Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum (LSAFM)

Should Governments be Allowed to Destroy Museum Firearms Collections in the Name of Public Safety?

It’s deeply disturbing that Governments can introduce legislation that can destroy collections in museums.

CZ Model 75, factory engraved nickel plated with gold fittings – Browning Hi-Power Model 35, factory engraved, gold and silver plated, previously owned by Dubbo gunsmith Caesar Hatti – Colt Mk IV Series 70 Gold Cup, gold inlaid International Shooters Edition
The NSW Government’s 2017 Regulation would have these valuable, rare and beautiful works of the engraver’s art destroyed by highly visible external welding

As museum custodians, we find it hard to believe that any right-minded person could sign off on legislation that destroys any collection. And we’re not alone. The reactions of shock and anger from all around the world evidenced in comments in our online petition make it obvious that most people understand what our Government seemingly can’t.

The destruction of historical items is to be deplored. Whoever thought that this is acceptable is not of a sound mind. They should be condemned just as the Taliban who destroyed the Buddhas were condemned.

– Anon, UK

Thinking about the reasoning behind this Regulation, it’s hard to make sense of it on any level.

The ideology that prompts Governments to interfere with museum collections fails to recognise that firearms in museums are a different matter. They are no longer weapons, but artefacts – a record of our history and a part of our story, and as such, must remain in their original state so that future generations can view and study them.

Does the Government really believe they are ridding the nation of objects so evil that, even in museums, the repositories of truth and authenticity, they must be destroyed for the sake of humanity?

And how is this any different from the religious and political motivations of Middle Eastern extremists as they smashed their way through ancient statues that they found offensive to their beliefs, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake that shocked and robbed the world.

During both World Wars, museum collections were so valued that, amid the chaos, they were hidden away to protect them from the ravages of war. It’s sad to think LSAFM may have to give its essential collection away to protect it from our own Government.

Or is there other reasoning behind it? With most of the larger museums in the State being either Government owned or funded, Museums may have been seen as an easy target to satisfy the desire to turn the screw on the State’s gun laws.

However, this is an issue that is quite aside to implementing gun control measures to ensure public safety.

It’s likely that instances of theft of firearms from museums is very low, given the difficulty of finding official statistics concerning this. Much, much rarer must be instances of crimes committed with firearms stolen from museums.

Museum objects are valuable in more ways than one, and museums are very conscious of the measures they must take to prevent theft of any item in their collections. Museums that display a large number of firearms, are also well aware of the burden they bear in the interests of public safety.

So what is the rationale of targeting museums with this latest legislation?

When we met the Police Minister in early February he told us that our museum advertises the fact that it has firearms and it is open to the public. But does this equate to increased risk to the public?

Firearms dealers and retailers are in the same position, yet they are not targeted like museums.

Prior to the Regulation Amendment, modern (post 1900) firearms displayed in museums legally required temporary deactivation by removal of internal components such as firing pins or springs or by trigger locks. And Museums don’t have an issue with this. They don’t want their valuable firearms to be stolen either.

What must be remembered is that firearms in museums haven’t been used for years. As any firearms user knows, this presents a personal risk to those who steal a gun, source a missing part, and fire it. The danger is greatly compounded when missing components are replaced by any available part – especially if the firearm is self-loading, semi, or full automatic.

Criminals and terroritst will target easier marks if they want to steal firearms.

Thinking about it in terms of what will be gained and lost …

Should LSAFM comply with the Regulation, some of the items that would completely lose their integrity are so rare there are only a handful of examples in the world. In some cases they are one-of-a-kind; their internal workings demonstrating a link in the technological endeavours of their makers.

When going through papers left by the Museum’s previous Custodian, we found his correspondence with an English researcher regarding a Bren Gun conversion that was crushed under the Government’s 1996 gun buyback scheme. So rare and valuable to researchers was this Bren, that this expert knew it by serial number!

When informed that it was destroyed during the Buyback he wrote back:

‘There were two in the world … now there’s one.’

LSAFM has hosted a number of researchers over the years, but not all of them firearms aficionados:

A writer who had very little knowledge of firearms visited to see how the action of the Smith & Wesson M&P revolver works. He’d found that this would have been the weapon of choice for his fictional detective, and wanted to ensure technical accuracy in his writing.

