The NRA’s National Firearms Museum Exhibit on Modern Sporting Rifles

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When I worked for the National Rifle Association at the headquarters in Fairfax, Va., I found that once a week after lunch a quiet walk through the 15,000-sqaure-foot National Firearms Museum on the first floor grounded me in what guns are to America and Americans, as there would always be a wide range of people stopping by off Route 66 to wonder through the free museum with their family or friends. The conversations would be quiet and hushed, as they are supposed to be in a museum, but rarely about the same things. I recall speaking to a Vietnam veteran about his Model 1911 in front of a display of 1911s. I recall debating with a member of the U.S. Border Patrol about whether the .223 is right choice for combat.

Now the National Firearms Museum has announced the opening of “America’s Rifle,” an exhibit examining the evolution and popularity of AR-type modern sporting rifles (MSRs). Of course, AR-15s and other MSRs have long been in the museum, but this is a display to show this platform’s very American evolution.

The National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Va., has a new exhibit on AR-type rifles called "America's Rifle."

Why not—there are over three million MSRs now in the hands of everyday American citizens. The semiautomatic design is the most-popular action in the U.S. This isn’t new, as the semiautomatic was first developed in the late 19th century. But it is useful to see, and by seeing to understand the MSR’s lineage and its real part in the story of American freedom.

The exhibit will run for a year. It highlights the history of AR pattern rifles from development to uses today in competition, hunting, recreational shooting, and personal defense. “America’s Rifle” highlights influential predecessors like the M14, G3, and FN-FAL in addition to the M16 and AK47. This exhibit also illustrates the significant differences between the select-fire military-type rifles capable of full-auto and the semi-auto AR-type MSRs owned by millions of civilians.