Which American presidents were gun owners?
Many gun owners are biting their nails tonight… so here’s a look through numerous different photo books from throughout United States history show that many presidents have either owned, shot, or at very least been photographed with firearms. Guns have been an important, and visible, part of U.S. history since before the U.S. was even an independent nation.
The reasoning behind these pictures vary, from presidents who maintained sizable gun collections to support their passionate hunting habits, to presidents who were awarded different pistols or other firearms for years of good service. One way or another, the White House has played host to plenty of gun owners over the past 240 years.
As a war general and a foxhunter, it will surprise no one that Washington was a passionate gun owner. His most prized firearm possessions were a pair of gorgeous saddle pistols (pictured) supposedly given to him by a young French solider who had volunteered to fight alongside the Continental Army. Washington also reportedly used these pistols in a variety of key battles during the Revolution and throughout his presidency, most notably at Valley Forge. The guns passed down through a line of several other presidents as well.
By all accounts, Jefferson was a huge proponent of the right to bear arms, even going as far to lay forth the argument on gun control that many hunters and other gun enthusiasts continue to use today. “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes,” Jefferson once wrote, putting forth the idea that gun control only succeeds in leaving the good people disarmed and defenseless against the criminal fiends.
With stances like that, it’s no surprise that Jefferson was a gun owner. His most well known bits of weaponry were two dueling flintlock pistols. Jefferson’s pistols have become iconic today, with reproduced versions of them often sold as commemorative mementos today (pictured).
An outspoken supporter of the NRA and a noted gun owner, there are numerous photographs out there that showcase just how much President Truman liked his firearms. Prior to his election as president, Truman acquired a pair of pistols that had belonged to legendary outlaw Jesse James (see pictured, where Truman is showing off one of the guns to John Nance Garner, FDR’s vice president), and during his presidency, he received an honorary Officer’s Model pistol from the Colt President himself.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Not only was Eisenhower a General and a hunting enthusiast, but he was also the president who was passionate enough about guns that he installed a skeet shooting range at Camp David. Many presidents have used that range to while away the hours and to practice marksmanship, from inaugural user Eisenhower to non-hunter John F. Kennedy, all the way to current incumbent Barack Obama.
President Ford was never much of a hunter, though numerous reports indicate that he may have tried it once or twice. Instead, Ford was a White House occupant known more for other athletic pursuits, particularly for his achievements as a football player at the University of Michigan. However, as the photo above shows, Ford was presented with at least one weapon – an attractive and old-fashioned musket – during his truncated term as president.
In the hall of fame of “coolest presidential weapons,” James Madison’s set of “space pistols” would definitely be one of the main attractions. Given to the president by a South American general, Madison’s pistols were supposedly crafted from meteorite iron, acquired from a crater in Argentina. As it turns out, the South American general was fibbing and these guns were actually not made of metal from space, but they’re still pretty beautiful guns. President James Monroe also owned the pistols for a time after Madison’s death.
Speaking of the “coolest presidential weapons” hall of fame, Grover Cleveland would have his own main attraction exhibit to contribute. It’s common knowledge that Cleveland was a president who liked to spend his leisure time hunting, so it’s no surprise that he was a gun owner. What is surprising is that one of the guns he owned – the Colt shotgun pictured above – was a double-barreled 8 gauge. The NRA classes the weapon as “the only known example in this gauge.” Who says presidents don’t get special treatment?
The guns in the picture above? All from the sizable collection of Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt. In fact, in 2012, the NRA National Firearms Museum began an exhibit geared specifically toward displaying items from Roosevelt’s gun collection.
The exhibit should still be live at the museum, but back when the news broke that it was in the planning stages, NRA curators indicated that they had over 100 items to sort through and review for the exhibit. In other words, Roosevelt was probably the biggest gun collector to ever take the White House. From personal firearms – including at least one that stayed stowed in Roosevelt’s nightstand during his presidency – to full-scale hunting rifles, this guy’s collection had it all.
Martin Van Buren
Legend has it that, when he was serving as vice president and therefore presiding over the Senate, Van Buren would wear a pair of pistols just in case he had to respond to threats of violence or shoot his way out of a Senate disagreement. Even thinking of current Vice President Biden doing something similar is enough to make us smile.
Recently, President Carter has made his thoughts on gun control well known, decrying the existence of assault weapons and urging politicians to pass legislation that would seek to reduce the frequency of unnecessary shooting deaths. However, Carter himself is a noted gun owner, with a sizable collection of rifles and shotguns. Not Roosevelt-level sizable, but you get the idea.
Check out more Presidential lists…