Confessions of a Firearm Collector

(Or, “What Do You Do With An Assault Rifle?”)

I have a confession. I am a firearm collector.

Now, some folks collect Christmas ornaments. Others collect old grade school lunchboxes. Some collect antique fountain pens (I do that last one, too, by the way). Others collect cars. (I’ve had a couple of those, but they proved to be far too expensive to maintain, although both were award winners).

One thing that’s remained a constant — since my Dad gave me my first one at age five — is my firearm collection. From a reproduction French Charleville musket to a STEN Mk. V, I’ve got more than a few.

I number a handful of what’s called ‘assault rifles’ in my collection.

I don’t often own up to that, for reasons that ought to be obvious. Those of us who’ve quietly collected a small handful of weapons which were purpose-built for no other reason than to kill other people usually keep our mouths shut about the subject in public, and only talk among ourselves.

See, the secret about anyone who collects something that’s mechanically complex — whether it’s wristwatches, grandfather clocks, or rifles — is that we’re all nerds. All of those things appeal to a somewhat technical and meticulous nature. Our discussions (usually at gun shows) are, to be blunt, likely boring to the general public.

I’ve had long conversations about the best way to clean a rifle barrel. I, and four others, pored over the proof marks on a receiver to determine from which arsenal, and in what date range, a Brown Bess musket had been made. I was once able to tell a dealer that he’d been taken (the British uniform he was selling from the era of the Boer War was a fake). I once assisted in the identification of a rebarrelled Martini-Henry from the Cairo arsenal (someone was trying to pawn it off as a genuine artifact from Gordon’s Sudanese campaign).

You get the point. I’m a geek. Three degrees (two in history) will do that to a fellow.

So, what on earth does someone like me do with an assault rifle? Really — what do any of my fellow geeks do?

We ought to back up a bit.

First off, it’s important to abandon the duplicity. Long guns of every and any sort were not invented for hunting. None of them. They were all developed — from the Brown Bess I helped date, to the HK91 in my closet — for killing people. The modern assault rifle is simply the logical extension of that process.

Once a person accepts this fact, then the real question is, “Why does anyone want any sort of rifle at all?” The answers are varied, but they carry a common theme.

We’re challenged by mastering the skill.

For some, it’s about hunting four-legged creatures, usually for food. I don’t do that myself, but that doesn’t make me a ‘better person’. I know plenty of people who do, and they’re all decent sorts. Actually, if the chips were down and assistance was necessary, I’d sooner call one of them than I would a cop. I’d be less likely to be shot by the person I’d called.

For others, it’s simply about the mastery of hitting a target. In that, it’s no different than the person who practices a putt, or a tennis serve, or the perfect throw at a game of darts. I’ve spent many hours practicing my aim, and find it much more productive when I have five magazines laid out; five iterations of changing a magazine beats working a bolt.

Yep. It’s that simple.

So, yes, I own assault rifles. And yes, I enjoy them. Not as much as I’d like, but that can be said for a lot of things I’ve done for fun over time.

Whether you know it or not, I represent the vast majority of firearm (and especially assault rifle) owners in the U.S. We don’t belong to a militia. We don’t have extremist ideals. We don’t want to hurt anyone.

We just like to make noise and poke holes in things at a distance. I suppose I could take up archery (again) — and the notion of pulling a recurve bow out of the safe (the same place where I keep my other weapons) has an appeal, I’ll confess.

Maybe someday soon.

Today? There’s three inches of snow on the ground. I’ve other things to do, and no inclination to take a drive to the woods or a range to practice hitting a target. Today, they stay in the safe.

And they are. Very safe. That’s because I’m a responsible owner, and realize that there are many who are not. That, however, is a different conversation.

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