Office of the Secretary General
to the UN conference on
New York, July 16, 2001
ing. JaA van Driel
Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen,
As a representative of the Federation of European Societies of Arms collectors, I thank you. for this opportunity to present our point of view on the program of action. FESAC welcomes it as a means to alleviate the suffering of people in post conflict areas and will gladly provide the expertise to make this program work.
Collectors, whether private individuals or public museums, are the custodians of our technical, historical and cultural heritage. Whether we like it or not, weapons form an essential part of that heritage. They have always been in the forefront of technological development, from steel making to ergonomics, from chemistry to mass production techniques and have had more influence on the course of history than anything else. If we do not conserve the artifacts of this heritage, important information about our history and ourselves will be lost forever. How can we understand the French revolution when we do not know that the storming of the Bastille was not meant to liberate prisoners but mainly to obtain gunpowder?
Collectors do not appear in crime statistics. The weapons they own are a small fraction of the firearms that are legally held by civilians. Their knowledge and expertise is, however, greatly out of proportion to their numbers. In order to preserve this expertise it is essential that collectors can obtain items for their collections. We ask you to allow, in paragraphs 13 and 16 of section 2, that small arms and light weapons can be supplied not only to governments but also to persons or entities authorized by those governments.
If paragraph 20 of section two (with its emphasis on restrictions to the private ownership of military weapons) is retained, FESAC asks you to add a clause to that paragraph safeguarding the position of the collectors. Even examples of small arms and light weapons are important artifacts that deserve to be preserved for future generations of researchers. After all, today's weapons are tomorrow's antiques.
For any collector authenticity is essential. A weapon that is deactivated loses most, if not all, of its collectors' value. Moreover, it makes it impossible to perform historical or technical research on those weapons or demonstrate them for educational purposes. Paragraph 18 of section 2 holds the risk that irreplaceable collectors' pieces are, effectively, destroyed by being "disabled". This serves no practical purpose and may even prove counterproductive. Collectors, researchers and museums should be able to keep the weapons in their original condition; it is the essence of collecting. FESAC proposes to remove the obligation to disable weapons that are "retained for other purposes" and replace it by a requirement to provide adequate security.
A problem for collectors as well as those who have to work with this program of action, is the lack of a proper definition of the term "small arms and light weapons". Its present unclear definition includes all types of weapons, even hunting- and sports weapons. It even includes antiques. Adding the rather vague term "produced to military specification" does not improve things. We should not forget that flintlock muskets were also "produced to military specification". It is no use including antiques into the program of action and run the risk of not being taken seriously.
The definition should be such that it targets the weapons that are the real cause of the problems in post conflict areas, like full-automatic assault rifles and machineguns. It is no use destroying collectors' weapons that are legally held by collectors in stable, democratic countries, while leaving the Kalashnikovs in place in war-ravaged lands.
Collectors are uniquely qualified to provide expertise on firearms. By preserving the artifacts of our past and our present, they can make sure that history is not rewritten to fit the fashion of the day and help keep us from making the same mistakes all over again. Please allow them the means to do that.