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.

Posted by Custodian

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.