Off the Porch: Heirloom guns
There’s probably no recreational activity that’s endured in American culture as much as shooting and no possession so universally passed down and used by successive generations as firearms. As possessions pass from one generation to another, the guns owned by the previous generation often become treasured heirlooms. In almost every family, there are firearms of historic value, much the way swords relating to family history are treasured by the wealthy families of Europe.
I recently was part of a firearms reunion of sorts and it reminded me of just how important firearms are a part of our American history and our family heirlooms. The family was that of Lieutenant Colonel, George Raleigh McColl. His son, Buck, grandson, Bill, and great grandson, Billy came to our range for an afternoon of shooting his old guns and remembrance of his life. George Raleigh McColl entered World War II as a second lieutenant in the United States Army. He served as a troop commander and an MP in Australia, Hawaii, and the Philippines. He died in 1951, after holding jobs as a farm superintendent, an agricultural agent, and his last job as director of the Presbyterian Home in High Point. The primary guns George R. McColl left for his family were a Lefever Nitro 12 gauge shotgun and a Colt 1917 revolver, the gun he carried through World War II. The Colt has a custom holster he had made in the Australia, custom tooled, with a knife sheath. There was also a custom ammunition pouch and a leather grip wrap made at the same time.
His shotgun was a working man’s gun. It’s a later time Lefever made after Ithaca bought what was left of the Lefever Company and it’s basically a plainer version of the popular New Ithaca Double, the last version of double barreled shotgun the company produced. In talking about the gun, Buck said he never remembered his dad shooting the Lefever and not hitting what he shot at. A family story about the Lefever was that the younger of Colonel McColl’s sons, four year old David, found the gun in a closet and dragged it down the stairs of the house while everyone was listening to Walter Winchell giving the war news. Once Mrs. McColl secured the Lefever, she asked what he was doing. He replied, “I’m going to fight the Japs and the Germanese.”
Hardly a week goes by that I don’t get a call about some heirloom firearm passed down. Sometimes, the family doesn’t understand the value, both financial and historical. I love old guns that are well made and have served their purpose well. My favorite shotgun was made in 1917 and, while I don’t know its history, I’ve sat in duck blinds or a dove field and looked at that old Fox and wished it could talk. I’m sure it would have a lot of stories to tell. Guns that are part of the family history are even more valuable and mean so much more. Daddy brought a Star 9mm pistol home from World War II. When I learned a little about guns, I learned the story of how he got it, and it’s still fresh in my mind as if he told me yesterday. His sergeant came in the barracks and told the guys in the outfit to go outside and get a pistol. Daddy said there were Lugers, P38s and broomhandle Mausers in a barrel but he chose the Star because it looked the most like an issue 1911. It was probably the least valuable gun in that barrel but I’d give about anything to have it now, since he carried it through the rest of the war. While I was still young, a family “friend” told Daddy he’d take it and clean it and we never saw it again.
Today, guns are controversial. We are a divided population. Some of us think firearms are an integral part of being a citizen of the United States and some think they’re the source of evil. It’s no surprise that I’m part of the former group. Without private firearms ownership, we wouldn’t be the United States. Firearms, in the hands of ordinary citizens, are how this country expanded west. Without widespread individual firearms ownership, what is now our western states, would have been claimed by other European countries and the map would look nothing like it does today. As a nation, our interest and promotion of citizen marksmanship provided us with some of the most exceptional soldiers in history and allowed us to prevail in defending freedom in other parts of the world.
This past week, as Buck, Bill, and Billy each shot a few shots with George McColl’s guns, Buck related memories and stories about his dad and the kind of man he was. It was fun for them, but there was a kind of respect and solemnity about the process. I knew what was going through their minds. They were thinking of the man and his guns and the sacrifices he made for theirs, mine, and your freedom. I thought of my daddy and uncles and the sacrifices they made so that I and my grandsons could live as free men and that those sacrifices benefited millions of people across the world none of us will ever know.
As the McColl family celebrated the life of their patriarch, Colonel George McColl, and his part in history, they were really celebrating the Second Amendment and the role that firearms, in the hands of ordinary citizens, have played in the formation of the world’s bastion of freedom, the United States of America and men like George McColl, who were willing to put their lives on the line so other men could live in freedom.