Jim Supica, NRA Museums Director (Joseph Victor Stefanchik/For The Washington Post)

Jim Supica, 62, is director of the NRA Museums, the biggest of which is the National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Va., which houses 3,000 guns and traces their role in U.S. history. Supica spent 20 years running a family business dealing in antique firearms and is co-host of “NRA Gun Gurus,” a kind of “Antiques Roadshow” for firearms.

How do you evaluate a gun?

There are many factors: make and model, condition. Provenance can add a huge amount — whether it was owned by Theodore Roosevelt or used by Jesse James. But you have to see how reliable the paperwork is that ties the gun to the individual.

Then there is the artistic value of custom firearms or engraved guns. They are the result of in­cred­ibly skilled craftsmanship, cutting images into steel, often using a hammer and chisel. The bulino engraving in our Petersen Collection is done by pressing dots into steel to create an illusion of light, almost like pointillist painting.

Do gun politics hover over this museum?

I don’t see that. The history and artistry of these guns transcend political issues. We’d love to be down on the Mall, but gun laws would make it very difficult in the District for people to bring us loans or donations.

I’m guessing you must have grown up with guns.

Not so much. I grew up watching too many cowboy movies, playing with toy guns. That was what all the neighborhood kids did.

What was your first real gun?

A .38-caliber revolver — very different from my childhood toy guns. I was involved in a construction business with my dad and brother in Kansas City, and I felt I needed one for personal defense. Several years later, in my late 20s, I began collecting. I collect Smith & Wesson revolvers from the Old West era and Serial No. 1 guns — the first gun of a particular model.

Do you carry a gun to work?

I am much more comfortable carrying a gun than not carrying a gun. It’s just kind of second nature to me.

Do you get to shoot the guns on display?

We do shoot historic guns periodically. The most fun is the Nock volley, a seven-barrel flintlock used by the British navy for a few years around 1800, designed for all seven barrels to fire at once. It has a massive recoil and dislocated the shoulders of soldiers firing it and tended to set rigging on fire. We loaded it with half charges because nobody wanted to volunteer to get their shoulder dislocated.

You must be a good shot.

No, not at all. I just like the noise and the smoke.

More Just Asking

For stories, features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit WP Magazine.

Follow the Magazine on Twitter.

Like us on Facebook.

E-mail us at wpmagazine@washpost.com.