Historical Firearms Keep and Build The Connection to Our Past

M1 Garand

Nick Leghorn for TTAG

By Will

In my view, and apparently that of many others, we in the United States, and the West generally, are losing our connection to the past. Whereas our forefathers were connected to their unique national and familial histories, many people today have lost that connection. They don’t know from where they came or why their ancestors had certain beliefs. And they certainly do not understand their own history.

That leads to a number of attendant problems, not the least of which is support for anti-history, anti-national unity, and the attempts at the erasure of the past that we are now seeing. But that’s political, and this is an article about firearms.

As gun owners, I think we are in a unique position to rekindle that connection to the past. How? By owning and letting others shoot military-surplus firearms and historical reproductions.

Mosin Nagant 91/30

Mosin-Nagant courtesy Ralph

That might sound odd, how could just shooting a firearm help you and those around you reconnect with the past? Well, if all you do is go to a gun show and buy the first cosmoline-coated Mosin-Nagant that you see, then it probably won’t work. It will just be another gun. But, however, if you do your research and learn about the guns you are buying and shooting, then that is an opportunity to learn history and feel like you are part of it, as you know own a piece of that history.

If you buy an M1 Garand and look at the markings on it, you can learn about the factory where it was made and imagine the stress of the rush to produce armaments for a military that had to quickly build itself up and head off to war in North Africa, Western Europe, and all over the Pacific. You’ll feel a connection to those that stormed the beaches at Normandy, froze and fought in the Battle of the Bulge, fought in the hellish conditions of the Solomon Islands, and were later surrounded by Chinese “volunteers” in the frozen hell of the Chosin Reservoir.

K98 Mauser

K98 Mauser (Josh Wayner for TTAG)

If you buy a Mauser Kar 98, which is my personal favorite among the readily available and affordable military surplus firearms, then you can use that to learn about wartime Germany and imagine what it felt like for a drafted soldier in the German Army on the Eastern Front to have to fight for an odious regime against wave after wave of Soviet peasants charge your position while you cowered due to a tremendous artillery barrage. Learning what life was like for the other side is almost as important as learning about your own.

Kentucky Long Rifle

Courtesy CenterOfTheWest.org

And the value of owning, shooting, and learning about historical firearms is not just confined to military surplus weapons. Historical reproductions are almost as good. If you buy and learn about a Kentucky longrifle, you can feel a connection to the patriots in early America that fought the British Empire against overwhelming odds and won, or fought a long-running and irregular war against Native Americans in the Ohio River Valley.

Henry New Original Lever Action Rifle

Henry New Original (JWT for TTAG)

Buy a Henry repeating rifle and imagine what it was like to be a Union cavalryman trying to hunt down Jesse James in Missouri, a cowboy fighting outlaws in Texas, or a railroad worker building the transcontinental railroad that had to drop his tools and pick up a rifle to battle back marauding bands of Native American warriors.

Union Switch & Signal 1911

Union Switch & Signal 1911 (Jeremy S. for TTAG)

Those are just a few examples that include some of my favorite moments of history and my favorite historical firearms. There are, of course, many others. 1911 pistols, which were used from our conquest of the Philippines to the Global War on Terror. Colt Single Action Army revolvers, the gun that let us tame the West. The British Lee-Enfield, which served them well from the plains of southern Africa to the jungles of Burma.

Lee Enfield SMLE Broken Eight_1

Lee Enfield SMLE courtesy Broken Eight

But, whatever the firearm you choose, I think historical weapons have a unique ability to connect us to the past. If you do your due diligence and learn about the firearm you are buying and shooting, you can feel like a piece of the history you are learning about. America, and many other nations, needs to regain its connection to its past. I think that historical firearms, whether military surplus or reproductions, can help us do that.

 

Will is the author of the blog Gen Z Conservative.

comments

  1. avatar jwm says:

    That german soldier on the eastern front was fighting on behalf of a system that was just as evil as the russian soldier he fought against. And the American conquest of the PI was over before the 1911 was general issue.

    My favorite milsurp is the Lee Enfield and its variants.

