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What should I do with a shotgun or rifle when the owner dies?

What’s the position when the owner of a gun dies? Here's what to do in different circumstances.

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What happens to shotguns after owner’s death?

Q: What is the best thing to do if someone you know has died and they held a licence and owned shotguns that are still within their premises? It is still early days waiting on a post-mortem examination and death certificate, and no one else is aware of the guns. How should you proceed with shotguns after owner’s death?

I am the deceased’s neighbour and the only person at present with a house key. Is there an authority that should be contacted? I will be informing the family of these facts but at the moment I think it’s best that the fewer people who know about the guns the better.

As a matter of urgency, you need to find out who are the executors of the deceased’s estate because they are the only people who can decide what is going to happen to the guns. Then the executor needs to contact the police licensing department that issued the deceased’s certificate and inform them of the death. At the same time, the executor should apply to the licensing department for a free temporary permit under Section 7 of the 1968 Firearms Act. They should request one that lasts for six months to give plenty of time to decide what to do with the guns.

While the Section 7 permit allows for lawful possession, it is never a good idea to leave guns in an unoccupied house for a long period. There may be a relative or friend of the deceased who could put the shotguns on his/her own certificate. Failing that, the local gun shop may store them (for a fee) until the executor decides what to do.
One thing that you should not do is to involve the local uniformed police because they will not know what to do and will just seize the guns. Once any firearm is in the police property system, it is difficult to extract it. Your dealings should be exclusively with the firearms licensing department.

Q: My shooting friend has terminal cancer and wants me to have his rifles when he is gone. To save his wife the grief of sorting this out at what will be a traumatic time, is it possible for his rifles to be put on to my certificate now?

A: A firearm or shotgun can appear on any number of different people’s certificates at the same time. Your suggestion is a very good idea and will allow your friend to pass his rifles to you when the time comes that he can no longer shoot. At the same time, he can continue to use them himself for as long as he feels able. You will need to complete the variation form (201V) and pay £20. When it comes to demonstrating that you have a good reason for acquiring the rifles, explain what you want to do in a covering letter. By preference, discuss the matter with the firearms licensing manager first. My experience is that the police will be helpful and will do their best to accommodate you in such circumstances. After all, this arrangement is to everybody’s benefit. From the police point of view, it means that they will not have to issue a Section 7 temporary permit to your friend’s executors and the rifles will remain properly secured after he has died. When that happens, his certificate can be cancelled by clipping off the top right corner (like a passport) or returned to the licensing department if it has no sentimental value to family.

Q: A friend of mine found a nice Browning shotgun when clearing the house of an uncle who died recently. It isn’t on a certificate, but my friend would like to keep it and wants to apply for a certificate in due course. In the meantime he has asked if I will put it on my ticket. I am not at all sure about this. What is the procedure here?

A:  Phone your Firearms Enquiry Officer and explain the situation. There is nothing to stop you from putting the gun on your own certificate and it is in the public interest that guns, which have previously been off ticket for whatever reason, are brought into the lawful mainstream. When you notify the police of the acquisition send in a covering letter explaining the circumstances.

Another reader had a different issue with guns after a bereavement.

Q: Some months after my father passed away the police told my mother that because his shotgun certificate had lapsed she should hand his gun to the local gunshop. They took care of its disposal.

My mother is now about to move and in the attic we found a .410 shotgun, which we believe belonged to my grandfather. Will we have to hand in this gun, too? Is it possible to register this gun on my own shotgun certificate and how do I go about it?

A: There is no problem retaining your grandfather’s gun in the circumstances you describe.

You should enter the details on your shotgun certificate and send a notification to your local police. Some forces have a special form for this but a letter will do. In either case use recorded delivery. You should also e mail the information. Include a brief explanation of how the gun came to be in your hands.

In fact, you could have kept your father’s gun at the time he died.

Inheriting guns

Q: I am recently widowed and this has got me thinking. Now that I live alone nobody will know where my gun cabinet keys are when I pop off. I don’t want the police to come round and confiscate the guns, then dispose of them as they see fit. How do I stand on this legally and what arrangements should I put in place?

A:  I assume you have made a will.  If not you need to do so otherwise your money and possessions might not go to the people you would wish to receive them.
Your guns will be part of your estate and can either be sold or left to whomsoever you specify in your will. The police would have no right to confiscate them when you die. The best plan is to leave a sealed envelope with your will and address it to your executors with instructions to open it on your death.

Inside you can put details of the guns and how to access them. Your executors will need a temporary permit (Section 7 permit) from the police to enable them to hold the guns whilst they are disposed of in accordance with your wishes. The details of how to obtain one can be included in the envelope.

I recently advised a reader about inheriting a shotgun.

After an uncle’s death he was left his shotgun, a lovely Charles Lancaster. Being a keen Shot himself he was eager to take it on but wasn’t sure how to transfer it to his shotgun certificate. 

Here’s what I advised. I was assuming he could access his late uncle’s gun cabinet.  (Read our list of best gun cabinets here.)

  • Complete Table 2 on your shotgun certificate to record the transfer.
  • Insert the date at column A, write “given” at column B, the details of the gun, including its serial number, at C, and your late uncle’s name and address at D.
  • If you have access to your late uncle’s certificate, insert the certificate number at E. As it is you and not your uncle who is certifying that the details are correct, you may sign and date column F.

Inform the police licensing department that issued your certificate within seven days and advise the police force that issued your uncle’s certificate if it is not the same force as yours. If they are not already aware of it, advise them of your uncle’s death. The gun will then be added to your records.

What is a Section 7 temporary permit?

This temporary permit authorises your personal representatives to be in lawful possession of your guns until they decide what to do. You can get a Section 7 temporary permit free of charge – we suggest you ask for one for a period of three months.

BASC advice on shotguns after owner’s death

  • If you own firearms or shotguns, you can help your executor or next of kin by creating a large envelope to be opened in the event of your death.
  • Inside you need to put: instructions to write to the firearms licensing department, contact details for the firearms licensing department, a list of the guns you own and whether you have loaned any, copies of your shotgun and firearms certificates and details of where to source the originals, information on where the keys to your gun cabinet are stored.
  • It’s also a good idea to include contact details of a friend who would look after your guns until a decision is made (they will need to be the holder of the temporary permit).