Finding a gun among a deceased relative’s possessions can be a surprise if you had no idea he or she owned one. Even if you knew Dad or Grandpa had a gun, once you end up with possession of it, you might be stumped about what to do with it—whether you want to keep it or not.
The first thing to do when you find a gun is make sure that it’s not loaded. Don’t try to unload it yourself if you are unfamiliar with guns—you can call law enforcement for help. If you choose to keep it until you can have it looked at by a professional, lock it (and all ammunition) securely where children can’t access it until you decide what to do with it. No matter what, never point the barrel of the gun at yourself or another person, even if you believe it is unloaded or not in working order.
If you want to keep or sell the gun, find out if it’s an antique (defined by the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as a gun manufactured in or before 1898); if so, it is not subject to federal gun laws. Given the age and quality of the gun, it may be worth substantial money. Have it appraised by a reputable antiques dealer to get an estimate of its value. You may be able to sell it to a gun dealer or collector in your area. A local museum may also be interested if you’d like to donate it.
Even if the gun is not an antique, it may still be valuable. Talk to a gun dealer or research the type of gun online. Your best bet is to sell it to a dealer, who then has the responsibility for overseeing a legal sale to a licensed owner. It is possible to sell it yourself, but you still may need to involve a dealer to make sure that you complete all of the necessary legal paperwork.
If you just want to get rid of the gun, see if there are gun buy-back or amnesty programs in your area. Call the police department, sheriff’s office, or town hall to inquire. Often, you’ll receive a small amount of cash in exchange for the weapon.
If you can’t locate a buy-back program, your local police or sheriff will take the gun and dispose of it properly. (Like guns that are collected in buy-back events, guns that are surrendered to police departments are generally melted down.) Another avenue for getting rid of a gun is to donate it to an artist who specializes in repurposing guns into jewelry or art. Whatever you do, don’t put a gun or ammo in the garbage. Someone could be seriously injured.
Keeping a gun
You may decide you want to keep Grandpa’s military revolver or your dad’s shotgun even if you don’t plan to use it. If you go that route, be sure you have a secure place where you can lock away the unloaded weapon—as well as all ammunition. If you plan to use the gun, have it checked out, cleaned, and refurbished by a professional so that it is in good working order. You also need to determine if the gun has been registered and if you need to register it to continue ownership—check with your local law enforcement. And if you plan to keep it, it’s a good idea to sign up for gun safety course with a qualified teacher.
Ammo and other weapons
Don’t forget to get rid of the ammo along with the gun if you’re not keeping it. You may be able to sell it with the gun or give it to a dealer or police department. And guns aren’t the only dangerous weapons you may unexpectedly inherit. Soldiers in the past brought home grenades, pieces of landmines, and other potentially dangerous items as wartime souvenirs.
Exercise caution and don’t fool around with these items, or someone could get hurt. If you don’t want to touch them, you can call the police department to take them away. If you believe an item may be valuable, consult a dealer. As with guns and ammo, keep any weapons locked away from children and don’t take any risks with them.