The National Rifle Association has opened an elaborate museum in the American Midwest, displaying nearly 1,000 firearms, including those used by French Emperor Napoleon and Hollywood cowboy star John Wayne, along with subtle reminders of the campaign for the right to gun ownership.
The NRA National Sporting Arms Museum opened on Friday at a sprawling Bass Pro Shops outdoor retail store in Springfield, Missouri, a politically conservative central U.S. city that is a gateway to the mountainous Ozarks region popular with tourist and hunters.
Admission is free to the 7,500-square-foot (697-square-metres) museum, which has detailed dioramas and displays that were a decade in the planning stages, said NRA officials.
“If you are a gun person, you are going to love this place,” museum director Jim Supica says in an online video promoting the museum as “one of the premier firearms museums in the world.”
“These guns came from the NRA collection built over 80 years, but a lot came from special collections that haven’t had a place for display,” Supica told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The museum is opening as divisions over gun control have widened after the massacre of elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut in December. President Barack Obama has been rebuffed by Congress in his efforts to tighten gun laws, and the NRA has staunchly opposed gun control.
Prominently featured in the museum are firearms used by historical figures – an engraved shotgun presented by Napoleon Bonaparte to a general in his army, guns from Missouri-born Old West outlaw Jesse James and weapons used in Western movies by tough-guy actors John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.
One of the dioramas shows President Theodore Roosevelt, an outdoor enthusiast and avid hunter, on safari. Another depicts explorers Lewis and Clark, who mapped the vast Louisiana purchase, from St. Louis to the Pacific Coast, in the early 1800s.
The museum incorporates reminders of the NRA mission – to defend the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution setting out the right to bear arms. One of the galleries, named “Second Amendment” includes a copy of the wording in the amendment, Supica said.
Marketing materials touting the museum say it “illustrates themes of hunting, conservation and freedom.”
But the museum is “not political,” Supica said. It traces the history of guns in America, from the Revolution against British rule in the 18th century.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, whose aim is to “enact and enforce sensible gun laws,” did not respond to a call and email for comment about the museum.
Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, who started the hunting and fishing gear business in the early 1970s by making fishing lures, proposed the Missouri location after visiting the NRA’s National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia.
The Bass Pro store in Springfield has about four million visitors annually and is one of the state’s top tourist destinations, said Tammy Sapp, Bass Pro spokeswoman.
Like other Bass Pro Shops around the country, the Springfield store has fish and wildlife displays that recreate natural habitats, as well as stuffed and mounted wildlife. Springfield is the privately held retail chain’s flagship store.
(Reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Greg McCune and Gunna Dickson)