    1. avatar RGP says:

      There aren’t too many problems that can’t be solved with an Enfield Jungle Carbine and a Kukri.

      1. avatar RCC says:

        Throw in a few grenades for fishing and other uses and your good to go.

        My grandfather and all his brothers used Lee Enfields in WW1 Then my uncles and father in WW2. A lot of family history in them for me.

        Personally still partial to the FN FAL I was first issued well over 40 years ago.

      2. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

        i’ve kukhris i brought back from nepal, gifted five as well. hand forged tata leaf springs, brutally useful.
        the kabar bk21 reinhardt comes recommended; weight forward is a quick adjustment at which point you start eyeing your surroundings for hackable objects (ho).

    2. avatar Jon Cherry says:

      I have a SMLE 2A in 7.62 X 51 NATO. I love to just hold it. I was made in 1967. The same year I was born. My eyes are going and I can’t shoot iron sites anymore but I won’t ruin it by tapping it for a scope. I hope I will find the right person for it at a gun show someday. I will miss it.

      1. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

        Jon, I rue the day I didn’t buy an SMLE in 7.62 NATO. I will take your’s any day. Also will take Spanish Mausers in .308 with the diopter sights.

        1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

          I’ve got an FR-8 in 7.62. Light, short, holds 6 rounds, it’s a great shooter.
          Sights like an HK 91. It goes against my grain to keep it as it won’t shoot under about 3 inches at 100. (Could be my eyes, but I doubt it.)
          But it’s just such a sweet shooter. I’ve used it for deer and elk in western Oregon where shots are usually less than 50 yards.

        2. avatar Jon C says:

          Are you near Texas?

      2. avatar KenW says:

        Before you give up something you probably will regret parting with have you seen a good eye specialist?
        I had a partial retina detachment in my left eye which unfortunately is also my dominant eye.
        Several interesting procedures later while its not perfect but I can use iron sites. Modified Tech sites work for me, I painted the front and rear sights flat black with a flat white post. I’ve given up on the idea of using iron sites to achieve a rifleman patch at Appleseed but I group as well as most others.
        Next more than likely are the corneas, both eyes have cataracts but they are still to early to have them replaced.

        1. avatar Jon C says:

          Thanks, I will look into it.

    3. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

      i’ve eaten a lot of veneno dropped by .303. i find the enfields very appealing.
      an ar might bring back memories of battling useless fuktards in a stripmall parking lot.

    4. avatar Gaffer57 says:

      While the major fighting in the supression of the revellion in the Philippines was over by 1911 US forces there still faced attacks by Moro tribesmen for a couple more years. As a matter of fact, one of the first combat actions in which the then-new Model 1911 pistol was used is illustrated in the “US Army in Action” poster titled “Knocking Out the Moros” (DA Poster 21-48) with the following caption:

      “”The four-day battle of Bagsak Mountain on Jolo Island in the Philippines took place from 11 to 15 June 1913. Americans of the 8th Infantry and the Philippine Scouts, personally lead by Brigadier General John J. Pershing, brought to an end years of bitter struggle against the Moro pirates. These Bolo men, outlaws of great physical endurance and savage fighting ability, were well organized under their Datus or chiefs. They had never been conquered during several centuries of Spanish rule in the Philippines. The U.S. Army .45-caliber pistol was developed to meet the need for a weapon with enough striking power to stop fanatical charges of lawless Moro tribesmen in hand-to-hand fighting.”

    5. avatar Richard Kudrna says:

      Having interviewed a few hundred veterans I came to understand that we are born into a nation and we fight for that nation’s politicians or monarchy of the moment. Every drafted soldier is told he fighting for God or good. I will quote an old soldier, “there are no good nations or bad nations, goid side or bad side, you will follow your orders until at one moment you will need to decide if you are willing to live with these acts and refuse those orders and face the consequences whether being cut off from your military family or summary execution. Meanwhile you do your best to be civil, be the good ones, and reminding all around you what that means in action and not words.
      When I pick up an Enfield and cycle the action I can remember the words of old soldiers telling me of North African grit in their actions. When I pick up my Hi-Power I remember the US Vietnam vet telling me how he carried one for a year until “the jungle f**ked it all up”. When I fire my K-98 I feel for the conscript who lost his sight picture every time he cycled the action while Garands pounded at him watching the strikes.
      Agreed these old guns can bring you into their history.

