Managing firearms at the New Zealand Police Museum

By Jessica Aitken, Curator of Collections, New Zealand Police Museum

Museums currently holding a firearms license for restricted weapons will have received a letter from the police detailing changes to licensing, storage and marking of prohibited firearms following the amendment to the Arms Act in April 2019.

The Arms Act amendment bans most semi-automatic firearms and some pump action shotguns; and also certain large capacity magazines, with limited exemptions. It also places controls around who may possess parts of a prohibited firearm.

Entrance to the New Zealand Police Museum. Photo supplied

At the New Zealand Police Museum we have a number of firearms and firearm parts in our collection, which have been collected over our 100+ year history. The collection comprises both police issue and criminal, which includes criminal evidence, reproduction/replica, surrendered arms and homemade. A large number of these are now prohibited.

Fortuitously at the time of the law change, we were already undertaking a firearms project to assess the status of our collection and to reconcile historical data and documents to ensure all records were up to date and linked to our collection management system, Vernon CMS. This is an ongoing process and has taken a lot of liaising with our local arms officer.

Here is what we have found over the course of our wider firearms project and in response to the recent law changes.

We recommend building a relationship with your local arms officer and not be afraid to ask them advice or recommendations. It will help ensure that info about the firearm is recorded accurately from the start and transactions are managed and recorded. Introductions should be an important part of handover to new staff. You can find details of your local officer on the NZ Police website.

Find Firearms Offices and Contact Details on the NZ Police website

Having a good relationship with your local arms officer will ensure licence information is updated and audited regularly and help with regular audits conducted by the arms officer. At the Police Museum, there has been at least three times since the 1990s the Director’s licence hasn’t had all the firearms on it, and/or firearms haven’t been transferred over when a new Director has been appointed.

As a result of discussions we would recommend that the entire firearms collection is on one person’s licence (in most cases it would be most appropriate for this to be the Director or Museum Manager), and the entire collection must then be transferred to the new licence holder by a Firearms Officer.

We have found that the way information has been recorded on our collection management system does not always match the format used by the firearms officers on their system. This has especially become apparent with producing reports for the Prohibited licence application process. Using Vernon CMS, information has been recorded in the Brief Description field and additional numbers (serial, etc.) in the Other ID field.

We are looking at ways to set up Vernon to make this easier, most likely using User Defined Fields to record details like Type, Make, Model, Calibre, Serial Number, etc. separately to make reporting on these specific fields easier.

We have also put in a flag to identify where a firearm is currently listed against the firearms licence, which we have done in the Administration & Risk Assessment field. We have updated our Vernon Cataloguing Procedures to reflect this but are working on a detailed Firearm procedure for future acquisitions to reflect all requirements in the Prohibited Firearm category. 

We have also made some alterations to our armoury, a strong room construction, following recommendations by firearms officers. This includes additional motion sensors and alarms, in addition to our current monitored alarm system. We have also moved all firing pins to a secure offsite location, in accordance with the requirements. Until recently, these were stored in a separate, locked location, but on site.

Firearms on display as part of the Armed Offenders Squad exhibition. All cases are alarmed and monitored. Firearms have been made inoperable and following recommendations by Arms Officer we have recently added a disclaimer in vinyl along the glass which reads: All firearms have been rendered inoperable. Photo courtesy of New Zealand Police Museum

Currently, our firearms are labelled with their Accession Number using B67 and B72, where appropriate. Others have swing tags. As these are reversible we will be looking at alternatives but have not committed to one yet. As we have a large number of firearms, laser engraving may be prohibitive due to cost.

Our most likely option will be mechanical engraving using a diamond tipped engraver or vibrating carbide tip engraver as advised by Police. From the examples given in the Police guide on marking magazines, the diamond tip looks neater and will work for both metal and plastic, polymer and Bakelite.

Read the prohibited magazines marking guide from the New Zealand Police

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