Should You Display Your Collectible Firearms? By:

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There are many kinds of gun owners, but there are two types of firearms collectors. First, there are those who like to maintain secrecy when it comes to their collection. Their firearms tend to be locked away in fireproof safes or otherwise secured. Then there are those who display their antique and collectible firearms.

displaying firearms
What are your options for displaying your collectible firearms? The author explores some ideas and touches on some of the preservation and legal issues of which you should be aware.

It would be easy to simply say, “To each their own” and leave it at that, but the truth is firearm laws are changing, and depending on where you live, it might be time to consider whether you can and should display firearms as you once did.

The first consideration is how firearms are preserved. Moving quickly past the “you own it, treat it how you will,” we should still remember that dust, humidity, and excessive heat aren’t really good for the long-term preservation of that old Winchester or Rolling Block. Likewise, there might have been a time when a wall of old rifles in the “smoking room” was considered appropriate decoration, but we’ve come to learn that smoking isn’t just bad for one’s health, it isn’t good for collectibles either.

historical gun display
A secure room houses this impressive display of First World War-era German firearms and replica tools/gear.

Thus firearms that are put on display should be kept out of direct sunlight, while keeping humidity adequately maintained. That is true whether the guns are hanging in the wall in an upstairs room or a basement. Many parts of the country are all too cold in the winter, far too hot in the summer, and humidity swings just as wildly.

Dust can be an enemy as well, getting into the nooks and crevices — so along with a humidifier/de-humidifier depending on the season, an air purifier is recommended. This constant clearing of the air can also reduce the need for regular dusting.

Of course, a far bigger issue is one of safety. It goes without saying that no firearm should ever be left where a minor or unauthorized person can easily access it. Thus one should consider carefully the display of World War II handguns in the den, and such firearms should be kept under lock and key. Remember, the most trustworthy teenager might not have the most trustworthy friends.

gun storage in locker
The alternative to displaying firearms is to store them in a safe or locker. However, they may not bring the same joy as they might if they were in a display.

Then there is the issue of whether you need the neighbors, family friends or colleagues to see the antique musket on the wall in the family room. It may not even be functional, but surely someone will get their nose bent out of shape. We live in sad times where maybe we can’t always trust what a delivery person, plumber, contractor or other individual sees. No doubt, many such individuals already see collections of baseball cards, artwork and other items — but we don’t need to advertise to the world that our house has treasure worth pilfering!

Something that might not be considered is that rare firearms should be treated with care. Like any collectible, rare firearms shouldn’t be excessively handled, yet a lot of people don’t get that.

gun displays
Shown is a display room of the late machine gun collector, Robert Segal. He clearly took firearm displays to another level.

It is amazing as few would dare take a rare comic book out of a plastic sleeve to flip the pages, or most wouldn’t even consider handling a Babe Ruth autographed baseball — yet, firearms practically scream “touch me” with some people. That can include the buddy who has a nice AR-15 and sees no harm in inspecting your 18th-century Brown Bess, or the weird cousin (we all have one of those) who watched Saving Private Ryan in the past week and feels the need to pick up the M1 Garand and decide to charge it like he does in Call of Duty.

Sometimes it may be necessary to say, “Let me know if you’d like to see anything,” while you hand them white gloves, as that should dissuade the need for touching the goods!

We also need to make sure that if we’re displaying firearms in the home we’re doing so legally. This may seem odd to even suggest, but the fact remains that gun laws around the country are changing. This year, several states introduced new legislation that required firearms essentially to be locked up.

English gun display
This display of British firepower from the late 18th to late 19th centuries was created with a few pieces of framing lumber and some paint.

California’s existing gun storage law now requires that all firearms — whether they’re loaded or unloaded — be secured using a method such as a gun safe or trigger lock in places where they could get into the hands of a minor, a felon or anyone prohibited from possessing a firearm. New York and Massachusetts have similar laws on the books.

Illinois requires gun owners to keep their firearms secured in a safe or locked container, or be equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety gadgets. Michigan recently adopted legislation that requires guns to be secured if it is reasonably known that a minor is likely to be present on the premises.

NFA stamp for firearm
A transfer stamp for an NFA item. Such firearms come with added responsibility in terms of storage, and they limit the options for display.

Even without the laws, this should fall back into the good judgment and safety issue realm.

And while there is no universal federal law (at least, not yet), on the display of most firearms, it needs to be stressed there are specific rules in place for NFA (National Firearms Act) items, including automatic weapons, destructive devices and short-barreled rifles/shotguns. Such items are required to be under lock and key of some sort and only accessible by the owner (the person who holds the transfer stamp).

While this is by no means meant as legal advice, for those who do feel the desire to display their firearms, perhaps it is wise to do so in a less-trafficked part of the home. This could, and perhaps even should, be a locked room that those doing home repairs might never see. It should have climate control to maintain a relatively constant humidity of around 30 to 35 percent, shouldn’t get too much direct sun, and could allow for the firearms to be further locked up or controlled if necessary.

However, even such a locked room might not fulfill some states’ restrictions.

Protecting these collectible firearms may require a bit of due diligence — to satisfy laws and to preserve them for future generations.

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