AMACS CELEBRATES ITS 35TH ANNIVERSARY
Today, AMACS commemorated its foundation as the ‘AAMS’ on 12th June 1985 with a dinner for the Founding Members together with the current committee.
Those attending included seven of the original fourteen founder members, namely President Stephen A. Petroni (1), Gaston Agius Fernandez (2), Charles Sciberras (3), Alfred Cuschieri (4), Joe Borda (6), Francis Galea Naudi (7) and Joseph Schembri (14), as well as Honorary Member Brig. Maurice Calleja. The current Committee Members who attended were Vice President Harold Farrugia (28), Secretary Shane A. Hunter (1544), Treasurer Vincent Gatt (891) and members Peter Paul Caruana (170), Cedrik Dalli (409) and Steven Camilleri (1097).
Tribute was paid to two Founding Members who are sadly no longer with us, the late Philip de Domenico (5) and the late Godwin Hampton (13).
Fourteen collectors of arms and militaria got together on 12th June 1985 to set up the ‘Arms, Armour and Militaria Society’ (AAMS). Their objective was to set up an alliance with other organisations to oppose a parliamentary Bill that introduced import duty on collectors’ items. The initiative was a success and the Bill was withdrawn.
AAMS then turned its attention to the severe and unjust restrictions on sport shooting and arms collecting, as well as the stigma associated with firearms. The only form of sport shooting permitted in Malta was clay pigeon. The use of airguns, rimfire and centrefire guns was banned. The importation of firearms, other than shotguns, was also banned. The Colonial-era Arms Ordinance gave full discretionary powers to the Police, who invariably turned down any request to import firearms, other than shotguns, with the statement ‘Refused on grounds of policy’.
AAMS focused its efforts on changing public opinion, organising the first exhibitions of arms and militaria to explain their cultural and heritage significance. These attracted many visitors, who began to appreciate the work done by private collectors to research and conserve historical artefacts. VIPs were invited to inaugurate these displays, to see for themselves how passionate and serious our members were in their interest.
As attitudes began to change, AAMS organised the first-ever target shooting event in 1989, using original muzzle loading firearms, after the Police granted an ‘ad hoc’ permit. This event was a success, thanks to the invaluable support of the Armed Forces of Malta led by Brig. Maurice Calleja. The competitive shoot was organised at Pembroke Ranges and members wore Napoleonic costume to give it colour. It was also the birth of re-enactment in Malta, albeit inadvertently. The media loved it and the event featured in the headlines. Similar events were then held regularly.
The AAMS team worked tirelessly between 1991 and 2005 to propose, draft and lobby for a new arms law that would replace the outdated Arms Ordinance of 1931. Its few members faced constant hurdles and setbacks throughout the process, when new ministers and officials would be appointed, and the work would invariably have to start from scratch. The team members also had to resist an onslaught by the media, which was often used by those who opposed any changes to the status quo, to spread alarm over any change in existing law. Ironically, they also had to endure opposition from within the community by individuals and organisations who were more concerned about defending their patch, rather than seeking the best interests of Maltese sport shooters and firearm collectors.
It is against this challenging background that AAMS managed to eventually steer the new Bill through the drafting process until it was discussed in Parliament and finally approved as the ‘Arms Act 2005’ (Cap. 480) on 2 August 2005. It came into force the following year, when the Arms Licensing Regulations were published on 25 August 2006, repealing the old Arms Ordnance one and for all. AAMS had achieved what others considered to be impossible.
The entire local firearms community, including those who initially opposed AAMS efforts but were later prompt to jump on the band wagon and claim it as their own, owe it all to these AAMS members and to the politicians and administrative officers who believed and supported the good cause.
However, this local achievement also had a wider impact on a European level. For the first time, an EU Member State had repealed an old firearms law and replaced it with a new one totally based on the original EU Firearms Directive of 1991. The situation in the other states was that their old laws had been continually patched up to meet local and EU requirements, resulting in overtly complex regulations which created grey areas open to wide interpretation, more often than not to the detriment of bona fide enthusiasts. This fact was not lost on the wider EU community of manufacturers, retailers and firearm-related organisations. Our law was regarded as one of the model legislation, both by EU MEPs and by some other countries. It was quoted on several occasions during the discussions leading to that 2008 and 2017 changes to the EU Directive.
AMACS continues its indefatigable efforts at keeping sensible Maltese firearms legislation effective yet conducive to the pursuit of sports shooting and the collection, research and conservation of historic arms. It works in close co-operation with its sister organisation AACTS within the Federation of Arms Collectors & Target Shooters (FACTS), which both associations co-founded.