Richard Nixon’s Shotgun

“No, thanks, I’ll pass.”

The highly figured wood and ornate inlaid gold engraving of the
Nixon A-5 now sits in a private collection after the president refused it.

It’s been half a century since my late parents talked about Watergate over breakfast. Every day they’d pour boiling water into a cup with Taster’s Choice instant coffee crystals, light up a few Kool cigarettes and try to understand what the heck was going on with the world. The more things change, the more they stay the same and a half century later I still can’t wrap my head around Nixon’s legacy.

“I am not a crook,” Nixon left office without many things, including his reputation
and a special Browning A-5. Photo: Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

Who Knows?

Nixon’s stance on firearms was confusing. In a conversation recorded May 16, 1972, the president declared his hope for a handgun-free America. “I don’t know why any individual should have a right to have a revolver in his house,” he said. But a year and a half earlier, on December 21, 1970, he accepted a handgun that was a Christmas present from a friend.

This handgun was an ornate, commemorative and cased .45-caliber Colt 1911; a gift given to Nixon from the King. To be clear, I mean the King of Graceland, Elvis Presley, not the King of England. But riddle me this: If Nixon really was anti-gun then, wouldn’t he have swapped that Colt for a pair of blue suede shoes? Methinks he would have …

And then there was the firearm gift Nixon flat refused. Earlier in 1970 — the same year he accepted Elvis’ Colt — he rejected the offer of a shotgun. This wasn’t any ordinary shotgun; it was a commemorative Browning Auto-5 with — get this — serial number 2,000,000. I wonder if Nixon quoted his friend Elvis’ “Return to Sender” when he sent the humpback packing. How in the world does a conversation like that go, anyway?

Question: Mr. President, I’d like to gift you with a shotgun, a Browning A-5 with the serial number of 2,000,000.

Answer: No, thanks, I’ll pass.

Minus a few handling scratches incurred over the past half-century, the Nixon A-5
is in as-new and unfired condition. With engraving inspired from the 1930s, no
cost was spared in creating the masterpiece.

A Beauty

Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) was to present the 12-gauge A-5 with 28″ barrels and a 2 3/4″ chamber to Nixon. On the left side of the barrel is the company name inlaid in gold that says, “BROWNING ARMS COMPANY. MORGAN. UTAH & MONTREAL. PQ.” On the right side of the barrel is the description: “SPECIAL STEEL-12 GAUGE-SHELLS 2-3/4,” also inlaid in gold. On each side of the rib is a gold-inlaid phoenix and the receiver has a hand-filed top matching the barrel rib.

The gold-inlaid engraving on the receiver is an interpretation of a 1930 exposition model by master engraver Felix Funken. According to Matt Eastman’s book Browning Sporting Arms of Distinction 1903–1992, this pattern was created by Fabrique Nationale’s master engravers J. Watrin and Louis Vrancken. The gold-inlay work was executed by master engravers Jose Baerten and G. Vandermissen. The pattern is foliate scrolls entwined with a phoenix and griffins and a bust of John Browning on the center left side. On the upper left side is a flowing ribbon marked “BROWNING AUTOMATIC SHOTGUNS 2,000,000.” The top tang has John Browning’s signature inlaid in gold and forward on the left side of the trigger guard is the engraver’s signature.

The stock is equally impressive and is highly figured walnut with slightly raised side panels and tear-shaped drop points. The pistol grip is checkered and there is a gold grip cap with the inscription, “MANUFACTURED BY BROWNING/ARMS COMPANY/6-6-70/INVENTED BY/ JOHN M. BROWNING/ OCTOBER 9, 1900.” The buttplate is made of hard rubber marked “FN BROWNING AUTOMATIC.” The forend features standard checkering with an un-checkered diamond in the middle of the pattern. There were actually two of these guns built; the second gun bears serial number 2,000,000X and is in the Fabrique Nationale Museum in Herstal, Belgium.

President Nixon’s acceptance of this pistol from Elvis Presley and
rejection of the commemorative A-5 is an oddity that may never be explained.
Photo: Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum

The Plan

The idea never was for Nixon to keep the Browning, though. Because of its historical significance, the A-5 was to pass through as a gift to the Smithsonian Museum. Once there, it would stay in permanent residency as part of the John M. Browning Memorial. The plan went awry when Nixon ultimately declined the presentation and the A-5 was returned to Browning Arms. The gun spent the next 15 years in the Browning archive vaults until it surfaced in 1985 when Browning lent it to the National Shooting Sports Foundation for promotional use. It was ultimately auctioned, and the shotgun sat in a private collection. In October 2015, the shotgun came up for auction again and it was sold by the legendary Maine auction house James D. Julia, now owned by Morphy Auctions. The winning bid? A cool $54,625.

Hunter S. Thompson knew what to make of Richard Nixon. In his scathing obituary in the June 16, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, Thompson’s least offensive comment was the title, “He was a crook.” For me, I can only believe Nixon was unsure of his own view and position on firearms and hunting. I mean, why would someone own a hunting dog like an Irish Setter, accepted a pistol from Elvis, reject a shotgun and then become the creator of National Hunting and Fishing Day? If you can figure out this riddle wrapped inside of an enigma, let me know. I’m all ears.

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