By: Friedrich Seiltgen
Have you ever wondered what types of firearms our U.S. presidents owned? In honor of Presidents Day, let’s take a look back in history and find out which guns were popular with our former commanders-in-chief:
America’s first president was quite the gun collector, and many of his pistols are exhibited at his Mount Vernon home.
Perhaps Washington’s favorite firearms were a pair of flintlock pistols made in France. They were a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette, and Washington treasured these guns. One of Washington’s descendants gifted the pistols to President Andrew Jackson.
Another of Washington’s prize firearm was a gift from Major General Edward Braddock in 1755. It is a .71-cal. Brass English flintlock pistol made by William Gabbitas. Unfortunately, the pistol went missing in 1777 and was never recovered.
Jefferson wrote extensively on shooting and firearms in general. He enjoyed target shooting as well as hunting. He was a strong proponent of the rights of citizens to bear arms and was the author of the provision in the Virginia Constitution that stated, “No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.”
While stationed in France, Jefferson met with gunmaker Honoré Blanc, who demonstrated methods of mass production of firearms. Eventually, Jefferson got Eli Whitney involved, and Whitney helped develop more mass production of firearms in America.
Andrew ‘Old Hickory’ Jackson
Andrew Jackson had an extensive firearms collection and was an avid shooter.
Jackson allegedly participated in several duels during his lifetime and was the intended victim of the first known presidential assassination attempt. Jackson was leaving the U.S. Capitol, and a House painter by the name of Richard Lawrence lay in wait. Lawrence carried two pistols and fired the first one, which misfired. He then pulled the trigger on the second pistol, with the same result. Apparently, President Jackson wasn’t armed himself, and he definitely wasn’t amused.
Jackson took his cane and proceeded to beat Lawrence about the head and shoulders until the nearby crowd restrained him. One of the crowd members who saved Lawrence from being beaten to death was none other than Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett! Lawrence was brought to trial at the D.C. City Hall, where he was prosecuted by Francis Scott Key (yes, that Francis Scott Key). Lawrence was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Depending on which source you believe, Jackson participated in anywhere from five to 100 duels during his lifetime. One of his more famous duels took place in 1806.
Charles Dickinson, a competing horse breeder, called Jackson a coward and cheater and insulted his wife! The duel was arranged, and Dickinson was awarded the first shot, which hit Jackson in the chest. The ball lodged in Jackson's lung, near his heart, and he carried it around for the rest of his life. Jackson covered the wound with his left hand and fired. His first attempt misfired. Jackson cocked his revolver and fired again. According to dueling etiquette, a misfire counts as a shot, but Jackson fired again, striking Dickinson in the chest and killing him!
Martin Van Buren
Van Buren was the vice president under Jackson and was later elected president himself. In 1833, while presiding over the Senate, he carried with him a couple of pistols in case things got ugly.
Ulysses S. Grant
In 1870, President Grant carried a concealed Smith & Wesson Model Number 1 ½ .32 rimfire revolver. The pistol had a tip-up break action, carried five rounds of .32 rimfire, and was ornately engraved with gold inlay and pearl grips.
Grover Cleveland was a rather large man, weighing in at a healthy 360 pounds, so he requested a large shotgun from Colt firearms. Colt obliged with a rare Model 1883 Colt 8-gauge double-barreled shotgun with Damascus Barrels, the only 8-gauge Colt ever produced in this model!
Theodore ‘Bull Moose’ Roosevelt
Described as the biggest gun nut ever to occupy the White House, war hero and big-game hunter Teddy Roosevelt is believed to have owned more guns than any other president.
Roosevelt served in the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry in June 1898, when most of the infantry of the U.S. Army was equipped with the .45-70 black powder Springfield Trapdoor rifle. Roosevelt, however, managed to upgrade his unit’s arsenal with the Model 1896 Krag Jorgensen carbine in .30-40.
Roosevelt was known to have a “nightstand” gun at the White House: a fully engraved pearl-handled FN/Browning Model 1899 .32 auto. The “Bull Moose” also boasted of his Winchester Model 1895 rifle chambered in .405, calling it “the medicine gun for lions.”
Roosevelt was also a conservationist and is considered the Father of the National Park Service.
FDR is regarded by many as the father of gun control. He passed the National Firearms Act in 1934, the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, and the famous Second Amendment case, United States V. Miller was heard during his tenure by the Supreme Court.
While he was not a firearm fan, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was an outstanding shot with her S&W .38 Special. And of course, being a liberal, she had a permit to carry a pistol in New York!
Harry S. Truman
Truman was presented with an engraved pair of pistols by the president of Colt, a.45 caliber 1911 and Officer’s Model Colt .22 revolver. Truman also had a firearms collection that contained two pistols that had belonged to the outlaw Jesse James.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
General Eisenhower was an avid shotgunner and had a sizeable collection at his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Ike enjoyed skeet and even had a skeet range set up close to the house. His favorite shotgun was a Winchester Model 21 in 20 gauge. Engraved on the stock are the words, “To a Straight Shooter from a Friend.” Ike’s initials and his 5 Star rank insignia are engraved on the receiver. The gun was a gift from the president of Coca Cola and is now displayed in the NRA Museum in Fairfax, Virginia.
John F. Kennedy
Kennedy had a sizeable firearms collection. One of the more famous pieces he owned was an M1 Garand he ordered in 1959 from the National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice, now called the Director of Civilian Marksmanship. While Kennedy paid the standard $169, he didn’t get a rack grade gun. Armorers went through JFK’s rifle, making sure it was accurized and in presentation grade condition. JFK also had a prized collection of machine guns in his private study off the Oval Office.
It was known that the Gipper owned a Colt .45 that he carried in his briefcase during his first trip to Moscow. He later carried an S&W Snub nose .38 Special and was known to bring it onboard Air Force One. Reportedly both the Secret Service and wife Nancy weren’t happy about it, but everyone knew he wasn’t going to stop carrying.
The Reagan Presidential Library in California has many of Reagan’s firearms on display. The Reagan Library is on my bucket list, and is the only reason I would step foot in California!
Barack Hussein Obama
While there are shotguns available at Camp David for visitors to enjoy, I’m going to go out on a limb and say Obama probably didn’t own any firearms. Many of us remember the picture of Obama “skeet shooting” with a Browning Citori O/U at Camp David. The pictures illustrate he does not know his way around the gun, and the shooting expedition was just another photo-op.
According to a 2012 Washington Times interview, Trump owns an H&K .45 Semi-Auto and a .38 S&W revolver, and has a New York City carry permit.
Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He currently conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. His writing has appeared in The Counter Terrorist Magazine, Homeland Security Today and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.