      1. avatar Baldwin says:

        ““there are no good nations or bad nations…”

        Seriously?

        1. avatar Richard Kudrna says:

          “There are no good nations or bad nations” . The point being made is that comic book portrayal of “black hat vs. white hats” isn’t real.
          Everybody thinks they are the “white hats”.
          The point the old guy was making was its the individual’s actions at the moment that count.
          No matter how obvious a military atrocity I can guarantee many politicians and soldiers will justify it and rationalize it. Example; “we had to rocket that column if refugees and kill 5000 civilians because some of them were spies”. How many of us would be brave enough to refuse that order to fire into a refugee column?

          Another random example – I asked a Peacekeeping veteran about Who were the good guys in the Balkan wars he attended and were the Serbs the bad guys like media told us? His answer, “ there are no good guys there”. So I asked him was he proud he helped separate factions in his peacekeeping role? He laughed and explained how he was ordered to confiscate guns from civilians in the day time, withdrew at night, then the “irregulars” came in and raped and pillaged. After a 3 year old rape victim He had come to know hemorrhaged out he quietly stopped confiscating weapons from the civilians. In my mind, now he was a “white hat”.

    6. avatar Ron says:

      I think if I came into a sudden windfall of money, I’d invest it in starting my own gun/ammo company, and I’d reproduce as affordable copies as I could of WW2 era SMGs.

      I think it could be done and kept cheap enough for the average consumer, consider most WW2 sub guns were simple stamped weapons.

      I’d imagine a line of M3 grease guns, Stens, MP40s, and the MAT-49 would be pretty popular. Especially considering some still beneficial traits of some of these guns could swap between calibers like the M3 or fold up like the MAT-49.

    7. avatar Potoduc says:

      If you could only have one & prices were more or less equal, would you buy a No 1 Mk 3 in fair condition or a No 4 Mk 1 in good-very good?

      I’m a first time C&R buyer & having a tough time making the call.

  2. avatar Sam I Am says:

    “Had we but world enough and time money.”

    Thanx for the survey.

  3. avatar The TTAG Shadow says:

    “As gun owners, I think we are in a unique position to rekindle that connection to the past. How? By owning and letting others shoot military-surplus firearms and historical reproductions.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Most of my firearms are more modern, but there is s special place in my gun safe for my reproduction M1 Carbine, a weapon I was trained on long ago by the Air Force. And, I was thrilled to recently obtain a Webley Mark IV .38 manufactured at the height of WWII in 1944. However, these old bones can no longer stand up to the punishment that an M1 Garand dishes out.

  4. avatar BobS says:

    Project Appleseed teaches rifle marksmanship in the context of Revolutionary War history. Or maybe it’s history in the context of a rifle marksmanship clinic. Either way, it’s about keeping the history alive.

  5. avatar I Haz A Question says:

    This is an excellent article about a topic (preservation and remembrance of history) that cannot be mentioned enough.

    Compare this sentiment to the recent wave of pearl-clutchers trying to appease the Mob by allowing for monuments and statues to be (at best) removed from view or (at worst) toppled and destroyed completely. The Mob shifts and adopts different names, but today openly seeks to destroy our American heritage. I myself have restored and preserved multiple rifles akin to those mentioned in the article, some with up to 100+ years in our family. Holding one does truly “connect” you to those long gone who also held it.

  6. avatar Nww says:

    I agree with keeping connected to history. Old bolt action battle rifles definately do that.

    Ive had a thing lately for revolvers, lever actions and old cartridges like .300 savage, .25-20 and .22 hornet.

    Glocks, AR’s, AK’s, etc. are all awesome and useful firearms but I found myself taking a lever rifle or revolver out to the woods more often lately.

    It fascinates me how the .30-30 was considered a powerful rifle in its day. And that Alaska natives used .22 hornet and .222 to hunt grizzlies. Or how many deer and other game have been taken with .25-20, .32-20.

