Our nation was built on the backs of our brave founding fathers through determination, vision and sacrifice. In beating back the grip of tyranny, American warfighters relied on a variety of trusted firearms to take the fight to the enemy, earning the inalienable and indefatigable liberties we cherish today, and providing the means by which our sacred freedom is protected.
The NRA Museums houses several of these relics of American freedom on display, a timeless tribute to not only the instruments of freedom, but the citizens and soldiers who wielded them with bravery, valor and heroism, leading the nation through its darkest hours into the light of victory and continued liberty.
Early colonial Committees of Safety salvaged older fowlers, muskets, and fusils to provide the fledging patriot army units with serviceable arms. America faced off against the most powerful army in the world with these well-worn, rebuilt pieces and won the day. In battles from Lexington to King’s Mountain, these early smoothbores were among the first guns in place to help win America’s independence.
Those fortunate enough to possess the highly accurate flintlock long rifle, with most of these being handmade in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, enjoyed a range advantage. But the slower-reloading “Kentucky” rifle could not match the British musket in a shoulder-to-shoulder confrontation at close range. To best the British armies, Patriot commanders used a mix of muskets and rifles to their advantage.
Following Benjamin Franklin’s requests to France, thousands of French “Charleville” muskets came across the Atlantic to supplement the meager arms possessed by Patriot forces. These elegant, slim and lighter French arms also set a later precedent for America’s own development of arms following the American revolution and on into the modern era.
The American military was the first nation to recognize and successfully manufacture in quantity effective breechloading flintlock arms. The Hall rifles and later carbines provided an advantage over traditional muzzleloading arms in conflicts following the War of 1812.
Employing self-contained metallic cartridges, the Henry rifle offered amazing 16-shot firepower during an era where typical soldiers were issued a single-shot muzzleloader. This lever-action design was the forerunner of later Winchester sporting and military models fielded as America spread across the continent.
In World War I, bolt-action Springfield rifles squared off against similar Mauser rifles in trenches across Europe. Major John Hession’s rifle served in WWI, was sold to an individual who used it in international competition, and when England faced defeat from across the narrow Channel, was sent to Great Britain to serve once more.
In World War II, the semi-automatic M1 Garand rifle offered a quickly delivered eight-shot capacity in a world where 5-shot bolt-actions were standard for many nations. This rifle served well in Europe and in the Pacific, with the Korean War bringing this warhorse again to foreign battlefields. Later evolution of the Garand design into the M14 illustrated the evolution of the modern battle rifle.
Not all military applications required a battle rifle like the M1 Garand. For individuals whose duties might not allow them to carry a Garand, the lighter semi-auto M1 carbine could fill that role. From WWII through Vietnam, the M1 and later M2 carbines were carried in place of shorter-ranged pistols by many officers.
In the modern era, the selective-fire M16 rifle has served in a variety of conflicts, in tropical jungle to desert environments. Today, it serves our armed forces around the globe and the civilian equivalent, the semi-automatic AR-15 rifle, is the most popular rifle in America for personal protection, competition and hunting roles across the land. As many muskets once hung above fireplaces in colonial America – so today, these rifles serve proudly in both military and sporting roles.
Handguns have always been featured in subordinate roles to rifles, but the Model 1911 pistol established itself as the hand combat arm in two world wars and many later conflicts. Soldiers like Alvin York relied on their trusty .45 sidearms in subduing enemy forces and in civilian circles, “Old Slabsides” continues to enjoy great popularity for personal protection.