The vampire gun at the National Firearms Museum

(Michael Ives/national Firearms Museum)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 3, 2010

Let's say you need to kill a vampire -- and heaven knows, they're everywhere these days. The National Firearms Museum has just the thing: the Vampire Hunter's Colt Detective Special. The revolver has a cross engraved on the muzzle, presumably to keep vampires at bay while the vampire hunter takes aim. It spits silver .38-caliber bullets, each of which is sculpted in the form of a vampire's head. And its coffin-shaped box, lined with sanguinary-red velvet, comes with a helpful vial marked "Holy Water."

The Vampire Hunter's Colt Detective Special, which is a silver-plated version of the snub-nosed handgun once prized by Mafia hit men and pulp fiction's world-weary private eyes, is one of the newest additions to the collection of 5,000 firearms. It goes on display Oct. 8 along with 400 newly acquired firearms in the new Robert E. Petersen wing of the museum at the National Rifle Association's headquarters in Fairfax County.

To stroll through its galleries is to reflect on one of the most controversial and fetishized objects in American culture. Beginning with a battered wheel-lock rifle that came to the New World aboard the Mayflower, the museum celebrates firearms and their place in the American imagination, including the Smith & Wesson .44 magnum revolver that made Clint Eastwood's day in the movie "Dirty Harry."

Here is the deadly accurate Kentucky rifle, which helped sharpshooting American colonists secure independence from Britain. Teddy Roosevelt's love affair with big guns and big game is amply related, as is the celebrity of trick shooter Annie Oakley.

There are guns concealed in walking sticks, sniper rifles that can penetrate walls and miniature firearms that allowed apprentice gunsmiths to show their chops. The smallest, at perhaps 1 1/2 inches long, is so tiny that a needle is necessary to work the trigger.

The new Petersen collection includes a Colt New Frontier .45-caliber revolver, embossed with serial number PT109 and the presidential seal, that was commissioned as a gift for President John F. Kennedy. He was assassinated before the gun could be delivered.

-- Fredrick Kunkle, politics reporter

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