Dealing with NFA Firearms as a Family Member

Brass pile

SayUncle relays a story of a someone who’s run into a situation where doctors have asked that the family remove firearms from the home of a person who was incapacitated in a recent car accident. The problem is he’s an NFA owner, and presumably the family isn’t on a trust. So is taking them even legal?

[UPDATE: See more here.]

The answer is no. It’s absolutely illegal for family to take them for safekeeping while he recovers. But there are alternatives. First, if there are suppressors, they are useless without the guns they attach to. Just leave them and take the guns. Second, if they are firearm NFA items, the receiver is usually the registered part. Take parts that aren’t “firearms,” but in whose absence the gun won’t function. If it’s a short barreled rifle, say an AR, it’s legal for someone to have the short upper provided they don’t have a receiver to go with it. Having a firing pin or a bolt is not usually a problem (though you have to be careful with machine gun parts if you own a non-machine gun that would accept the part). But for people who don’t own guns, or don’t own those guns, taking a firing pin, bolt or non-serialed upper out of a registered machine gun shouldn’t be illegal. It’s the receiver that’s the machine gun. There’s also the option of putting a lock on the gun and keeping the key, changing a safe combination, etc.

Now of course, I’m speaking generally. I can think of specific ways someone who doesn’t know what they are doing could end up violating the law and spending 10 years in federal prison. There are registered machine guns out there where the sear is the NFA serial numbered part. There are some firearms where the upper is the “firearm.” Like I said before, you have to be careful about taking parts where you might have firearms that those parts fit. So be careful. The “safe” bet, for you, as a family member, is to let your loved one take his chances, and hope he or she doesn’t off themselves.  The law does not have compassion, and seldom has common sense. There are always unintended consequences.

16 thoughts on “Dealing with NFA Firearms as a Family Member”

  1. What you suggest is also illegal. If the family even has access to the NFA items without the owner being there, they are in violation of the law, and so is the owner.
    With that being the case, accessing the safe to remove a firing pin, or any other part, is illegal.
    This is why the NFA is ridiculous.

    1. Yes, technically. I am presuming the owner would be there. But I don’t think getting into the safe would be a problem as long as they don’t take the NFA item into their possession.

      1. If they have access to the NFA item, they are in constructive possession. n US v. Turnbough, when the police searched the defendant’s home pursuant to a valid search warrant and found a handgun, that did not have a serial number, in the master bedroom, the defendant argued that he could not be found guilty of constructive possession if his live in girlfriend and her child were not charged. While his argument was frivolous, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals declared, “[In] viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, at the least, a reasonable jury could conclude that all three parties exercised dominion and control over the gun. Possession may be either sole or joint.” Thus, although the prosecutor did not bring a charge of constructive possession against the girlfriend and her child, the Court was amenable to the prosecutor bringing such charges.

  2. And if you take parts off of someone’s gun to render it inoperable be certain not to lose those parts, or they may want to off you when they get better and find out their $25,000 NFA gun is useless because you lost the firing pin!

  3. The question nobody has asked is why the doctors feeeeel that the patient’s guns should be removed from his control.

    1. That’s what I initially wondered. It says the family member was incapacitated due to a car accident. Maybe the doctor feels the recovery will cause feelings of helplessness that lead to depression? I’d tell the doctor where they could put their feelings.

  4. As I said over at Uncle’s: They need to be getting everything done through a lawyer who is familiar with NFA issues. Let the lawyer deal with the BATFE, and make sure all the paperwork is done correctly the first time, so an innocent mistake or misunderstanding by the family doesn’t lead to a felony charge or forfeiture later on.

    Depending on the circumstances, the lawyer should also be able to help them get a trust established at the same time, which sounds like something that needs to be done ASAP.

    1. Yes – having an experienced attorney deal with this issue is the best option. I strongly recommend not contacting the ATF directly.

      1. After some quick Googling, it would appear so. But this case looks like one where it would still be a very good idea, if that cost can be managed at all. Someone besides the owner needs access to the NFA items without having to worry about felony charges.

  5. I don’t live in the US, but this is how I address similar issues.

    I have several full gun safes in a household where others are not authorised (due to stupid licensing laws, not through any personal malfeasance) to access the firearms stored in them.

    Each safe has two separate locks – one internal to the door, one external padlock. Only I have access to the (securely stored) keys.

    In the event of anything causing my legal incompetence (or my death), documents stored with the important household documents detail the process to cut off the external padlocks, replace them with ones to which I do not have the keys, and then securely store those keys.

    Result: Gun safes that require two parties to open. Neither party has the ability to access the contents without the other party. Ergo: No “constructive possession”, no “actual possession” by either party, and no party has ever actually so much as touched the guns.

  6. A family member would be well advised to secure power of attorney for the NFA registrant which would allow that person to have legal access to his NFA weapons for whatever course of events they choose.
    Trusts require a transfer from the current Registrant to the trust, a five to seven month process after the trust has been established. The registrant may have covered by then. If the registrant is capable of disassembling the weapons, the receivers or the “controlled” parts can be temporarily and legally stored in a bank safety deposit box, with access to then eye re tricked to the registrant or his agent.This is often done in other situations where the registrant is absent, etc.

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