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    Auction Finds

    Our love affair with weapons that kill us

    The gun crowd hadn’t arrived yet. They still had at least two hours to go before the firearms auction was to get started.

    The auction house opened the door to the gun room for the early preview, but only a handful of men had gathered around what looked to me like antique weapons. A few showed rust – the owners obviously didn’t take very good care of them – and others seemed to have been handled quite often.

    Only about 50 or so rifles and shotguns were laid out on the table for this special “Firearms Auction.” I was expecting piles of guns atop table after table, but because there were so few of them, they appeared so measly. That didn’t seem to bother the buyers. A small knot of men had gathered in front of a glass case housing revolvers and small pistols.

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    A display of handguns in a glass case at auction included a Navy Arms Co. reproduction flint lock pistol (top right) and a Savage Arms Co. semi-automatic pistol (on top of box).

     

    On a table, a gun in the shape of a cane attracted another small group. Does it work, someone asked out loud. Another person assured him that it did. The cane gun was amazingly deceptive, resembling many of the walking sticks I’d seen at auction before. For me, it was perhaps the most unusual item in the room. Cane guns were popular in the 1850s, according to the website remingtonsociety.com, and were used against stray dogs and “ruffians.”

    Earlier, when I was examining some items inside a glass case in another room, the subject of the firearms auction came up. “You can’t buy a gun in a store now,” one man said. An auction-house staffer mentioned that they had gotten a lot of phone calls about the guns.

    These statements were indicative of the mood of the country right now regarding guns. The debate over assault weapons in particular has reached a high pitch in wake of the murder of innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT, last month and movie-goers out on a Friday night last summer in Aurora, CO.

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    Guns laid out on a table and ready to be sold.

    Those incidents were enough to make anyone want to put some limits on guns in this country. I don’t believe we should trash the Second Amendment, which – as the Supreme Court has interpreted – gives us the right to “possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that weapon for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

    But what citizen needs an assault weapon?

    As a woman, many times I have considered buying a weapon for protection and learning how to shoot it on a range with an instructor. I never acted on it because I don’t like guns and don’t want them around me, but I do want them available in case I need one to protect myself.

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    A circa 1875 Dumonthier cane gun in case.

    The issue of guns always remind me of battered and abused women whose husbands threaten to kill them and then act on those threats. I always felt that police officers and domestic-violence advisers should send those women to the nearest gun shop rather than to the courthouse for a protection order. Paper doesn’t stand a chance against metal.

    Gun violence has become a staple in urban communities, where newspapers are rife with stories of African American men killing each other over some trivial matter on a Friday or Saturday night. In most instances, those incidents are personal. The shootings in Connecticut and Colorado – and the one a few years ago at Virginia Tech – were more impersonal, with gunmen taking out the scores of people at random with assault weapons. Regardless of the circumstances, lives lost in both instances matter equally.

    I believe the stranglehold that the NRA has held on politicians and lawmakers is finally beginning to feel the pressure, and the organization will have to compromise on its stance on gun control. There’s no way a sensible person can live through Newtown and not believe that something has to be done.

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    Gun books and a box with lead balls, cleaning patches and lubricant.

    Newtown touched all of us in ways unimaginable, and we all know that another one is waiting to happen.

    A week ago, President Obama offered some gun-control measures to rein in our love affair with guns. He proposed conducting criminal background checks for all gun sales, reinstating the assault weapon ban, eliminating armor-piercing bullets, improving access to mental health treatment, among others.

    A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 53 percent of us reacted favorably to his plan and 41 percent, unfavorably.

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    Ithaca pump single barrel shotgun.

    I’m no gun enthusiast, but I do admire antiques and that’s what many of those rifles, shotguns and handguns appeared to be (although an auction staffer said they were new. Perhaps he meant new as in vintage and not antique). They bore such names as Ruger, Sears and Roebuck, Remington, Iver Johnson, Colt, Harrington and Richardson, Winchester and Springfield. There was a few antiques: the circa 1875 Dumonthier cane gun, and two 1884 and 1894 Springfield rifles. Some were simply “unknown reproductions,” according to the auction catalog.

    Dumonthier cane guns are very collectible, according to the website purecowboy.com. The one at auction was described as .44 caliber black powder cane gun with a barrel length of 26 ½” and an overall length of 33 ½”. It came in a Hoppe’s protecto hard sided case.

    At a 2009 gun auction, a circa 1875 to 1900 Dumonthier cane gun sold for $1,500. I found an 1885 Dumonthier horn-handle cane gun for sale on the web for $2,500, marked down from $5,000. A circa 1875 to 1900 sold in 2009 for $3,750.

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    Close-up of the action on several of the guns: clockwise from top right, New England Westinghouse military bolt rifle, reproduction flint lock rifle, CMC reproduction single action cap and ball pistol, and 1894 Springfield armory bolt rifle.

    Remington cane guns are both collectible and rare because, as one collector noted, not many of them were manufactured. The handles were made in such shapes as ball and claw, and dog’s heads.

    At the gun auctions, no one can just walk in, win a bid and leave with a gun. A staffer said the auction house announces beforehand that it will verify that winning bidders can legally purchase a gun. Even with that knowledge, some who shouldn’t bid will do so anyway.

    He related the story of a man who won a bid and waited as he was being checked. The firearms official told the staffer that under no circumstances should this man be given a gun. “He told me ‘No,'” the staffer said. So he did not approve the sale.

    I wasn’t around when the guns were sold, but if a lot of people inquired about them beforehand, I’m sure all were sold – antique, reproduction or otherwise.

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    At right, a reproduction flint lock single barrel rifle, rusted. At left, a Wm. Moore & Co. cap and ball shotgun.

     

     

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