By: Peter Suciu
Summer is the time to get on the road and get away, and if you’re a firearms enthusiast, there are a few "must visit" museums to see, along with some famous battlefields, shooting ranges, and even a couple gun shops that can’t be missed.
When you’re hitting the road this summer, be sure to plan to keep these destinations in mind:
Museums and Collections
There are those people who like museums, and those who don’t. If you’re the type to museum-hop while on vacation, check out the following!
Established in 1935, the NRA National Firearms Museum is located at the NRA headquarters in Fairfax County, Virginia.
More than 2,500 firearms are displayed in the 15,000-square-foot facility – which chronicles seven centuries of firearms development and history. Its collection includes a Wheelock that was believed to have come over on the Mayflower, the first machine gun used in combat by Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, and rare hunting and target guns. Another exhibit, "Hollywood Guns" features firearms from the movies, including some used by John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. Now that could make your day!
Location and info: 11250 Waples Mill Rd, Fairfax, VA 22030
When you think of "gun friendly" states to visit, Massachusetts probably doesn’t spring to mind, but it is home to the Springfield Armory, which served as the primary center for the manufacture of American military firearms from 1777 until it was closed in 1968.
Today, it is preserved as the Springfield Armory National Historic Site and is home to the Springfield Armory Museum, which features the largest collection of historic American small arms. Such notable weapons as the M1 Garand and M14 were developed and produced at the Springfield Armory.
Location and info: 1 Armory St Suite 2, Springfield, MA 01105
Rock Island Arsenal
For those in the heartland of America, there is another can’t-miss museum of American firearms – the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, which is located in Rock Island County, Illinois.
It is the second oldest museum of the United States Army after the Museum at West Point. Sadly, due to a lack of interest and visitors, the collection has been downsized, but it still features some 1,100 guns on permanent display – including five weapons that were used at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Given that the future of this one is in question, best to visit it while you can!
Location and info: 1 Rock Island Arsenal Building 60, Rock Island, IL 61299
Part museum, gun shop, paintball range, and even gun range, Dragonmans is in a word… unique.
It grew out of the personal collection of Mel Bernstein – aka Dragon Man – and now spans 260 acres where visitors can take in a museum with weapons and even vehicles from the First World War to the modern day. There are more than 900 mannequins in military uniforms, hundreds of guns, and such vehicles as a Soviet T54 tank. Bernstein also runs a gun shop and shooting range on site, as well as a 35-acre paintball field and moto course. It would be an understatement to say it has something for everyone.
Location and info: 1200 Dragonman Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80929
If you’d like to get some fresh air while taking in some history, there are several well-preserved battlefield sites across the United States. If the American Revolution is your thing, then New England and the Atlantic coast are where you’ll want to head, while the Civil War calls for a visit to the South. Of course, there are plenty of old forts from coast to coast, but when it comes to battlefields, there are a few that stand out.
It was at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 where Americans truly won their independence.
Visitors can take in the 18th century battlefield and historic town, see numerous fortifications and cannons, and of course, see up close Moore House, scene of the surrender negotiations. Yorktown is also close to Colonial Williamsburg, where you can also take a trip back in time. Were it not for the victory at this location, that Second Amendment might likely not have come to exist.
Location and info: Yorktown, VA 23690
The Pennsylvania town was the site of the deadliest battle in American history. Throughout the summer – and notably each July 1-3 on the anniversary of the battle – there are living history programs. There are both driving and walking tours, and visitors can head to such notable locations as Little Round Top and Seminary Ridge, while the town itself offers several small museums and some notable antique shops. There is even the café General Pickett’s Buffet for those who need to fuel up while taking in the grounds.
Location and info: Gettysburg, PA
This year marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France. If the budget didn’t allow for a trip to Europe, you can head to Northeast Ohio and experience the world’s largest WWII re-enactment.
D-Day Conneaut, which will be held August 15-17, will feature thousands of re-enactors as they storm the beaches. There are period vehicles, including tanks, aircraft, and even landing craft. There is "cosplay," and then there is D-Day Conneaut!
Shooting and Buying
What would a vacation for a firearms enthusiast be if you didn’t get a chance to do some shooting? While hunting season is still months off, and the big machine gun shoots take place in the spring and/or fall, there are still a few places where year-round shooting of exotic firearms is always in the cards. And while gun shows aren’t as big in the summer months, there are some shops that are always ready to do business.
Machine Guns Vegas
If you’re heading to Sin City this summer, in between the table games and shows, be sure to check out Machine Guns Vegas, which is among the best of the places to try out automatic weapons. This shop has indoor and outdoor packages where you can try out such weapons as an M249 SAW, Uzi, or MP5. There are even group rates available – because blasting away on full auto is best done with a friend or loved one.
Location and info: 3501 Aldebaran Ave, Las Vegas, NV 89102
Machine Gun America Orlando
If you’re taking the family to Florida to take in Disney, Universal, and other "family friendly" fare, don’t skip out on Machine Gun America, which offers the chance to head to an outdoor range and pick from the largest arsenal of automatic weapons on the East Coast. If that’s not enough, you can even drive a tank!
So what’s it going to be: another day of long lines to ride Space Mountain or a day with the kids driving a freakin’ tank?!
Location and info: 5825 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy., Kissimmee, FL 34746
Founded 60 years ago by William "Bill" Hyatt as a small coin shop, today it is the largest gun shop in the country – selling custom firearms, collectible small arms, and even class three weapons. The shop offers training classes, handles transfers, including NFA devices, and offers a large collection of historic memorabilia beyond guns. The shop has a full-service gunsmith for repairs, and if you’re in the market to sell, Hyatt is the place to go as well. With more than 7,000 guns in stock at any one time, if Hyatt’s doesn’t have it, you’re just not looking hard enough.
Location and info: 3332 Wilkinson Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28208
Peter Suciu is a freelance writer based in Michigan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.