Armourer’s tool a tricky collectable

Ross Bills, from SSAA Majura Park in the ACT, has a great assortment of Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) rifles, but his skeletonised No.1 MkIII armourer’s tool may have had the most interesting road into his collection.

Ross said he had a particularly hard time explaining to police that the armourer’s tool is just that – and not a firearm. “When I was seeking to acquire this lovely non-functioning armourer’s tool, and seeking a determination to the effect that the item was ‘not a firearm’ within the definitions of the Firearms Act (NSW), I had great difficulties,” he said. “Partly because I inadvertently described it as having a shortened barrel – as most of these tools do.”

Unfortunately for Ross, the NSW Firearms Registry insisted the armourer’s tool was a firearm, even though it didn’t really meet the definition under the state’s Act. “Arguably some parts – the trigger mechanism, springs, bolt body, the firing pin, butt, or even the receiver (although this was heavily cut on this particular model) – might be used to construct or form part of a functioning firearm, but generally the deactivating process used in their manufacture precludes discharge of any ammunition (more than once),” said Ross.

Despite the ruling, Ross was able to obtain the armourer’s tool under his collector’s licence. Ross explained that the primary use for these armourer’s tools, also known as models, was for checking clearances and tensions, instructing unit level armourers in maintenance and repair, and for demonstrating how different parts interacted in that particular model of firearm. “Models were made generally in the shortened form, but in some cases in full-sized models. Invariably, even those longer models are also extremely cut away, such as to make them impossible to fire,” said Ross.

These tools were issued on a battalion basis and used for instruction of company armourers, as opposed to end users. Ross said this is why only a limited number were manufactured. “There are unconfirmed stories of manufacture of these at Brigade Ordnance Depot (BOD) level, and as such they might then fit the definition of a firearm set down in the legislation. I have yet to see one identified as BOD manufactured though.”

Ross explained that the whole or assembled armourer’s tools certainly could not discharge a projectile. “The issue of when a firearm becomes a firearm is in itself interesting. I would argue the date it left the factory is the date on which it might have become a firearm, and these certainly did not leave in any activated condition. As we see them, they are the finished product,” he said. “Are they replica firearms? I would argue in their condition they cannot be mistaken on inspection for a functioning firearm. Perhaps the mistake could be made to an uneducated person in very dim light though.”

Ross’s passion for this area of firearms history has not been hampered by the difficulties of obtaining this armourer’s tool. In fact, he is already planning on obtaining another similar item. “All in all, it was a fascinating exercise, spanning many months. I can hardly wait to obtain my armourer’s model of an L1A1 and anticipate much correspondence on the subject,” he said.

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