    1. avatar GS650G says:

      It’s necessary to stalk close and aim well when hunting big game with small bullets.

  7. avatar Ing says:

    Great article. It led me down a rabbit hole reading about the Korean War and then the Transcontinental Railroad (always a favorite subject), and reminded me that I need to get my butt in gear and finish the tabletop RPG system I started building so that I can play around in the Old West *my* way.

    Whenever I take people out shooting, the favorites always end up being the lever-action rifles. And the S&W Model 64 revolver I inherited is a real eye-catcher, too. The AR, the modern pistols, whatever. But people love working the lever on the Henry .22s, and they get a kick out of the .30-30, in more ways than one.

    Showing the power and speed of a levergun to people who’ve been fed outlandish ideas about both modern rifles and the old-timey guns is a hoot. I love watching people suddenly grok how *fun* all of this can be.

  8. avatar Gadsden Flag says:

    Great article. All POTG (as opposed to a gun owner, they’re not the same) should appreciate the history associated with firearms. More modern history and firearms are intertwined. Difficult to separate the two. Either good or bad. BTW, some of those weapons are as effective today as the day the first one was machined.

  9. avatar The Rookie says:

    Every time I see a Lee-Enfield, I’m reminded of this scene from one of my favorite movies of all time (which also happens to be a true story, to boot).

    “Rule Three-oh-Three.”

    1. avatar skiff says:

      Thanks. If you didn’t post this I would have. It’s a great film. I saw it back in the ’80’s. Every time I shoot my Enfields, I think of this film. Rule 303!

  10. Nagants rule . 2 91-30; 1 m44; 1 Finn. 12k rounds in cans

  11. avatar Ralph says:

    “Mauser Kar 98, which is my personal favorite among the readily available and affordable military surplus firearms”

    Not so readily available or affordable these days, and more’s the pity.

    I had a range session last Friday with two friends and a SMLE. Okay, make that three friends. That SMLE was a wonderful shooter and a real slice of history.

    1. avatar GS650G says:

      I thought about getting a Mitchels Mauser when they were 199 dollars but thought that was too much. Add in shipping and FFL fees and it was 250. Wish I gotten one now.

  12. avatar CTstooge says:

    Get a 1861 Springfield, load it with a .58 cal Burton ball, and imagine hundreds of those 500 grain bastards flying to and fro…

  13. avatar Darkman says:

    As much as it rocks my eye teeth I still enjoy taking my M1 Garand to the range. The men who used this rifle in War were some tough Bastards. My old man started WWII with the 03 Springfield then transitioned to the M1. I also enjoy shooting My M1 Carbine and M1A. I’ve always been enamored with the rifles of that time. They have a simplistic beauty and rugged performance about them. Some of the best Battle Rifles ever produced.

  14. avatar possum says:

    Remembering my first time shooting the Garand, fell in love with it as far as shooting irons go, you really can’t love something that is incapable of having emotions. ,,,,oh wait gunms do just jump up on their own accord and go to shootzing, Evil assault Garands

  15. avatar Wally1 says:

    I have a great time shooting my 1886 45/90, brings people every time I am at the range. Am always amazed on how they made such an accurate rifle that many years ago.

  16. avatar BobS says:

    I introduced a friend to several rifles – Mosin, M1917, AK, G3, AR – explaining each one’s history.
    I saved the Garand for last.
    “Wait – who did you say was this issued to?”
    US Soldiers and Marines during WWII and Korea.
    “My dad was an Army Corporal, fought in the Philippines late in the war. So he would have carried one of these?”
    Yes, very likely so.
    As he got down behind it to shoot through a clip, he called out
    “This one’s for you, Dad!”
    It was a very touching moment for both of us.

  17. avatar LKB says:

    So many milsurps, so little time. . . .

