One of our regular customers was in the shop the other day, browsing the showcases and making small talk with the sales staff. An older gentleman, he's well-known in the local gun collecting scene, and specialises in bucks-up 1911's (mostly rare Colts) with a sideline in S&W wheelguns, so he and I are fairly simpatico. At least, I thought we were, until that day when I was sitting in my cubbyhole entering invoices and heard his voice waft from the sales floor as he came to a halt in front of the floor racks of old Enfields and Mosins: "What does anybody see in these old things?" he wondered aloud.
What, indeed? That set me to thinking. I've mused at length on these pages about the value of old military rifles from my perspective as a history buff and collector of arms, but the more I reflected on it, I came to the realization that the inexpensive military surplus rifle may be of a lot greater importance to the continued health of the "Gun Culture" in the US than most people give it credit for.
Those who came of age into the shooting sports between the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the fall of the East Bloc in the '90s probably don't see the parallels between today and that earlier time. Before GCA '68 temporarily ended the importation of any arm that had actually seen military service, a young shooter could walk into a gun store and be greeted by barrels of cheap Mausers and Enfields. With the WWII generation reaching its prime earning years, the teevee was full of shows like Combat and Rat Patrol, firing adolescent imaginations with stories of battle from the last big war. Even on a soda clerk's wages, these rifles were easily affordable, and reeked of the stories they read about in the pages of Sergeant Rock.
As they grew older, a lot of those old rifles got modified to make them better hunting rifles. With affluence, they were sold or relegated to closets and replaced with purpose-built sporting rifles, and a new generation of shooters and hunters was born. GCA '68 ended the importation of these rifles, and no new supplies came into the country until the stricture was eased by the Firearm Owner's Protection Act of 1986, but it wasn't 'til the collapse of communism and the opening of the treasure troves of the East that the flood of old rifles started up again.
The tide broke on a shore primed to recieve it by the renewed interest in WWII. With the 50th anniversary of the war and the gradual passing away of the men who fought it, the media again filled with TV shows and movies like Band Of Brothers and Enemy At The Gates. Once again a young shooter could walk into a gun store and find racks of old rifles, just like the ones he saw in the video game Medal Of Honor, and they were again priced low enough to be accommodated by the limited budget of a student working part-time in retail.
With surplus ammunition, the rifles are cheap enough for those on a cramped budget to shoot often, and thus learn about how to be a better shooter. With the internet, they can be researched and used to learn about history and start a collection. With their low entry cost and simple nature, they're cheap and easy to tinker with or modify. Each and every day these old warhorses introduce hundreds of new shooters to the "Gun Culture." Additionally, when the owner of a Mosin Nagant that may have seen service at Stalingrad sees some politico hold up a semiauto clone of a modern service rifle and prattle on about "military weapons", they realize "Hey, I own a real military weapon, and I'm not crazy. What the hell is that person talking about?"
"What does anybody see in these old things?"
The future of our firearms freedoms, that's what. Go 'head kid, buy one; that first Mosin's cheap. ;)