The viability of the Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum (LSAFM) has been put in jeopardy, volunteers warn, following the introduction of legislation that could see the destruction of 70 per cent of the facility's artefacts.
LSAFM only found out about the new regulation when another regional volunteer-led museum had firearms confiscated in January 2019, and contacted them for advice.
The new regulation for museums, which was introduced in November 2017, states that all pistols, self-loading long arms, 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.
Prior to 2017, NSW legislation required privately owned museums with firearm collections to deactivate their firearms by removing the firing pin (called temporary deactivation), along with maintaining a high standard of security.
According to LSAFM custodian Donna White, there was no consultation with the museum sector, nor was there any advice from the government to museums about the new regulation.
"It's deeply disturbing that governments can introduce a regulation that can destroy collections in museums," she said.
According to LSAFM firearms dealer Kerry Guerin, around 70 per cent of the LSAFM firearms would be impacted and if they were to make these firearms permanently inoperable it would cost significantly, while also destroying the considerable value of the firearms.
"If this regulation cannot be overturned the museum will not be worth operating," he said.
President Renzo Benedet said they would not be destroying any of their guns because to do so to do so would be contrary to museum policy and practice and would cost several hundred thousand dollars.
"The collection would go overseas before we see it destroyed," he said.
"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 museum which has 9000 annual visitors through their doors, and was recently recognised in the prestigious UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register will have their research facilities impacted.
"The many local and international technical researchers and the ballistics personnel using our facilities for research or investigative purposes, and our extensive archives amassed over the past 22 years will all be adversely impacted, and lost forever," Mr Guerin said.
According to Ms White 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," she said.
"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."
LSAFM met with the previous NSW Police Minister in early February to discuss changing the regulation back to 'temporarily inoperable'. At that meeting a draft amendment was tabled by the minister.
LSAFM is seeking a new clause in the Act that protects museum artefacts from being destroyed by government legislation.
"We have no problem with them mandating security requirements for a museum permit, but they shouldn't be allowed to destroy collections," Mr Guerin said.
Minister for Police David Elliott said community safety was the highest priority of the NSW Liberals and Nationals Government.
"Clause 59 of the Firearms Regulation 2017 ensures museums are subject to stringent safety requirements for firearms held in their collection and on public display to mitigate the risk of theft and safeguard community safety.
"I became aware of the concerns of the Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum late last week and will be meeting with their representatives to discuss any possible reform in the near future."
LSAFM is asking residents and visitors to sign their petition against the regulation, which currently has over 6000 signatures.
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