Another who freelanced for the National Sound & Film Archives, held more fascination for sounds firearms make. Our secure storage area became a de-facto sound booth complete with sensitive sound recording equipment. He recorded, as we cocked hammers, worked actions, and removed and replaced magazines in various firearms. Those recordings are now held in the NSFA, and are no doubt being used for various purposes.

Our own current research on the Lithgow and Slazenger sporting rifles – the little guns that put food on the table for many families after World War II – requires that we examine minute internal details of components to ascertain the reasons behind the change from the Model 1A to 1B.

It could be that there is no physical difference, the change in designation being an attempt to escape bad publicity following an incident in which the safety of the rifles was questioned … or was the rifle slightly modified then renamed because of a safety issue? How would we know unless we can fully strip down a number of both models for careful inspection.

Then there’s the donors – the very people who had a passion and belief who passed their collection onto a museum for safe keeping and display. The legacies from those individuals will, in many cases, be for the scrapheap.

Our decision makers must give more thought to what they are destroying.

Museums are inter-generational institutions. Whatever their collections contain, their responsibility for the care of their collection spans not only the current generation of scholars, writers, researchers and the public, but those of the future as well.

Governments will be harshly judged by future generations if they rob them of the opportunity to see and study their heritage.

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Changes to NSW Firearms Regulation Targets Museums

In November 2017, the NSW Government amended the Firearms Regulation in a way that can deeply impact museum’s firearms collections.

in the firing line … museum stands to lose valuable historic artefacts

The new legislation, it seems, was ‘rushed through’, without proper consultation with advisory groups. It was never communicated to the various stakeholders affected and to this day, many are unaware of the new laws.

LSAFM only found out about the new Regulation when another regional volunteer-led museum had firearms confiscated in early February 2019, and contacted us for advice.

How has the Firearms Regulation changed …

Basically the 2017 Regulation for Museums states that all pistols, self-loading longarms, sub-machine guns or machine guns are to be rendered permanently inoperable.

The irreversible destruction includes:

  • inserting a steel rod traversing the length of the barrel and welding it at the muzzle and chamber;
  • welding the barrel to the receiver;
  • removing the firing pin and welding the hole;
  • removing internal springs;
  • welding internal components;
  • welding any bolts and external hammers; and
  • welding the trigger in a fixed position.

All other firearms, such as bolt action rifles and older antiques, remain temporarily inoperable. But they may well be next in line if this insidious legislation is not overturned. Collectors should also be concerned.

What has prompted this

We are at a loss to understand why Museums have been targeted. We have not been given any details as to why the Regulation was introduced.

The fact the Regulation has been in force since late 2017 without any knowledge of its existence suggests some other motive.

We are not aware of any firearms being stolen from Museums which may have prompted all of this.

Draft Amendment to the Regulation

When we heard of the changes, we requested an urgent meeting with the New South Wales Minister for Police. We met with him on the 11th February.

The Minister tabled a draft Amendment to the Regulation, as it affects Museums. We are told the Minister for Police has written to each Museum seeking comment on the draft Amendment.

There are two key provisions of the draft Amendment:

  1. All prohibited firearms are to be ‘permanently inoperable’
  2. The Commissioner has the right to issue exemptions on a firearm by firearm basis

What’s at issue …

There are a number of issues at stake for Museums with firearm exhibits.  They include:

  1. Devaluation of the historical, educational and commemorative value of firearm exhibits. The firearms will become worthless in terms of museum artefact, visitor experience, research and historical merit, ballistics investigations and educational value;
  2. The cultural, scholarly, and scientific significance of heritage firearms collections will be seriously compromised, as will our understanding of the technological evolution of such firearms within defence industries and wartime economies;
  3. The treatment under the law of Museums being ‘lumped in’ with shooters, dealers, collectors and farmers fails to appreciate the dissimilarity of the work of Museums, and their contribution to communities relative to those other categories;
  4. The move to render any firearms ‘permanently inoperable’ will ‘sap the energy’ out of Museums and their volunteers. All of this goes against the grain of a museum, destroying its authenticity and rendering its collection irredeemable; and,
  5. The proposal to have the Commissioner determining exemptions creates uncertainty for Museums. It doesn’t make sense that issuing an exemption would suddenly guarantee that a firearm is safer or less prone to being stolen.

