The “Weapons Collection” exhibit was on display from January to May, 2017.
WHY WE COLLECT
Every object in the collection tells a story about how those who came before us lived their lives. Often, weapons are passed down through generations with a specific story connected to it. Objects such as these often hold both personal and national histories: for instance, an 1860s musket can tell the story of your ancestor’s Civil War service, and also discuss the broader topic of technological advancement of firearms during the 1860s. It can also carry with it the story of someone killed by the weapon, or perhaps someone saved by it.
Weapons can be beautiful or ugly; detailed or simple; decorative or commonplace. Weapons can be both a show of pride and strength, and a symbol of sadness and loss.
Whatever the context, these stories are entombed in the Museum so that the community can learn about our previous experiences and use these shared histories to build a stronger future.
HOW TO COLLECT
When these pieces are donated, either by the original owner or a family member, or a collector, the Museum considers them just like any other donated artifact. It goes through the Museum’s Collections Committee, whose job it is to make sure that every object pertains to the history of the Kennebunks and the people that lived here.
For firearms and other explosive weapons, safe handling is paramount. The Museum calls a specialist to ensure the weapon is unloaded and safe to handle. There are strict rules outlined in the National Firearms Act, enforced by the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms), pertaining to the regulation of antique firearms. Weapons created before 1898 are not regulated. Most of the Brick Store Museum’s weapons fall into this category.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
Both professionally and personally, debates continue about how weapons should be displayed (or, if they should be displayed at all). For younger visitors to the Brick Store Museum during annual field trips, the firearms collection is of particular interest and docents often hear shouts of excitement upon passing this specific storage area. The same area, when passed by some adults, only receives pained looks. Others see the artifacts and are fascinated in the details. Firearms inspire different feelings and beliefs in all of us.
So how does a museum display these objects? What do they mean to you?
FIREARMS IN THE SECOND AMENDMENT
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
What did this mean in 1791?
Gun culture in America has been shaped by history – and as time rolls on, new perspectives are generated from our shared experiences. What guns mean to people has changed over time.
In the 18th and 19th century, armed civilians used guns as a means of survival and protection from foreign enemies. Contrary to popular belief, gun ownership was rare in the first half of America’s history as an independent country. The state of Massachusetts counted all privately owned guns on several occasions. Until 1840, no more than 11% of the population owned guns—and Massachusetts was one of the two centers of gun production in the country. At the start of the War of 1812, the state had more spears than firearms in its arsenal. Militias, it seems, were neither adept nor well-armed. It was during the Civil War (1861 to 1865) that gun ownership started to rise (slowly).
Events in history have always played a part in how we view and regulate gun ownership. In 1927, Congress outlawed the mail-order sale of guns or concealed firearms after mob violence broke out during Prohibition. This violence escalated so quickly with the usage of Tommy guns that Congress passed the National Firearms Act of 1934. This act became the first federal gun-control law. President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination spurred leaders to pass the Gun Control Act of 1968.
In the coming months and years, as the nation continues the serious discussion about gun regulation, the meaning of the Second Amendment will be at the forefront.