Forty kilometers west of Washington - in the southeastern U.S. state of Virginia - sits the headquarters of the National Rifle Association, or NRA. It is a non-profit research and advocacy group dedicated to promoting the interests of America's gun owners. Collecting and preserving firearms - and keeping track of significant events in the history of their development - are considered essential components of the NRA's mission. So the organization has established the National Firearms Museum. As VOA's George Dwyer reports, the objects on display there tell the story of America from a powerful and distinctive perspective. Jim Bertel narrates.

The National Firearms Museum was established to collect, preserve and display guns, rifles, and other artifacts from the 800-year long history of firearms.

"What we do in the National Firearms Museum is basically to tell the story of Americans and their guns," says Doug Wicklund, who is Senior Curator at the museum, and an expert on the design technology, industrial production, and cultural history of guns.

"You could say that the museum is in some ways a library [and] the guns are [like] books," Wicklund said. "We are basically showing what the American firearm represents in our society. We are showing how they are used in hunting and competitive shooting; for folks that do a little bit of collecting, we are showing antique pieces that date back centuries as well as modern guns that that can be used in the national matches or in the Olympics."

Included among the more than 2,000 firearms on display here are many notable for their intricate engineering and masterful ornamentation - products of the craft still known as gunsmithing.

"When you look at a firearm you are seeing an artifact that is very, very well designed," Wicklund said.

The gunsmith's art once included the production of miniaturized guns, some mere centimeters in length.

"The miniatures that we have today are truly marvels of craftsmanship and they are also historical reminders of that past time when, in order to become a gunsmith you had to make a miniature," he added.

Mounted in their glass display cases, these weapons do not threaten - in fact they can even inspire.