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by Jim Supica
Director, National Firearms Museum

The National Firearms Museum’s brand new web channel provides an incredibly rich museum experience without leaving home.

Located at NRA Headquarters in Fairfax, Va., the National Firearms Museum is a jewel box displaying some of America’s most important firearm treasures.

With the recent launch of Phase One of the new web channel, the National Rifle Association has taken a huge step toward bringing the complete museum experience to anyone with an interest and an Internet connection.

A Historical Glance
The museum’s galleries meander along a timeline through U.S. history, tracing the relationship between Americans and guns—from a wheel lock brought over on the Mayflower to a .50-caliber Marine sniper rifle used in Desert Storm.

Stops along the way include the Revolutionary War, when a band of citizen minutemen stood at Concord Bridge against seizure of arms by a distant monarch, their chosen representatives confirming the consensus that “the Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms shall not be infringed” … the War Between the States, when brother strove against brother in tragic and bloody conflict to determine whether the young nation “conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” would endure … the great and terrible world wars of the 20th century, when Americans rose together to deny the imperial expansion of brutal totalitarian regimes.

The exhibits present the many uses of guns, including personal defense and military and police applications. Competition shooting displays include guns of the Olympics along with the gold medals won, and more than a century of the rich history of the National Matches at Creedmoor, Sea Girt and Camp Perry. Hunting traditions are well represented, from the slender, elegant Kentucky squirrel rifles of the early 1800s to a massive 4-bore elephant gun believed to have been carried on Henry Morton Stanley’s African expedition in search of Dr. Livingston (“we presume”), to the tack-driving scoped rifles and quick handling shotguns preferred by modern American hunters.

The museum explores the relationship of firearms with industry, art and casual recreation. Displays trace gun manufacture from the early days, when each gun was the product of a single skilled artisan, through the dominant role that mass firearm production played in the Industrial Revolution.

Visitors can follow six centuries of firearm technological evolution, from the simplest hand cannons through today’s cutting edge innovations. They can see exquisite hand-chiseled examples of the engraver’s art. They can enjoy the just plain fun of a working Coney Island shooting gallery or recall the thrill of a Red Ryder bb gun under the Christmas tree.

And each year, tens of thousands of visitors make their way to the museum just outside of Washington, D.C., to see the thousands of guns on display.

However, with a potential audience in the tens of millions, the question arose: How do we get the museum’s story of guns in America to the world at large?

The obvious answer: the Internet.

Pull Up A Chair
Of course, there has been a National Firearms Museum website for years. It did a great job of presenting the basic information on the Museum—hours, location, mission—along with a listing of the galleries and information on some guns that are of special interest.

However, earlier this year the NRA began developing a much more ambitious plan for the nra family of websites. With Phase One online now, the National Firearms Museum website has taken a leading role in creating a dominant web presence that is entertaining, informative and easy to use, becoming the primary destination for firearm-related material on the Internet.

The centerpiece of the new site is a “Virtual Tour” of the National Firearms Museum. Senior Curators Phil Schreier and Doug Wicklund take visitors on a video tour of each of the 15 galleries. Visitors to the site can sit back and take the entire half-hour tour from the comfort of their own home, or they can click on a map of the galleries and choose to visit only the galleries of most interest to them.

An early favorite is Gallery 14, where video of Schreier’s tour is merged with that of former NRA President Charlton Heston’s famous speech to the National Press Club, in which he explains, “The doorway of freedom is framed with muskets.”

Note that Phase One is only the beginning. Phase Two, launching in January 2010, will greatly expand this Virtual Tour concept. At that time, visitors will not only be able to visit the gallery of their choice, but they will also be able to select any display case in that gallery, then focus on any gun in that case. Then, they’ll be able to immediately call up multiple views of the gun, along with full information on the model and the specifics of the gun on display.

Visitors to Phase One can explore the stories behind some of the fantastic museum guns on display from the comfort of their desktops. They can also choose one of the Curator’s Corner segments from to watch a five-minute video on any one of dozens of unusual or historic guns. Fans of America’s 1st Freedom‘s monthly “Museum Feature” will be pleased to find they can browse the rich photos and fascinating stories of various guns that have appeared in the “National Firearms Museum Presents” centerfolds over the past nine years.

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