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There are approximately 3,000 firearms on display at the NRA National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia. If you spent every minute of the 7.5 hours a day that the museum is open and tried to look at every gun on display, you’d only have, well, I’m not very good at math, but you wouldn’t have a whole lot of time.

To ease the burden of trying to take in everything in one day, here are (in no particular order) are my Top Five Guns of the NRA National Firearms Museum:

Parker’s Invincible Shotguns

OK, so this is actually three guns, but they’re all in one case and come as a package deal.

In 1922, Parker Brothers was celebrating the milestone of producing their 200,000th shotgun. They wanted that gun to be extra special, so they pulled out all the stops and created the “Invincible” grade shotgun.

At a time when you could buy a new car for $400, this grade of shotgun retailed for $1,250. Obviously, the guns were only available by special order. When production ceased seven years later, in 1929, only three had been made: two in 12 gauge and one in 16 gauge.

These shotguns are things of apparelled beauty, not to be missed when you visit.

Vampire Hunter’s Special

If you like Colt revolvers, silver-plating, ebony grips, exquisite engraving and a hauntingly good back story, the Vampire Hunter’s Special is must-see.

In addition to the list above, the Colt Detective Special snubby has a mirror, a wooden stake that screws into the cleaning rod, an oil bottle labeled “Holy Water,” and real silver bullets with carved faces of ghouls and vampires. All housed in a velvet-lined ebony casket-shaped case.

Made in the (dearly departed) Colt custom shop and engraved by Leonard Francolini, it’s a remarkable set. When delving into the history of the gun via factory letter, their historian plays along nicely: the records show the gun as having been ordered by a Dr. Van Helsing of Transylvania.

The 9/11 Revolver

On display in a velvet-lined case alongside a photograph and a patch: a mangled Smith & Wesson snubnose revolver. It may not look like much, but the story behind the gun makes it unique.

On September 11, 2001, this gun was strapped to the ankle of NYPD Officer Walter Weaver. Officer Weaver was one of the many brave men and women who rushed into the Twin Towers to help evacuate the victims after the terrorist attacks.

While in a stairwell on the sixth floor of the North Tower, the building collapsed on top of Weaver and countless others.

When Officer Weaver’s S&W was recovered, the serial number was still legible. The NYPD gave the gun to Weaver’s parents. They  donated it to the National Firearms Museum. It’s worth a stop — and a moment of silence — when you visit the museum.

Annie Oakley’s Stevens Pistol

Annie Oakley was called “Little Miss Sure Shot” for her expert marksmanship. Her skills were so good that she toured the world as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

Ms. Oakley could make astounding shots — while using basic, commonly available firearms. She didn’t need modified or embellished guns to make her shots, but she did own a number of one-off specials.

This .22 caliber pistol above features mother of pearl grips, a gold-plated frame, and fine engraving. It’s on display next to her plain-looking double barrel shotgun. The only special feature on the shotgun: an engraved plaque that notes the gun as having been given to Annie by Buffalo Bill himself.

Dirty Harry’s Model 29 .44 Magnum

Clint Eastwood wielded a Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver chambered in .44 Magnum during his portrayal of Detective Harry Callahan in his classic Dirty Harry. The “Hollywood Guns” exhibit has the actual gun used in the film on display, alongside a replica of his police credentials.

Life on set wasn’t kind to the gun, so it was sent back to the factory to be refinished after filming was complete. The gun also bears an engraved plaque noting its history and presentation to director John Milius after filming had wrapped.

The Model 29 may not be the most powerful handgun in the world anymore, but it still is unquestionably one of the most iconic.

(All firearms courtesy NRA Museums)

Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.

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    • The J.M. Davis Gun Museum in Claremore, OK, is a pretty extensive one too (largest privately-held collection of firearms in the world), that you might like, if you’re ever getting your kicks on Route 66.

      Mr. Davis liked his guns so much, he’s buried in the museum with them.

      • I was fortunate enough to live there for awhile and the J.M. Davis museum is amazing! You have to visit multiple times unless you just want to glance at everything instead of actually looking and reading. I agree with your mention of it.

        Anyone who ever comes even remotely close to the area should make every attempt to go in and see it. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys firearms and firearms history.

        The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in OKC doesn’t have quite as many guns but it has a lot in addition to a whole lot of amazing things to see. Anyone who comes to see the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum should also visit the 45th Infantry Museum which has it’s own supply of very interesting firearms and historical items. Want to see Adolph Hitler’s dinnerware? You can at the 45th Infantry Museum.

        Let’s say you’ve ventured in Oklahoma and were planning to visit the J.M. Davis Gun Museum, then the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and hit up the 45th Infantry museum too? Guess what? You need to see the Woolaroc Museum in Bartlesville!! This museum has LOTS of amazing guns and anything else you could possibly imagine that is awesome. It would be difficult to see it all in one visit so stay a couple days or more if you can. It’s one of my favorite museums in the US and definitely worth the trip by itself, especially if you have kids. Check out the website. (FYI – I am not affiliated with any of these museums. I just want to let folks know about these gems because missing out on a visit to any of them would be a shame)

  1. That’s a bucket list place for sure. Along with the Browning Museum in Utah. The only thing of those 5 I’d really want is the 29.

  2. I always cringe at the scene where Dirty Harry casually throws it on the sidewalk. But then, lives where at stake and that’s what really mattered.

  3. They have the guns used in Pulp Fiction as well. There is also a large unbelievable collection of Winchester model 70 rifles. You can buy a black powder gun at the gift shop too.
    There is also a firing range at the HQ.

    • The piece from Pulp Fiction is still here, but the collection of Model 70s are now at the National Sporting Arms Museum in Springfield, MO. Also, the store quit selling blackpowder guns a couple years ago. The range is still here, though!

  4. It’s a pretty cool museum and admission is free. In the same building you will find the NRA Store with a lot of NRA swag, gear, and obscure gun-related books for sale, plus the NRA range in the basement. There is also the NRA Cafe if you go on a weekday. You can make a day of it and hit all the attractions in one building.

  5. WHHHAAAAAT is THAT grip Det. Callahan is using¿!

    A modified isosceles double conundrum?

    He musta been shoot’n Buffalo Bore 300gr +P+.
    No wait… the Smith’s can’t handle that load.

  6. The NRA has some internet TV channels and one is dedicated to the museum. They have a video segment with director John Milius displaying the Dirty Harry gun and the discussing the script writing and filming background. Definitely worth seeing for the film fans.

    Milius himself is a gun enthusiast. There is a story about the filming making of Apocalypse Now. Martin Sheen was doing the voice-over for the part at the beginning of PT boat scenes. He is supposed to have this fatigued but tough-guy tone to his voice and it just wasn’t coming out right. After many takes, John Milius pulls an M1911 out of his waistband and tells Sheen to hold it while he does the next take. Just before the tape starts rolling, Milius tells him “It’s loaded and there’s a round in the chamber.” And that is the take that is in the film.


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