I am more of an accumulator than a collector, and either have long since ceased being a European, or never was one in the first place, depending on the truth of Metternich’s quip that “Asien beginnt auf der Landstraße”. But I buy guns in Europe now and then, most of them being Swiss and French pistols. So here are my recommendations.
The U.S. Constitution recognizes the fundamental right of the people to keep and bear arms. That right is even more important to Europeans, whose countries suffered from tyranny and genocide in ways unknown to Americans. A hypothetical postulation by Alexander Solzhenitsyn illustrates the best reasons for civilian arms ownership in this footnote to The GULAG Archipelago:
|Как потом в лагерях жгло: а что, если бы каждый оперативник, идя ночью арестовывать, не был бы уверен, вернётся ли он живым, и прощался бы со своей семьёй? Если бы во времена массовых п о с а д о к, например в Ленинграде, когда сажали четверть города, люди бы не сидели по своим норкам, млея от ужаса при каждом хлопке парадной двери и шагах на лестнице,—а поняли бы, что терять им уже дальше нечего, и в своих передних бодро бы делали засады по несколько человек с топорами, молотками, кочергами, с чем придется? Ведь заранее известно, что эти ночные картузы не с добрыми намерениями идут—так не ошибёшься, хрястнув по душегубцу. Или тот воронок с одиноким шофёром, оставшийся на улице—угнать его либо скаты проколоть. Органы быстро бы не досчитались сотрудников и подвижного состава, и несмотря на всю жажду Сталина—остановилась бы проклятая машина!
Если бы… если бы… Не хватало нам свободолюбия. А еще прежде того—осознания истинного положения. Мы истратились в одной безудержной вспышке семнадцатого года, а потом СПЕШИЛИ покориться, С УДОВОЛЬСТВИЕМ покорялись. […] Мы просто ЗАСЛУЖИЛИ всё дальнейшее.
|And how we burned in the camps later, wondering: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive, and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during the periods of sweeps, as for example in Leningrad, when they imprisoned a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their burrows, swooning with terror at every slam of the front door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up ambush in the hallway, of several people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? After all, you knew ahead of time that those bluecaps were up to no good going out at night—and you would do no wrong cracking the skull of a cutthroat. Or what about the Black Maria sitting out in the street with one lonely chauffeur—what if it had been driven off or its tires spiked? The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of manpower and transport and, despite all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!
If only… if only… We didn’t love freedom enough. And above all—we had no awareness of the real situation. We spent ourselves in one unrestrained outburst in 1917, and then we hurried to submit, submitting with pleasure! […] We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterwards.
The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed—where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.
A personally owned military firearm is the most potent token of freedom available to the citizen of a constitutional republic. As such, it is eminently suitable for turning into a centerpiece of a collection. Every good collection tells a story. The best way to get the idea of this storytelling is to pick up the book by Krzysztof Pomian, Collectionneurs, amateurs, et curieux: Paris, Venise: XVIe–XVIIIe siècle, Paris: Gallimard, 1987, translated as Collectors and Curiosities: Paris and Venice, 1500-1800, Polity Press, 1991. (The French edition is still available, but the translation is out of print.) There are three gun brands that tell a great story: Winchester, Colt, and Luger. Everything else is, at best, second-rate.
Winchesters and Colts tell the familiar story of winning the West along with two World Wars. The Luger story is more complicated. Some people balk at its Nazi connection. But its original maker, Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken (German Weapons and Munitions Works), known as DWM, was a successor in interest to Ludwig Loewe & Company, an arms maker founded in 1872. In addition to the Luger, Loewe owned the production rights to some of the finest contemporary firearms such as Mauser turnbolt rifles and Smith & Wesson break-open revolvers. This provenance makes the Luger a Jewish gun par excellence. My 1918 DWM P08 and 1917 DWM LP08 put me in touch with my inner Ernst Kantorowicz, who, but for an accident of Semitic birth, might have made an excellent Nazi.
Swiss Lugers come with their own tales of peaceful exploits, of which this one is my favorite. But collecting Lugers and Colts is a prohibitive pursuit for plebeians, with the finest specimens running into seven figures. The solution is to focus in the historically second rate, which need not be deficient from any other standpoint. My favorite autopistol is the SIG P210. For its close wheelgun counterpart, I recommend the Manurhin MR73, the last and best revolver to be designed and adopted for constabulary service. Apart from the gloomy Olivier Marchand polar, my favorite MR73 story unfolded on the day after Christmas of 1994, when Captain Thierry P. of GIGN entered the hijacked Air France Flight 8969 plane, grounded at the Marseille airport. He served as the point shooter, armed with a 5¼” .357 Magnum Manurhin MR73 and backed by his partner Eric carrying a 9mm HK05 submachine gun. Thierry killed two Islamist terrorists and wounded a third with his revolver, before taking seven bullets from an AK47 fired by the fourth hijacker. In spite of then absorbing a full complement of grenade shrapnel in his lower body, Thierry P. survived the assault, as also did 171 hostages. Not so the four terrorists, who had been planning to deploy the plane as an incendiary missile against the Eiffel Tower. Thierry could have armed himself with any firearm. He chose an MR73. I have mine at my side right now.
Unlike the 1873 and 1911 Colts or various Lugers, the P210 and the MR73 remain largely unresearched and ill-documented. This factor represents an advantage to the beginning collector, enabling him to build a world-class collection at the cost well below that commanded by the finest specimens of more historic brand. French and Swiss firearm traditions are as storied as the American one, distinguishing themselves by the invention of smokeless powder and the first adoption of an autopistol into military service. Dedicating yourself to their study and commemoration is an immensely rewarding project.