By: Peter Suciu
Earlier this month, Republican Congressman Thomas Massie was under fire on social media for posting a photo of his family, each holding various firearms. As this reporter noted in a story for Forbes.com, the Twitterverse exploded,with many saying it was in bad taste to share the photo just days after a school shooting in Oxford, Michigan – and many even questioned why Massie and family own such firearms. Rep. Massie is not alone.
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) found herself in the crosshairs for her support of the Second Amendment and for appearing in videos with firearms a few times in the past. Her critics often label her a "gun nut."
It isn't just conservative lawmakers who are often questioned for collecting firearms. Every day, gun owners, and especially collectors, find themselves targeted by supporters of gun control – while many communities make it hard to even collect firearms. New York City has sought to go so far as to require residents to register vintage black powder guns – many of which were never produced, sold, or issued with serial numbers.
Gun collectors have long encountered criticism and had their collecting interest questioned.
Yet, there is some serious hypocrisy at play, as Massie was called out for owning a few firearms, while less than a month earlier a documentary was posted to video sharing service YouTube, which highlighted the massive collection of World War I memorabilia owned by New Zealander Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings franchise. While Jackson's appreciation for history, especially the First World War, is well known – and he, of course, directed the 1918 documentary They Shall Not Grow Old, which remains one of the best such films made about the British military in the Great War – few dared question why he should own military aircraft, artillery pieces, and countless small arms.
The video has been seen more than a million times to date. Few, if any, of the comments approach the hostility of what Massie received for his collection of a handful of guns.
The story is often the same when it comes to celebrities.
Brad Pitt owns a World War II Spitfire fighter airplane, for which he is reported to have spent upwards of $4 million to purchase. Jay Leno owns a British Ferret Armoured Car, which he has driven around Los Angeles – and based on another YouTube video, it is armed with a .30 caliber machine gun. Now, in all likelihood, that weapon is deactivated or is a non-firing replica, yet Leno doesn't make that fact clear when he shows it off, and instead jokes about having a machine gun in a video from his series Jay Leno's Garage.
He actually can be heard stating in jest, "Sometimes when I go to downtown I need to put the .50 caliber on," and then says, "If someone has road rage, just turn that baby around… you don't have to fire, people just back off."
Imagine if Massie made any such joke about his M-60 machine gun; there would certainly be calls for him to resign or be removed from office!
This reporter isn't meaning to pick on Pitt or Leno – if anything, I'm envious. And for the record, I own multiple deactivated (per ATF rules) machine guns. I don't own a Ferret, however. I also know military vehicle collectors who have told me they'd never drive their Jeep around with a deactivated machine gun. The police don't know if it is real or not, and they don't need to guess.
Leno and Pitt aren't alone in being able to buy such expensive toys. The late Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, used his vast wealth to amass one of the largest collections of military vehicles in the world. He spent $2.5 million for a German Panzer IV tank used during the Second World War. Again, no one seemed terribly upset – the tank was part of a collection.
Many collectors, however, are called out for buying a German helmet or flag – they're questioned for doing so, and some have been accused of being Neo-Nazis rather than collectors, just for daring owning such an item.
The rich and famous get a pass for buying weird and unusual items. Actor Nicholas Cage has bought actual European castles and bones of dinosaurs, while the late Michael Jackson had a replica of Disney World's "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride built on his Neverland Ranch. Such wild purchases have been praised, yet gun collectors or those who dare own a Confederate sword are questioned like they're looking to overthrow the government. They may just want to own something about the history they've studied.
In the case of Allen, it has been said he was building a museum so he understands the context. Yet, somehow serious collectors don't know the history and context? If anything, they may know it as well, or better, than any museum.
"While collectors take pride in their personal ensembles, they do take the items out of the public stream of study and understanding. When the super wealthy do it, they can take entire swathes of history out of the stream," explained John Adams-Graf, editor of Military Vehicles magazine, and author of several books on military collectibles.
"Some-super collectors even attempt to create museums to provide access," added Adams-Graf.
That is rarely the case with celebrities. They may share their prized toys in videos, but they're hardly part of the collecting community.
Moreover, if a celebrity owns several items – from cars to dinosaur bones to even guns – it is also called a collection. When the average gun owner or lawmaker has multiple firearms, it becomes an arsenal, which highlights the danger of firearms.
Yet, few gun collectors have the kind of accidents of some of those celebrity collectors. The late Paul Walker, as one example, was something of the ultimate car guy, and he died just days after Thanksgiving in 2013 when the Porsche his friend was driving (too fast) crashed. The late Bob Denver was also quite the airplane enthusiast, and his hobby killed him – while Harrison Ford also has nearly died from his aerial mishaps.
Few would question that a celebrity takes to the skies or drives fast cars; and yet, we can expect that anyone who dares suggest they own a few guns will be continue to be labeled a dangerous,s or at least irresponsible individual – at least until you get super rich and famous. Then you can joke about driving in down town LA with a .50 caliber machine gun.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.