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Blasts From The Past

NRA firearms museum opens with big bang in Springfield, Mo.

The NRA National Sporting Arms Museum at the Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Mo., held a ribbon cutting ceremony as it opened Friday, Aug. 2. (Mike Suchan photo) The NRA National Sporting Arms Museum at the Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, Mo., held a ribbon cutting ceremony as it opened Friday, Aug. 2. (Mike Suchan photo)

By: Mike Suchan,

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Jim Supica beamed like a proud papa. He spoke energetically about the arrival of his new baby, the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum.

As museum director, Supica oversaw the project to tell the story of four centuries of firearms in 7,500 square feet at the Bass Pro Shops flagship store. On a private tour before the ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 2, Supica’s passion for the history of the gun was evident.

“I love this,” he said. “It’s such an honor to work on. When we open doors today, it will immediately take its place as one of the finest and one of the most historically significant firearms museums in the world.”

There are 1,000 firearms on display, from military to competition, to hunting to Hollywood, valued at more than $20 million. The collection included guns of three U.S. presidents, five Congressional Medal of Honor winners and crown heads of Europe.

Supica received a big nod of approval from none other than Wayne LaPierre. As Supica’s tour walked past the NRA executive vice president and CEO, who was looking at engraved guns from the old West, LaPierre broke from his conversation to address Supica.

Click image to view photos from the NRA Museum

“I’m so impressed with all of what you did,” said LaPierre, who had first seen the museum the night before.

“Thank you so much,” said Supica, who is certain to receive more accolades.

Noting he had plenty of help from the Bass Pro Shops design team, Supica was pleased with the finished product, which had been in the works for years but only began construction 2 years ago with installation of the displays starting in April.

“I’m so proud to be associated with the NRA, but to be associated with this particular project is a very special honor, something I’m very, very proud of,” he said. “Incredible teamwork on this, both Bass Pro folks and NRA folks. The finest creative team I’ve ever worked with. They built it, then we filled it.

“I think it sets an entirely new standard for layout, for exhibition, for thematic content. There’s nothing to compare to this in any firearms related museum. I’d be awfully surprised if it doesn’t set a record the first year for public attendance at a firearms museum. It is a remarkable institution. Just a wonderful, wonderful facility.”

Opening day saw 3,500 people visit, after around 400 jammed the aisles to witness the morning ribbon cutting ceremony. They climbed stairs lined with a railing of rifles and yanked on another rifle serving as the door handle. It opened to a museum that is comprised of several impressive collections. Many oohed and aahed as they took in the guns and read plaques detailing their significance.

Part of the collection, many of the “important guns,” came from the NRA’s peer institution at its headquarters in Fairfax, Va. But the NRA has been working the past several years to find exhibition space for three other separate collections; prototypes from Remington Arms (including Remington artwork), the full collection of the Pachmayr Foundation and the American Trapshooting Hall of Fame, which had been in storage since closing

“Each was set for its own museum, but we were able to bring them in here because we have the space,” Supica said. “And we’ll have the traffic. (Bass Pro Shops) claim to get 4 million people through the doors here each year.”

Although the most recent artifact only arrived about a week ago, Alexander Hamilton’s powder horn from the 1700s received a quick front and center display.

“For me that was a goosebump artifact,” Supica said. “I still get goosebumps when something like that comes in -- a tangible piece of history. This museum is so rich in that. We've got Napoleon's double barrel shotgun for crying out loud.

“Anyone who likes guns even a little bit will be delighted here. Even someone who is not wild about guns is going to see the history, see the artistry. They’re going to understand how these artifacts are intertwined with human life and the American story, and that’s what we’re after.”

There are U.S. military service guns from the Revolutionary War to current day, competition firearms, historical guns, big-game guns, guns from the old West, from Hollywood, from U.S. Presidents including Dwight D. Eisenhower, Grover Cleveland and Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt has his own room, and the only display that isn’t complete.

“What we’re waiting for is a mannequin of Teddy Roosevelt on safari in his pith helmet sitting in a camp chair reading a book,” Supica said. “He took crates and crates of books in addition to crates and crates of ammo. In a few weeks, we’ll have him in here reading a book.”

And then Supica can pass out cigars.

For more on the museum, read Geeked Out About Guns

The NRA National Sporting Arms Museum, inside the Bass Pro Shops at 1935 S. Campbell, Springfield, Mo., is open to the public every day from 10 a.m. CT until 7 p.m. CT. Admission is free.

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