I’m a working journalist (I know, save your jokes) who also happens to be a gun guy. A few days ago I was working on a story at the Missouri State Capitol and decided to take a few moments to wander through the State Museum, which sits directly under the chambers of the House and Senate. TTAG has noted that Missouri is a fairly gun-friendly state before, but it immediately struck me that in a relatively small space, there were no fewer than 27 beautiful firearms on display . . .
I suppose a gun control advocate might be able to pass these off as relics of a bygone age or an uncivilized era, but I found the implications of some of these exhibits – and the sheer volume on display – very hard to ignore.
The guns on display were a mix of long rifles and revolvers (plus the odd shotgun or three and a pair of cannons), most of which were related to Missouri’s involvement on both sides of the Civil War.
“Instruments of war designed for military use!” we can all hear our favorite senator from California crying. Except that at least half of those were identified as being a soldier’s personal private property before he entered the conflict.
Under one pistol was this placard:
This pistol was converted from flintlock to percussion ignition. It belonged to George Bassman, who brought a horse and gun with him when he enlisted in the Cole County Home Guard (USA) [Union] on June 19, 1861. Men on both sides of the conflict would often bring weapons from home.
Bassman was part of “the militia” mentioned in the Second Amendment, which is to say he was a citizen who wanted to defend what he believed in (i.e., the people).
It’s interesting that his gun had been converted and was obviously miles from being the newest and most cutting edge in the museum. I’m guessing that his commanding officer would have preferred if Bassman had the resources/access to bring the most modern and best tool with him to the front, say something like a Remington 1858 revolver. Personally, I like to imagine a time-traveling Pvt. Bassman and his horse moseying into camp with a zombified AK slung over his shoulder.
That fascinating Union tidbit was followed by a quote from Confederate General Sterling Price:
Come with your guns of any description that can be made to down a foe. If you have no arms, come without them…
Again the arms mentioned are clearly meant as the people’s own private weapons. And just like the Union folks mentioned above, I bet Gen. Price would have given anything for a few volunteers with the 1860s equivalent to a SCAR-17 sitting ready in the closet rather than a double barrel shotgun,. Heck, he probably would have fallen over himself just for a so-ugly-it’s-cute converted Mosin.
Moving right along, we come to an exhibit dedicated to the stage coach’s place in history. School children on a field trip to their capitol will not only see the replica coach, they’ll see a case full of “pocket pistols.”
The placard says riding in a coach was “no picnic” (duh) and “easily concealed pistols were very popular” for protection from outlaws and raiders. This smart aleck quote from an Omaha newspaper dated 1887 made me laugh:
“Never attempt to fire a gun or pistol while on the road (in a stagecoach). It may frighten the team and the careless handling and cocking of the weapon makes nervous people nervous.”
Words to live by. I love that the writer places spooking the horses above catering to “nervous people” who don’t want to get even more nervous.
It’s worth noting that I saw a dozen or so grade school-aged kids running around checking them out and none appeared to be made nervous by the sight of these firearms. I saw no horses and thus cannot comment on their state of mind around the weapons. (The pistols weren’t identified, but if you’re curious the rifle is a Hall breech loading carbine from 1833.)
In a display titled “German Origins: ‘To Think And Act As Free Men,’” a German percussion rifle (that’s the best I could figure out) from the early 1800s has a place of honor in a display that features a dinner pail, a psalm book and a travel chest.
The placard informs the viewer that before the Civil War, nearly 90,000 Germans immigrated to Missouri. “Some fled oppression, while others sought adventure.” If 90K Austrians had come instead, I’m sure there’d be a GLOCK brand GLOCK in the display case, but that’s beside the point.
The Germans who sought refuge here and more than 150 years later, the area I live in is known as the Missouri Rhineland sports some fine German restaurants (no, that’s not a contradiction in terms). One immigrant is quoted thusly:
We left the old country…because we were sick of imperialism. America held out bright hopes for us – a living, the right to think and act as free men, in all matters on a level with our fellowman.
The opposite of oppression, at least according to this display, is a firearm. Conversely, a firearm is the equivalent to acting as free men, equality and adventure. Ya don’t say.
Put another way: Arms are inextricably intertwined with a mindset freedom and independence. (As are, apparently, dinner pails, Psalm books and chests. Guns, buckets, the Bible and sturdy luggage: truly the Four Foundations of Freedom. You heard it here first.)
Then there’s my favorite display: “Long Rifle: Missouri’s Indispensable Pioneer Tool.” The first thing I noticed was the word “tool.” Not “weapon” and not “instrument of death.” Tool.
Actually, the very first thing I noticed what, holy cow that rifle is massive and I’m a wuss who thinks his Remington 700 SPS Tactical is a pain to lug around. The placards include quotes from trappers and excerpts from an 1825 newspaper, The [Franklin] Missouri Intelligencer. I know you don’t want to read the whole thing (and I don’t want to transcribe it), but I need to point out two highlights from the piece:
Many of the most distinguished guns acquire names of the most fearful import… Black Snake, Cross Burster, Hair Splitter, Blood Letter, and PANTHER COOLER.
The all-caps bit seems to be original. Remember how I said I was a journalist? I pray that one day I get to compose a sentence as amazing as that one. I also need to find a new name for my Remy, preferably one in all caps. “Rachel” just isn’t going to cut it anymore. I’ll gladly accept suggestions in the comments below.
The second is an excerpt presumably from the same article and is more telling, even if it isn’t as entertaining and a little awkward when it comes to commas:
“Besides field sports, in a new country where game is abundant, shooting matches on almost every Saturday evening, tend to perfect our riflemen in the use of their hair splitting weapons…. In a republic where regular soldiers are held in such indifferent estimation… it is important that every citizen prepare himself for the high destiny of self-defence.” (sic)
It mentions recreational shooting, target practice, hunting and “self-defence.” What more could we ask for from a display in the same building where laws are proposed, debated and sometimes laughed right out the door?
Maybe I’m reading way too much into these displays and maybe it’s too much to hope that some of these thoughts and lessons might drift through the stone corridors and up through the floors of the legislators’ offices. Frankly, anti-gunners probably aren’t even aware of what lies in the museum right below their chambers, let alone its significance. They’re probably just thankful this final placard is posted at the door, keeping them safe: