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NRA National Firearms Museum’s New Doc Thurston Gallery

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This year, your NRA National Firearms Museum is marking 87 years in operation, preserving and chronicling nearly seven centuries’ worth of firearms history during that time. With the opening of the new Doc Thurston Gallery to the public at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, Va., this past May, I want to take this opportunity to celebrate the rich history of the museum.

The result of working with late NRA Benefactor Member Doc Thurston’s estate for seven years, the new gallery includes many Old West artifacts from his collection and adds about 450 firearms to the museum’s total display. In total, the NRA National Firearms Museum boasts 2,600 firearms filling 85 exhibit cases in 15 different galleries—each evocative of the time period of the firearms represented.

Originally an offshoot of the NRA Publications technical staff, the NRA National Firearms Museum first opened its doors in 1935 inside the Barr Building in Washington, D.C.’s Farragut Square. During its early years, the museum had a series of six-foot tall, double-sided display cases covered in burlap, each containing anywhere from 10 to 20 firearms mounted with S-hooks to a pegboard. In those days, the display description text was typed on index cards near each gun.

In 1954, when NRA headquarters moved to 1600 Rhode Island Ave., the museum moved with it. Forty years later, the NRA relocated to Virginia, and the museum reopened in 1998 with 15,000 square feet of display space on the first floor of NRA headquarters in Fairfax, where it remains today. The modern-day NRA National Firearms Museum is dedicated to firearms history, freedom, the Second Amendment and the uniquely American experience.

In addition to the museum at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, more than 25,000 people a month visit the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum at Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Mo., which opened its doors in 2013.

Although the National Firearms Museum at NRA headquarters was closed for about two years due to the pandemic, prior to its re-opening on May 9, staff used the downtime to freshen up the exhibits, along with updating graphics and other displays. More historic firearms are added to the museum collection every month—one to look out for in the near future is Audie Murphy’s Springfield Rifle from the 1951 Civil War film “The Red Badge of Courage.”

Open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. except Christmas, admission to the museum is free. Learn more at nramuseum.org.

Article by JOSEPH P. DEBERGALIS JR.

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