To understand the NRA’s world view, anyone can drive about 20 miles west of the District to the NRA’s headquarters in Fairfax County and step into the organization’s National Firearms Museum. (The building is not completely defenseless: You need to get buzzed in at the entrance.)
Since last week’s elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which killed 20 students and six adults, the indomitable lobbying behemoth has been mostly silent. It temporarily shut down its Facebook page, issued a short statement expressing shock about the mass killing, and planned a news conference for Friday.
An NRA spokesperson did not return a phone call seeking comment for this story, but the organization has long championed the rights of hunters, gun owners and collectors. A Washington Post analysis in 2010 showed that the group, with 4 million dues-paying members, had spent $74 million on campaign contributions over the previous 20 years and tens of millions more on voter education. The NRA also teaches people across the country, including children, how to shoot and handle guns safely.
Its museum, the Web site says, “is home to the finest firearms collection in the world. Through 15 galleries spanning more than six centuries, this spectacular showcase offers the unique opportunity to view some of America’s most significant firearm treasures.”
Once visitors swing open the glass doors, they can wander past hundreds of guns in sealed display cases. Big signs above the cases read: “American Classics,” “Italian Masters” and “Handguns of Note.”
The museum traces the history of guns from America’s colonial days to the Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s. Some of the guns on display — semiautomatics and Sig Sauer pistols — are similar to those carried by Adam Lanza in the Connecticut shooting.
But most others are antiques from previous wars or rare collector’s items with names such as “takedown rifle,” or the gold-plated Colt Combat Commander pistol.
Only one exhibit highlights the criminal side of guns: “Wanted” posters for Osama Bin Laden, organized crime figure James “Whitey” Bulger and several other bad guys.
Absent, of course, is any mention of mass shootings or school rampages. (The museum’s shrine to gun-centric Hollywood films includes a poster from the second “Dark Knight” Batman movie, an inadvertent reminder of this summer’s shooting at a Colorado theater, where people were killed during a screening of the third in the trilogy, “The Dark Knight Rises.”)