National Firearms Museum

Where: 11250 Waples Mill Rd., Fairfax, VA.
When: Daily from 9:30- 5 pm

In the words of Nick Jonas, am I crazy, have I lost ya? Hear me out. I am well aware of the fact that gun culture is rather unpopular in this area, and that this might not be considered a “must-see” destination for many people, particularly because of its location within the NRA Headquarters. However. As my dad taught me growing up, sometimes things are worth seeing and experiencing even if you think you might not enjoy them. I approach life this way as an adult: every interesting thing I can see, I should, even if it is not interesting in particularly positive ways- it’s still a learning experience either way. It’s worth seeing if only to learn something new. Just think- somewhere, there is someone who is positively dying to one day visit the National Firearms Museum– and we can turn off I-66 whenever we feel like it and pop right in.

Also, it’s free. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

That being said, I couldn’t help but notice as we pulled into the parking lot that all of the flags flying in front of the building were proudly flying at full staff- even as nearly all other flags in the area (even the ones at my neighborhood entrance) are lowered to half staff due to the rash of shooting deaths that have plagued our country lately. I know this is the NRA and they aren’t ones to back down from their beliefs, but even so- 9 dead in Charleston, 5 dead in Chattanooga, and 2 dead in Lafayette in the last five weeks, all at the hands of murderers wielding guns? It does strike me as a bit, hmm- tone deaf to not lower the flags in deference to those lives lost.

Nevertheless. I still want you to proceed with optimism. THERE IS COOL STUFF TO BE SEEN WITHIN.

Onto the guns. A good way to approach these guns is to view them simply as tangible pieces of history, and works of art. Some of these guns were clearly designed by skilled and talented craftsmen. Some are just curiously entertaining, like this Vampire Hunter, which is a silver-plated revolver carried in a coffin-shaped case that holds holy water, a mirror, a wooden stake, and silver bullets shaped like vampire heads.

Let’s ask ourselves some questions: who commissioned this? Did they believe vampires were a real threat they needed to mitigate, or is this a case of “too much money and crazy”? Who knows! Use your mind grapes and see what you come up with.

There’s also this rifle, known as the Mayflower Gun, because it was brought over on the Mayflower by pilgrim settler John Alden, making it one of the first guns to enter the New World here in America.

Additionally, there are firearms that were used in nearly every American war, from the War of 1812 to Desert Storm and everything in between. There was also the shotgun that was designed for and belonged to Hermann Goring, Nazi leader who was tried at Nuremberg and sentenced to death for his crimes during WWII.

Kids will be especially interested in the Steampunk Guns section, which features fantastical weapons dreamed up and designed to encompass the characteristics of the Victorian Era mixed with a little inspiration from science fiction and Old Westerns. There’s also a leopard wearing goggles posed in front of a telescope which I admit is confusing but just go with it.

For movie buffs there’s an entire room dedicated to displaying weapons used in well known movies, from Reservoir Dogs to No County for Old Men to Beverly Hills Cop.

The highlight of the museum for me wasn’t any gun at all, but an imposing set of ivory tusks that framed a fireplace in the Robert E. Petersen Gallery.

Come a little closer:

These tusks, from top to bottom and all around, are carved with bas relief engravings featuring depictions of animals, hunters and gatherers, and woodland scenes. They are tremendous.

Curiously, there was absolutely no information or literature presented about these tusks anywhere in the gallery, nor could I find mention of them in the Gallery Map brochure I later found crumpled on our kitchen island. I needed to know more about them so I called the NRA Museum to see if I could find someone who could answer a few questions. I was directed to speak with a curator who informed me they were elephant tusks that had been carved in Africa and were part of the personal collection of Robert Petersen. (Insert the The More You Know star.)

The museum took us perhaps 45 minutes to get through, but a dedicated person could (literally) spend hours there. Computer databases list the information of every single gun on display and there are A LOT of guns on display. Because we are living in a material world and I am a material girl, I wondered aloud to my husband what the sum total of the value of every piece in that museum was and we could not begin to hazard a realistic guess so we just said “probably a billion dollars.” The museum is incredibly well put together- detailed displays and vignettes, mahogany cases, thoughtfully arranged and designed exhibits. I urge you to consider giving this museum a chance, even if you think you might not enjoy it- I believe everyone can find something of interest here.