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Record Your Personal Gun Collection
Do It For Your Family

March 2021
by John Glatthar   

How many Americans own at least one gun? How many guns do Americans collectively own? How many gun-owning Americans pass away each year, leaving a gun collection behind for the family to deal with? There are no exact figures available to us in order to answer any of those questions, for gun ownership is a private matter. As it should be.

I have helped many widows work through the aftermath of dealing with estate guns in the past. Curiously, (at least to me) very few of the deceased gun owners – most of whom I knew personally - kept reliable records of the guns they owned. More often than not, the widow and the family rarely knew much about the guns that became part of the estate. They often had many questions and concerns such as:

What is this gun? Nearly all guns have a stamp identifying the manufacturer. Most have model names and/or numbers. All guns manufactured and sold in the USA from 1968 to the present have serial numbers. Those made prior to 1968 may or may not have a serial number. 

Is it loaded or unloaded? Before you touch a firearm that you are unfamiliar with, have someone present who knows how to handle firearms safely. You will be surprised at how many guns are kept loaded, so treat every gun as if it is loaded. This, plus keeping the muzzle in a safe direction, and keeping your finger off the trigger, are the primary gun handling safety rules.

How do I render it “safe” to handle? Again, do not touch it unless you are familiar with it, and know positively how to operate it, which includes clearing it of all live ammunition.  

Is it a “legal” firearm? It may or may not be. Some firearms are "Class 3" firearms and must be registered with the feds. There are a number in private hands, some legal, some not, but they are not commonly found. In general, we are referring to full automatic weapons (e.g. machine guns), short barreled rifles & shotguns, and suppressors, also known as silencers. In Nevada, they are legal to own, provided there is proper paperwork. Read more here.

Is it his gun, or was he storing it for someone else? Who actually owns it?  If in doubt as to the true ownership, you might want to wait until the notice of death has been out for a while. You may get a call from the deceased's friend with a request to come over and pick up his gun. Always ask for proof of ownership. Trust, but verify. 

If it was his gun, can I legally keep it? Maybe. If it is a transferable Class 3 firearm, the transfer of ownership requires special paperwork and a tax paid to the ATF. Ask a Class 3 dealer to assist you. Note: Not all gun dealers have that special license. Other than that, in Nevada, the ownership of regular guns reverts to you, and no paperwork is required.  

Do I have to “register” it?  Unless it a Class 3 item, no. In Nevada, gun registration is not required. And that is a very good thing. No one needs to know what you own.      

What is it worth? Once you have ascertained the make, model, caliber and condition, you can learn a great deal about a gun's value by checking the prices of similar guns that have sold on GunBroker.com or GunsAmerica.com.  Ignore the asking prices. Set up a free account with either website, then do a search under "closed auctions" for the "sold" prices. Of course, condition is everything. The NRA has a rating standard that is easy to follow. Read more here

What other accessories go with it?  You might be surprised to learn how much more a gun can be worth, if it has its original box and owner's manual. Do not discard those empty gun boxes! Other accessories, like extra magazines, scopes, and of course the ammunition, can add significant value as well.

If I do not want to keep it, how do I sell it? To whom?  If you don't want to deal with selling the guns one by one to unknown buyers, you can take the collection to a local gun dealer who buys collections. Some do, some do not. Bear in mind that they will quote you a low wholesale offer, in order to resell the guns at a profit later. Nothing is wrong with that - that is how the business works. If you have a solid idea what the gun is worth, by doing prior research, you should be able to negotiate a better deal. You will always, however, get more $$ for the guns when you sell them yourself.

Note: In Nevada, as of January 2020, all firearms must be transferred to a new owner through a gun dealer, Exemptions exist for immediate family members. A few other exemptions also exist. Read more here.

How do I transport the gun(s) legally? First be sure they are unloaded, place them in the original box, a hard case, a soft case, or anything that will protect and cushion them during transportation. Large bath towels or old sheets are often used for this purpose. Not super classy, but it does not matter. You are simply moving them from Point A to Point B, and are keeping them out of sight from prying eyes during the trip.

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As you can see, there are many questions and concerns, in addition to making the usual arrangements for traumatic death in the family. As if that wasn’t daunting, challenging, and unpleasant enough.

Allow me to offer this suggestion to the still-living gun owner: download this PDF file or this doc file, set aside some time, and fill out a spec sheet for every firearm you own. You have no idea how much time and worry this will save your survivors in the future. 

Get responsible family members involved on the process. It may take a full day or longer depending on the size of your collection, but it will go much faster with more hands on deck. Maybe start with handguns, then shotguns, then move on to rifles. Start somewhere. Take clear photos of the left side and right side of the gun. More photos are usually better. Try to zoom in on the serial number, if possible. Also, take photos of the accessories, including extra magazines, clips, scopes, slings, bayonets (if it is an old military collectible rifle) and anything else that is mated to that particular firearm.  

Now, after filling it out, print a hard copy of that form and put it in a file drawer. Also, save it onto a digital disc, or a thumb drive. Be sure that a responsible family member knows where this media is stored and that they have access to it if and when needed. If you lock the information away in a gun safe for which family members have no access after you pass away, all that work was futile.

Yes, the steps outlined herein will be time consuming. You may know every one of your guns by heart and by sight, but the info sheet is more for your surviving family than for you. Be thoughtful. Create the records now while you can. 

At Semper Firearms Training we encourage you to buy a good firearm, get trained in how to use it, and continue your firearms training as part of a defensive lifestyle.

Please be sure to watch these two important videos and to send the links on to a friend:

Images courtesy of Oleg Volk

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