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Book Review: Guns of the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum

Book Review: Guns of the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum

If we can agree that both museums and books are learning experiences, then a book about a museum promises to be doubly educational—right? That surely is the case with Guns of the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum, a new volume covering a joint effort between NRA and Bass Pro Shops that has quickly become America’s most heavily visited firearms museum.

Located at Bass Pro’s Outdoor World in Springfield, Missouri, the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum (NSAM) attracts about 275,000 guests annually to a spectacular showcase of firearms and related artifacts. Opened in 2013, it is the logical extension of the award-winning National Firearms Museum at NRA Headquarters in Virginia. In keeping with Bass Pro Shops’ standing as a leading supplier of outdoor gear, the new institution—and its glossy, 304-page, hardcover companion work—emphasize conservation and the role of hunting and firearms in America’s outdoor heritage. However the scope also extends to U.S. military arms and the personal guns of champion shooters, prominent Americans and Hollywood heroes. There are specially curated categories (Engraved Guns of the Old West), re-creations (like the 1950s Hunting Cabin) and groupings from the exceptional Pachmayr and Thurston collections.

Authors Jim Supica, Doug Wicklund and Philip Schreier (respectively NRA Museums’ director and senior curators) were the creative force behind NSAM’s displays, which are organized as follows: Timeline of American Sporting Arms, Second Amendment Gallery, Remington Factory Collection and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Room. Their book faithfully mirrors that blueprint.

All sections are headed by insightful text introductions and are generously captioned. Nonetheless, the real meat-and-potatoes comes in the form of lavish photography: of actual displays; of artwork, accessories and ephemera; of men and women whose lives were affected by firearms development and culture; and of course, images of the guns themselves, hundreds of gun photos, including rare and valuable examples, all-time favorites, representative hunting rifles and shotguns, guns of champions, and a special emphasis on the military small arms that won independence and have safeguarded American freedom ever since.

In presenting such a wealth of imagery and information, this book is a treasure itself, one sure to captivate readers for hours on end. While it would be impossible to say what content made the biggest impression on me, here are three chapters I lingered over far longer than can be easily explained:

1. The exhibit “Lawmen and Outlaws of the Old West.” Guns owned by famed sheriffs, marshals and Texas Rangers—Bat Masterson, Frank Hamer, Bass Reeves and Pat Garrett, to name a few—as well as those from desperados like Jesse James and John Wesley Hardin.

2. Paintings from the Remington Factory Collection. These works from American masters like Philip Goodwin, Lynn Bogue Hunt, Maynard Reece and N.C. Wyeth depicting earlier generations’ reliance on guns are compelling dramas conveyed through a single scene. And the Remington guns in this section aren’t bad either; especially intriguing are the splashy synthetic-stocked Model 552/572 and Nylon 66 rimfire rifles from the late 1950s, precursors to a colorful style gaining popularity today.

3. Under the evocative heading, “Freedom,” the timeline exhibit of American Military Long Guns. Displayed against the backdrop of Old Glory, this literal 21-gun salute traces our nation’s existence and our freedom through the succeeding issue-rifles that have armed our fighting men and women, from a French Charleville Musket to an M16, the pattern still in use today. 

Though the book does an outstanding job bringing the museum to the reader, in no way are we suggesting it is an even trade-off for an actual visit. It’s a guarantee that every American who values freedom and traditional values will gain a unique thrill from experiencing the history embodied in these exhibits with his or her own eyes. Indeed, that’s the case with all three NRA Museums (the third being the Frank Brownell Museum of the Southwest, located at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico), and we love sharing them with members, families, friends and guests. Every visitor, along with every reader of this artful new book, helps to strengthen NRA’s cause.

So until you can schedule a live NRA museum tour, please enjoy what the newest one has to offer from the comfort of home. Order your copy of Guns of the National Sporting Arms Museum at nrastore.com.

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