National Firearms Museum – Fairfax, Virginia - Atlas Obscura

National Firearms Museum

Collecting 700 years of mechanical death-dealing, the NRA's sprawling gun museum is a revealing testament to the American obsession with armament. 


Located in Fairfax, Virginia, the National Firearms Museum displays a staggering collection of guns collected from over 700 years of firearm history.

Owned and operated by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the museum seeks to show visitors the breadth of innovation and importance of firearms down the centuries. The collection is made up of 15 galleries split up by era, featuring names that represent the attitude and utility of the weapons on display. There is the “Ever Vigilant” gallery that collects weapons used in World War II all the way up to present armaments; the “An Age of Elegance” gallery that displays weapons that belonged to Theodore Roosevelt and soldiers of the Spanish-American War; and the “Ancient Firearms” gallery that holds weapons dating back as far as 1350. 

In addition to the historically themed exhibit halls, the museum is also home to more broadly themed gun shows. From the “For the Fun of It” gallery that collects non-lethal weapons like cap guns and air rifles, to the “Hollywood Guns” collection featuring weapons like Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum, The Joker’s Remington short barrel shotgun, Mal Reynolds’ space revolver, and a wide variety of Star Wars prop weapons, the museum isn’t afraid to show that guns have a fun side.  

The crown jewel of the entire facility is the Robert E. Petersen Collection, which, according to the museum’s website, has been called “the finest single room of guns anywhere in the world.” This eclectic collection features all manner of firearms, including pistols, shotguns, and rifles, as well as the largest collection of Gatling guns on public display.

All of this is a fraction of the items on display. Other unique pieces in the museum include Annie Oakley’s guns and a service revolver covered in soot from 9/11. Whatever your feelings on guns, the National Firearms Museum is undeniably a fascinating and impressive collection of items that, like it or not, are an inextricable part of America’s past, present, and possible future. And it’s all completely free of charge.

If this huge display makes you want to actually shoot some guns you can take advantage of the 15-booth firing range in the basement of the building. There is a small training fee and you’ll need to bring your own pistol, rifle or shotgun, though, since they do not rent guns to the public.

Know Before You Go

Take exits 57A or 57B off I-66 and turn left onto Waples Mill Road. The building is on the right, and parking is free of charge.

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April 8, 2015

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