said Jim Supica, director of the National Rifle Association’s museums.

Engraved Italian shotguns, American rifles and German handguns gleam inside glass cases, the craftwork of gunmakers such as Browning, Holland & Holland, Rizzini and Fabbri.

The gallery also houses firearms of famous owners, such as Princess Diana’s shotgun, which she received as a wedding gift. This Westley Richards side-by-side shotgun is engraved with gold roses, the British royal seal, a crown, and July 29, 1981, the wedding date.

Other novelties include the New Frontier Colt crafted as a gift for President John F. Kennedy, and Annie Oakley’s F. Hambrush shotgun and her Stevens pistol.

The Petersen Gallery fascinates gun connoisseurs and novices, Mr. Supica said.

“Hammer and steel on metal is a very unforgiving medium, and the artistry that it takes to create these is obvious to anyone who takes a moment to look at them,” Mr. Supica said.

To walk through the museum is to explore the evolution of the nation’s firearms.

A Civil War hallway exhibit contrasts the weapons of the Northern and Southern forces. Stacked one atop the other in a case representing the North, new rifles symbolize the power of the industrialized states. On the other side of the hallway, a Southern living room is arranged, complete with a couch, a fireplace and the well-used guns of experienced shooters.

Mr. Supica’s favorite gallery is the Beretta Gallery, aka the Roosevelt Room. For a limited time, the Roosevelt Room is displaying artifacts borrowed from the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site in Oyster Bay, N.Y. — Theodore Roosevelt’s home after he left the presidency.

Set up to resemble his personal office, the room features a picture of Roosevelt’s wife and artifacts from his expedition to Africa, such as a rhino’s foot. A case with his firearms collection leans against the back wall.

“If you have to pick an iconic individual to represent the exceptional America, it’s Roosevelt,” Mr. Supica said. “He was such a striking figure, so bigger than life, and the Roosevelt Room tries to show that.”

A stroll past pristine glass cases preserving the Axis and Allies’ firearms leads to a display that looks as if a bomb blew a hole in a brick wall. The hole reveals a crumbling concrete room with exposed brick and graffiti. Mannequins in uniforms stand over piles of weapons, German money, Nazi armbands, and medals to complete the World War II exhibit.

“These were souvenirs donated by veterans after the museum opened,” said Lars Dalseide, the NRA’s manager of media relations.

The firearm chronology ends with a revolver that was recovered from the ashes of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. The gun’s owner, New York City Police Officer Walter Weaver, was a life member of the NRA; his family donated the gun.

The museum is open every day except Christmas, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tours are self-guided, but curators can lead tour groups upon request.

“It’s a great place for people who have an interest in firearms or who love American history, and we hear a lot of people who get dragged along say they didn’t really think they were going to enjoy it, but they are amazed with the history and variety of guns on exhibit,” Mr. Dalseide said.

On second thought, Jacob better beware of breaking into a museum loaded with guns.

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