The Greatest Public Gun Collections

These galleries and museums are must-sees for firearm aficionados.

American Cowboy Picture

Photo courtesy of Buffalo Bill Historical Center

The National Firearms Museum, Fairfax, Va. Housed in the National Rifle Association’s headquarters, more than 2,700 firearms are on display in 14 galleries, including one devoted to the American West. Along with Colts and Winchesters, you’ll find pistols made by the largely forgotten Merwin, Hulbert & Company, one of the top makers in the 1800s. A Hollywood Guns exhibit features the 1878 Gatling Gun Clint Eastwood fired in the Outlaw Josie Wales, and guns from the movies of John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, and Tom Selleck. And be sure to check out the Mayflower Gun; the only known surviving firearm carried over by the Pilgrims. 703-267-3820, nra.nationalfirearms.museum

The Cody Firearms Museum, Cody, Wyo. Like all of the five museums within the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, the Cody Firearms Museum is impressive in its completeness. Nearly 7,000 firearms are displayed in chronological order dating from the 1400s, including comprehensive collections of all the major manufacturers. Highlights include a Hawken rifle owned by famed mountain man John “Liver Eatin’” Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt’s Winchester hunting rifle, and a Marlin rifle Annie Oakley donated to raise money for the troops during World War I. 307-587-4771, bbhc.org

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City. Notable for their rarity and high quality, the 104 guns cherry-picked for display in the museum’s Weitzenhoffer Gallery of Fine American Firearms include Colt-Paterson revolvers that date to the 1830s and one of the few double rifles made by Colt. High-grade Marlins, Parkers, Remingtons, Smith & Wessons, and Sharps rifles round out the collection. Dozens of other 1800s-era guns are displayed throughout the museum in dioramas that depict trappers and traders, Native Americans, soldiers, hunters, and cowboys. 405-478-2250, nationalcowboymuseum.org

Greg Martin Colt Gallery at the Autry National Center, Los Angeles. Opened in July 2011, the Greg Martin Colt Gallery features one of the finest collections of Colt revolvers anywhere. Highlights include a single-action Colt revolver owned by Theodore Roosevelt and the gun Doc Holliday carried at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The gallery also interprets the story of Samuel Colt’s revolutionary invention of the repeating revolver. In another exhibit, you’ll find the rifle Billy the Kid posed with in the only authenticated image of him. 323-667-2000, theautry.org

The J.M. Davis Arms and Historical Museum, Claremore, Okla. J.M. Davis got his first gun in 1894 at the age of 7. By the time he died in 1973, he owned more than 13,000. The world’s largest private gun collection is now housed in a free museum in Claremore, Oklahoma. You can see everything from a 600-year-old Chinese hand cannon to a Gatling gun and a collection of Kentucky rifles. Weapons used by outlaws John Wesley Hardin, Bonnie and Clyde, and the Dalton Gang are displayed, along with U.S. Marshal Bill Tillman’s pistol. 918-341-5707, thegunmuseum.com

Springfield Armory National Historic Site, Springfield, Mass. Founded as an arsenal under General George Washington, the Springfield Armory manufactured military weapons for nearly 200 years before closing in 1968. It reopened 10 years later as a Historic Site administered by the U.S. Park Service, and today includes one of the world’s largest and finest collections of primarily military firearms. 413-734-8551, nps.gov/spar

Museum of the Fur Trade, Chadron, Neb. This museum features an excellent collection of early mountain and plains rifles from the trapper and trader era of the American West. 308-432-3843, furtrade.org

Woolaroc Museum & Wildlife Preserve, Bartlesville, Okla. Phil Phillips, nephew of Phillips Petroleum Company founder Frank Phillips, left behind a collection of hundreds of Colts, including a rare collection of Colt Pattersons dating to the 1830s. Woolaroc also owns the Waldo Wilson Colt Collection of more than 650 guns. There’s also what the Museum Director calls, “A pretty tasty collection of Winchesters.” 918-336-0307,woolaroc.org

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