Hidden in Plain Sight: The Disguised Firearm
K.J. Houtman 04.04.16
If it looks like a duck…but wait. Let’s look at firearms that don’t look like guns at all. They’re on display at the NRA National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia. Maybe there are additional disguised firearms out-and-about among us, but we’re just not seeing them…(cue the Twilight Zone music).
Introduced by Remington in the mid-1800s, one disguised firearm definitely blended into one’s environment. A cane was common accessory for a gentleman, even if he were able bodied. It wasn’t so much about walking stability, though if you’ve ever traversed a cobblestone street, stability can be an issue for anyone. Other reasons included making a fashion statement AND aiding personal defense. Hide a firearm in a walking stick like this one, and defensive posture kicks up a few notches. It’s all very Sherlock Holmes-esque, isn’t it?
The barrel is the stick, and one would unscrew the handle to load, then screw the handle back on. A quick-release action would open up a trigger mechanism with a button trigger. As a one shot wonder, the baton-factor mostly likely aced the firearms quality. It remains a cool firearm, and folks in the 19th century thought so, too. Remington sold a lot of them. “It was a successful product for Remington,” Jim Supica, Director of NRA Museums said. “The sheathing on the barrel was an early form of plastic called gutta percha.”
Some of the canes on display have unique handles including a duck head or dog head. A “tip” at the bottom end of the cane gun was an important component. “The tip would protect the muzzle when using the cane so it wouldn’t become clogged with any debris,” Supica continued. “However, it would have been important to remember to remove the tip before actually firing the weapon.” So much for fast, reflex shots.
James Bond in the 1950s Casino Royale found himself on the wrong end of a walking-stick gun at a casino table, not sure if the 2006 version of the movie with Daniel Craig as Bond kept or dropped the walking-stick gun episode.
The second firearm incognito is the folding-knife firearm. It does have a functional blade, and it unfolds to host a small barrel and trigger. You can see a video on some of these unique firearms from NRA museums here:
Before anyone gets too excited and wants to purchase one of these types of ultra-concealed conceal-carry firearms, there are quite a few regulations. After all, just carrying a knife has its own challenges today. A non-profit organization, Knife Rights, does a great job advocating on the knife-regulation front. You can read about knife issues around the country and their diligent work here.
These kinds of firearms fall under the National Firearms Act which extends a broad federal reach over very specific firearms, including machine guns, and short-barreled shotguns. One section of the NFA covers defined AOWs (Any Other Weapons). Kind of sounds like a line from Princess Bride regarding Rodents of Unusual Size (ROUS), but I digress.
The Attorney General and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) exempts very specific firearms; and with disguised firearms, they are most likely going to be antique museum pieces such as these two. Other unique disguises include pen guns, wallet guns and guns hidden inside of belt buckles.
While disguised firearms aren’t common or readily available, they are legal to own if one follows the process. A ton of paperwork is involved, but it can be worth it. There’s also a flat tax of $5 per AOW; a far smaller hit than the $200 fee for machine gun or short-barrel shotgun, and one pays that any time the firearm transfers ownership. As of the last ATF report (Feb. 2015) there were 57, 523 registered AOWs.
Is it worth all the fuss for a firearm that doesn’t have a lot of utility? It can be for the cool-collector status of having one. Discovering all this makes me want to inspect my father-in-law’s antique cane collection very carefully. And it’s definitely time for another trip back to the NRA National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia.