The powerhouse of arguably the most influential lobby group in the world could easily be mistaken as just another high-rise office block protruding from the bright green landscape in the land of the free, thousands of miles away from our sunburnt country. Although no longer positioned a stone’s throw from the Australian Embassy in Washington DC, the headquarters of the National Rifle Association (NRA) still shares connections with Australia, despite relocating its main office to Fairfax, Virginia.
The SSAA has a long friendship and affiliation with our American counterparts. SSAA National hosted the NRA National Firearms Museum senior curator Philip Schreier at our Annual General Meeting just three years ago, while also accompanying former NRA president Ron Schmeits on his visit to Australia in 2010. It was Philip himself who welcomed a visit from the SSAA and hosted a personal tour of the NRA’s head office, to share some of the inner workings of the renowned association.
Incorporating six levels and two towers, the NRA HQ boasts an extensive publications and media department, professional photography and video studios, shopfront proudly selling NRA merchandise, its own cafe and even two gun ranges; one open to members and staff, the other for testing and reviewing firearms. Offices of the NRA Institute of Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) are situated in the building, with the SSAA Legislative Action (SSAA-LA) taking the time to meet with our counterparts to discuss strategies and shared challenges.
The NRA HQ is also home to the NRA National Firearms Museum, which features one of the biggest collections of noteworthy firearms in the world. The Australian Shooter previously interviewed Philip about his work at the museum during his visit to Australia, with our story published in the August 2014 edition of this magazine. To see Philip in his element, in the museum itself, shed further light on a man who has dedicated the past 28 years of his life to the NRA.
Philip’s intimate knowledge of the hundreds of firearms on display - worth at least $US50 million - is truly remarkable and goes well beyond pieces relevant to America’s history. While there is a section dedicated to the Civil War and separate displays for the Confederates and Union sides, the NRA National Firearms Museum really has something for everyone.
A Westley Richards side-by-side 12-gauge shotgun gifted to Princess Diana for her 1981 wedding to Prince Charles features among a dedicated British display, while the specially-fitted shotgun of high-ranking Nazi Hermann Goering, enshrined with the infamous Swastika, forms part of the collection from World War Two. There is even a firearm designed to kill the mythical: the ‘Vampire Hunter’. This silver-plated .38 Colt is fittingly accessorised with holy water and a stake. “This is very popular and gets a lot of media attention,” Philip said.
The JFK Colt New Frontier pistol that was intended to be gifted to former President John F Kennedy is also on display, although Philip notes that this was never presented due to the assassination in Dallas, Texas. Philip explained that Colt continues its custom of gifting pistols to each President to this day.
A wall of Winchester lever-action shotguns dating back to the 1800s is vivid proof that this firearm is indeed old technology, while the guns of the Wild West, including those used by Dirty Harry himself, Clint Eastwood, are also on display.
Firearms used by arguably the most famous NRA President, Charlton Heston, form part of the collection, with his presence still felt in the building today - a lifelike statue fills part of the museum floor. But beyond the walls of the museum, which underwent an expansion in 2010 to include the Robert E Petersen Gallery of fine sporting arms, lies secure storerooms that house the many pieces that cannot fit on the viewing floor. The Australian Shooter was given an exclusive look into one of the storerooms.
From wall to wall and floor to ceiling, historical firearms filled an entire vault. Exhibits from wars and iconic guns used in famous films filled the room, along with vital remnants of the NRA’s history. The machine-gun from Scarface, synonymous with the famous quote “Say hello to my little friend”, was handed to this awed reporter, while John Malkovich’s pistol from the cult movie Con Air was also within arm’s reach.
But it was the SSAA-branded items that popped up throughout the building that showcased a different history - the years of friendship shared between our two great Associations. The traditional Horn of Friendship gifted to the NRA when the SSAA National Executive visited in 1990 is still proudly kept, with this beloved magazine appearing in the museum library and soon to feature in the NRA-ILA library upon request.
Popular among the staff, Philip made sure anyone who passed by during the private tour was made aware of the SSAA, even reminding some that the SSAA boasts a bigger membership than the NRA itself, by percentage of the population.
Philip’s liking for Australians, and most notably the history of our Anzacs, is a visible passion of his. He has visited all of the Western Front sites and key battlefields in France, where our Anzacs fought in World War One. A group of 35 Americans even dress as Anzac soldiers and re-enact battles in a man-made trench in Newville, Pennsylvania. “Some of them have never been to Australia but are interested in the history,” Philip said.
Further proof of Philip’s dedication to preserving our Anzac history can be seen within the hallowed walls of the museum itself - a life-size figure of a soldier kitted out in our Anzac uniform features in one of the displays. This was proudly pointed out by Philip to the group of around a dozen visitors who took part in the public tour led by Philip, with references to Australia notably mentioned throughout the hour-long excursion. A boomerang mounted directly above Philip’s desk serves as a constant reminder of his love for our country.
The history shared between our two great Associations and the comradery and appreciation for each other’s cultures reflects the Anzac value of mateship. There is no doubt that the NRA, and Philip himself, is playing a vital role in preserving history for future generations, allowing the general public to gaze upon important historical items - and for free, as there is no entry fee.
Back home, the SSAA will continue to work with our international counterparts as we strive to promote and protect our chosen recreation. With our close ties and shared knowledge, our long and proud culture of the shooting sports and hunting will go on well into the future.