Monday, April 22, 2019

Australian Museums' Guns face Destruction

The most famous firearms manufacturer in Australia is the Lithgow Small Arms Factory. On the grounds of the existing factory site is the Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum. The Museum is independently owned and operated, primarily by volunteers, as an independent trust on behalf of the City of Lithgow. Just a few weeks ago, the museum learned that 70 percent of its collection is at risk of being destroyed because of a thoughtless change in firearms law passed in 2017, specifically aimed at museums. Museums were not contacted about the change in the law. They had no input about it. From
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.
As someone who reads, studies, and writes about Australian gun law, I was surprised by the draconian museum mandates. I do not recall any public debate about the issue. I study legislative procedures. It appears this change was inserted without any actual consideration, about the effect on existing museums, their collections, and historical artifacts.

Australian law requires that legislation be re-enacted every five years. These changes were included in what would otherwise be a relatively unremarkable re-enactment of the firearms legislation.  As I read the description of proposed changes, I noticed all the changes were in the direction of more and more restrictions. Sunset laws only work when those affected by them actually have a voice in the legislature.

Museums already have extremely tight security, as required by law. I have not read of any incidents involving theft of guns from museums. Private collectors, in the legislation, are subject to less restrictions than museums.

Lithgow receives significant revenue from tourism. The Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum is a significant draw for the city. The Lithgow City Council backs the museum in opposition to this onerous legislation.  From
Lithgow City Council has thrown its support behind the Lithgow Small Arms Museum (LSAFM) after it found out that 70 per cent of the museums collection could be destroyed due to new regulations.

The new regulation for museums that went through in November 2017 states that all pistols, self-loading longarms, sub-machine guns or machine guns are to be rendered permanently inoperable.

The situation was brought to council's attention at its March meeting as a matter of great urgency by Cr Stephen Lesslie.
The legislation in Australia appears to be driven by the assumption that firearms, even in museums, are of little or no value. It appears to have taken many of the features from changes in European law about firearms collectors, and applied them to museums in Australia.

An alternate and potential concurrent explanation is that firearms in museums, even rendered temporarily inoperable, are a source of illicit arms for criminal purposes. I have not read of a single case where museum displays were stolen and used in crimes.

To students of firearms and enthusiasts about firearm history and technology, the requirement to destroy key working parts of rare and valuable collector items, to render the actions of firearms incapable of moving, are bizarre sacrifices to the gods of political correctness. It is a direct attack on gun culture and gun enthusiasts, for no serious purpose.

Firearms are centuries old technology. It is relatively easy for small shops to make fully automatic firearms, which has commonly been done in Australia on the black market.

Pistols are simple and easy to make, with commonly available machines, but sub-machineguns are even easier.

The Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum is the premier firearms museum in Australia. It is a national treasure. Many of its exhibits are not duplicated elsewhere.

Requiring museum pieces to be destroyed because of a bizarre fear of theft from museums may be a step too far for Australian firearms regulators.

There is an allowance, in the current legislation, for police chiefs to make exceptions for firearms on an individual basis.

This places all the power in the police bureaucracy, allowing any future police chief to destroy museums at whim.

Relying on the long-term good will of a police bureaucracy is a bad strategy.

©2019 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

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