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June 7, 2008 - 8:43am



In the museum tower of the NRA headquarters, there's first a little store, and then a little theater with a film about the history and significance of guns in America. Vintage rifles line the walls of the theater, and American flags and eagles abound.

The film features figures like Annie Oakley, Dwight Eisenhower, and Theodore Roosevelt (standing triumphantly, gun in hand, over an enormous dead rhinoceros), and argues that guns are "an essential part of the American story - a link between our rights and our history." It provides a time line of the development of guns, calling them a "beautiful marriage of art and technology."

Clearly addressing people who grew up with guns, the film's narrator says that they "awaken memories and strong emotions."

UD wanders around the bookstore. Sample title: Thank God I Had a Gun: True Accounts of Self-Defense. She buys a shot glass with little handles in the shape of a pistol. UD doesn't drink shots. She just likes the absurdity of the thing.

The first display to catch her eye is The Metamorphosis of an Amendment, a quick history of the writing of the Second Amendment. "Americans feared that tyranny could result from an over-strong federal government and president."

There's a Charleton Heston Gallery and a One Hundred Years of John Wayne exhibit, featuring many of the guns he used in his films.

An "Upland Bird Hunting and Waterfowls" exhibit reminds UD that though she thinks of guns and their cultures as totally alien, they're not really. A photo featuring two hunters, their guns, and their English Cocker Spaniels has UD recalling her mother's many such hunting outings with her Mason Dixon English Cocker Spaniel Club. Her mother didn't do any shooting, but other people did.

The museum's full of people looking with great intensity at each display and talking among themselves in great detail about this and that weapon, its use in the Korean War, whatever. Beyond the Metamorphosis exhibit, there's really no propaganda in the museum; it's directed toward gun aesthetes, if you will: People who find guns -- their variety, their features, their embellishments, their capacities -- beautiful and fascinating.

Back in the lobby of the other tower, waiting for her cab home, UD takes in the plushness of the place, inside and out. Well-landscaped, sparkling clean, almost opulent.

The wall behind the lobby reception desk ( 'Welcome to Your NRA') is a framed photo gallery of all of the men who've led the organization.

UD's hungry, and considers getting a bite at the NRA Cafe, but she's already called a cab.

Quiet, corporate, neat and friendly, full of ordinary Americans of all races, the NRA is masculine in feel but has plenty of women about. Cameras are everywhere, of course, and some of the staff eye me a little warily, but basically there's an open feel to the place. It's not creepy.


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