NRA opens museum as advocates struggle to refocus safety conversation

Updated
Johnny Bass sets up the Henry Repeating Arms Company booth as exhibitors prepares for National Rifle Association Meetings and Exhibits at the George R. Brown...
Johnny Bass sets up the Henry Repeating Arms Company booth as exhibitors prepares for National Rifle Association Meetings and Exhibits at the George R. Brown...
Johnny Hanson/Houston Chronicle/AP

After a decade of planning, the National Rifle Association’s National Sporting Arms Museum opened its doors Friday as the country remained closely divided over controlling or protecting gun rights.

The NRA’s permanent museum, located at a Bass Pro Shops store in Springfield, Mo., features nearly 1,000 firearms and galleries filled with visual reminders of Americans’ right to bear arms. The free museum expands across 7,500 square feet.

Museum director Jim Supica told Reuters that the guns in the museum came from a combination of both the NRA’s collection, built over 80 years, and special collections that “haven’t had a place for display.” Among the firearms on display are those once belonging to French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and Hollywood stars John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

Supica emphasized that the museum was not meant to be political, but to promote history, as well as to support the NRA’s mission to defend the Second Amendment.

The museum opens as gun violence prevention advocates attempt to reignite the national conversation about gun safety and the need for an expanded background checks system.

In an interview on C-SPAN that aired Sunday, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was partially to blame for the Senate’s failure to pass a bill requiring expanded background checks for gun buyers back in April.

“Unfortunately, you have some on the left like the mayor of New York City, who actually didn’t help a bit with his ads,” Leahy said, referring to Bloomberg’s ads that targeted senators who opposed the background checks bill. “He actually turned off some people that we might have  gotten for supporters.”

Leahy is not the first Democratic leader to speak out about Bloomberg’s ads. In June, Sen. Chuck Schumer said the ads were not working, saying, “The mayor of New York City putting ads against people in red states is not going to be effective.”

Despite the criticism, advocates and leaders are moving forward to reignite the stalled conversation in Capitol buildings around the country. Rep. Gabby Giffords’ gun-control PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, reported last week that it has raised an additional $6.6 million in preparation for the upcoming midterm elections. In addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a meeting last week before the August recess that he expected the Senate to take up the background check debate again in 2014.

new study by the think tank Third Way found that thousands of guns, including semi-automatic weapons, were available for purchase at Armslist.com—a Craigslist-type website for firearms and ammunition— without background checks. Nearly 2,000 of the “wanted” ads from prospective buyers on the site specifically asked that no background checks be required to purchase.

But NRA members are continuing to push back against attempts to pass legislation that they see as targeting responsible gun owners. “They use all kinds of terms to make us scary,” NRA grassroots coordinator Miranda Bond told Time magazine. Bond argued that the terms “high-capacity magazines” and “universal background checks” don’t exist; “standard capacity” is more accurate, she said, and there can be no such thing as a “universal background check” because criminals won’t comply.

Bond added, “If you are legislating things that affect our lives, you should know what you’re talking about.”

NRA opens museum as advocates struggle to refocus safety conversation

Updated