For the LSAFM, or other museums with comprehensive firearms collections that form a large part of their visitor experience, the following issues are especially pertinent:

  1. Visitors will become disillusioned, disappointed and outright angry. It is only a matter of time that word of mouth and social media will lead to a dramatic drop in Museum visitations.
  2. The fact a Commissioner can determine the fate of the Museum takes away its freedom to operate, to preserve the integrity of the collection, and to plan for the future;
  3. The ‘taking away’ of the rights of volunteers in giving of their time and know-how in making the Museum a proud working environment and a place of significance is unforgiveable. For privately operated Museums, the enthusiasm and interest will wane as the impressiveness of the collection is destroyed;
  4. The destruction of key working elements of prototypes, first issues and rare examples is very worrying; and,
  5. The viability of the Museum is placed in jeopardy as firearms are no longer ‘Museum quality’ and/or the quantity and diversity of firearms on display are most likely to be reduced as a result of the Regulation.

The relevance of all of this goes to the heart of operating a sustainable Museum able to plan their business in their own right.

Despite the proposal for exemptions, this is on a firearm by firearm basis. There is no blanket permit exemption where the nature of Museums is fully understood by those making the laws.

Interestingly, the Regulation as it stands is more onerous on a Museum than either a firearms dealer or collector.

In the case of self-loading rimfire longarms, permanent inoperability is applied to Museums, but not collectors. Dealers can have any firearms covered by their licenses – including machine guns – without any requirement for deactivation.

Rather bizarre conditions given the stringent security systems Museums are required to have operating.

What’s the impact?

Only you know what the impact might be on your Museum.

From the perspective of the LSAFM, about 70% of our firearms are impacted and if we were to make these firearms ‘permanently inoperable’ it will cost significantly, while also destroying the considerable value of our firearms.

If this Regulation cannot be overturned the Museum will not be worth operating.

And the impact won’t just be felt at a Museum level, it will have a community impact, a regional impact, a tourism impact and an impact on current and future generations.

The right of the community to visit a Museum such as ours (or for that matter yours) will be taken away because a Museum with firearms is seen by law makers as risky and in need of onerous regulation.

Contrary to that, Museums have security systems and vigilantly ensure their currency for the protection of volunteers, visitors and the wider community.

Each Museum must assess its own position.

Is there a solution?

While each Museum has different artefacts, with some being larger than others in terms of firearm displays, the underlying solution is simple.

  1. Remove the wording ‘permanently inoperable’ and reinstate ‘temporarily inoperable’. This in turn would negate the need for having Commissioner exemption provisions;
  2. Isolate Museums from being integrated with users, sellers, buyers and collectors on the basis that Museums display firearms for community and stakeholder interest and future generations; and,
  3. Allow Museums the right to have a permit with a blanket exemption on the basis that required minimum security and safety systems be in place and regularly audited.

As we all know, the regulatory regime for Museums per the 1996 Act have been satisfactory and practicable.

As Museums, we are the first to support and enact all necessary security of our facilities. But agreeing to onerous conditions without any reasoning is a step too far.

How to respond

Each Museum needs to assess its position and submit comments and views on the draft Amendment (and Regulation) to the NSW Department of Justice.

In addition to this, Museums should consider making other representations, and as a guide, actions the LSFAM will be taking include:

  1. Engaging with the Department of Justice and Firearms Registry;
  2. Making the local State and Federal Member and relevant Government and Shadow Ministers aware of the implications and impact;
  3. Soliciting the support of key stakeholders and supporters, including our local Council;
  4. Soliciting support from local, national and international organisations which use our facilities for research, historical and educational purposes;
  5. Having paper-based and online petitions;
  6. Communicating through our blog and social media; and,
  7. Approaching select media outlets.

Having a united position on the Regulation and draft Amendment would be an ideal outcome. However, the main outcome must be that you understand the issues, the impact on your Museum, and respond accordingly.

Links

NSW Firearms Regulation Part 6 Clause 59 (excerpt) (Part (4)(a) specifies permanent deactivation of Category C and D firearms in museums)

NSW Firearms Regulation Part 3 Clause 36 (2) (explains deactivation methods for Category C and D longarms)

Draft Amendment of Firearms Regulation 2017 (tabled by NSW Police Minister during meeting with LSAFM in March 2019)

Posted by Custodian in Uncategorised, 0 comments
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