    But for the the Kung Flu hoopla and the current ammo shortage (gents, we all need to keep our powder dry, as things may be about to get more than a bit interesting, and those old battle rifles can still rain some withering fire if it comes to it) , I’d suggest a TTAG meetup at a range or large field us to allow gather to show and shoot our old Warfighters. Kinda like Peter Schechter and I did a while back as a Christmas present for my Dad: https://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/name-those-milsurp-rifles-we-have-a-winner/
    Maybe do it and put the word out the the local VFW and American Legion halls —
    some of their older veterans would likely appreciate “one more chance” to hold and shoot the weapons they carried into combat for us, or that we’re fielded against them. (Anybody got a Ma Deuce they could bring? 😁)

  18. avatar EpsteinDidNOTKillHimself says:

    Get a M1 Garand now.
    If the Dems take the WH and the Senate, outlaw all those evil black rifles, they cannot make a case for outlawing a M1.

    1. avatar Richard Kudrna says:

      Here in Canada after a massacre in the 1990s they floated a total ban but “compromised” and banned black guns and many semi autos. Five rounds was max for all semi. The Garand with its 8 round clip confused them and for a while the Law provided for 5 years prison for owning a sheet metal Garand clip, then they decided to allow them. After a recent massacre done with “black” guns by a guy dressed up as a cop – wait how is that possible!! They were banned!! Oh no!! You can buy illegal things from organized crime syndicates!! Who knew!!! So anyway they banned all AR types and even M1A and Norinco copies. Also any 50 cal. Any and all 50 BMG. In fact any cartridge of 10000 Joule or up, so some of the big Africa rifles are now banned.
      Garands survived this last ban. My guess is the next massacre they will go after all semi. But for sone reason they never bother the large crime syndicates that freely participate in slave trade etc.

    2. avatar adverse6 says:

      They don’t have to, just declare all firearms illegal. You don’t think The US Constitution will be kept in a Socialist Republic, do you?

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        The M-1 Garand would be subject to a 5 round magazine limit. “Magazine”, “clip” would be considered interchangable terms.

        1. avatar Richard Kudrna says:

          Canada is better described as a parliamentary dictatorship. The legislation used to ban various guns was not debated in Parliament or Senate, it was simply dictated via “Order in Council”. Then our Great Leader announced they would give us money for all the banned guns, then said well maybe later, but meanwhile you cannot take them out of the house, or sell them, on criminal penalty.

        2. avatar Sam I Am says:

          “Canada is better described as a parliamentary dictatorship.”

          But orderly.

        3. avatar Richard Kudrna says:

          North Korea has flawlessly clean streets and people are very docile.
          Very strict gun laws in NK.
          Truth is Swedish / Norwegian/ Danish socialism Looks really good to me, plenty of freedom and at least there used to be very free and open gun laws in the Nordic countries. Switzerland too (worlds second highest gun ownership rates I think). Clean streets high quality free education excellent infrastructure.

        4. avatar Sam I Am says:

          The Nordic states are not actually “socialist”, but capatilistic nations with major social welfare programs. IIRC, at one point (70s/80s) they tried socialism, and their economies crumbles. soon after they divested the nationalization of businesses. Which is how ABBA was once the most valuable company in Sweden.

          But note that even now, the Nordic countries are noting the difficult of maintaining vibrant economies with near 50% income taxes to support the welfare programs.

  19. avatar Survivordude1090 says:

    My M1 Garand and Finnish M39 are my babies. AKs and ARs are cool, but you just can’t beat old school wood and steel.

  20. avatar Chris T in KY says:

    You aren’t preserving anything. Useless you past it on to much younger people. And then teach them to cherish and respect the past. Connected gun collectors don’t preserve anything. It stays in their gun safe. Never to be seen be a younger person. A museum preserves history. And then passes on the knowledge to younger people.

  21. avatar rsu11 says:

    Exactly, Chris. Last year I put, with their mother’s permission, an unloaded Garand and 03A3 in the hands of my grandkids. They could barely hold the rifles up, but I could tell they were very interested. Gave them a very brief history of each, which I don’t think was entirely lost. If we ever get past Covid and they come to visit, my grandson will be big enough to shoot them off bench rest. His younger sister will hopefully follow later.

    That’s the key. Although I get much satisfaction from ownership of these historical arms, they do nothing to pass on a reverence for our country’s history when sitting in my safe. I’d like to think that after I’m gone, they will be enjoyed and passed on to the next generation. Wash, rinse, repeat, ad infinitum.

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