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Inheriting firearms or other dangerous items

Carlton Boyce / 02 November 2015 ( 28 May 2019 )

What should you do if you inherit firearms, shotguns or other dangerous items?

An old pistol on a display stand
It may look like a museum piece, but the police take possession of firearms by unlicensed holders seriously, and you might find yourself unwittingly committing an offence

The death of a loved one is always hard, and the legal complexities that inevitably follow can make the grieving process even harder. The disposal of a loved one’s belongings is never easy, but in the case of firearms, shotguns and other dangerous items, it is even more convoluted and fraught and could, if not handled properly, even land you in trouble with the police.

However, we’re here to help, and while this article cannot take the place of proper legal advice, following these simple steps should help keep you on the right side of the law.

Read our guide to managing your firearms after your death. 

Shotguns and other firearms

Inheriting a shotgun, rifle or other firearm can have potentially serious consequences if it isn’t handled properly. 

While there is no need to panic or worry unnecessarily, you cannot ignore the situation as the police take the possession of firearms by unlicensed holders extremely seriously and you might find yourself committing an offence, albeit unwittingly.

Firstly, you need to leave the guns where they are. The licence holder will have a set of keys to the cabinet; you need to find those keys and hold them securely and not give anyone else access to them. 

What happens if you die without leaving a Will?

Do not be tempted to touch the weapons. Just leave them – along with any ammunition – locked safely away.

The second thing you must do is to contact the police licensing department. The licence holder may have left you a letter giving you all the information you need, but you have three options:

  • Apply to your local police for a section 7 Firearm Certificate, which will authorize you to hold the firearms for a temporary period, usually three months. This is the best option as it gives you time to get them valued and sold, either privately or through a registered firearm dealer.

  • Ask a registered firearm dealer to take possession of them for you, either to hold them temporarily or to sell them on your behalf.

  • Ask the police to come and remove them. If you do this they will normally only dispose of them for you and will not sell them. This should be your last choice, as you’ll lose whatever value they might have – and the value might be considerable.

If you do decide to sell the firearms, you should seek a couple of valuations from registered firearm dealers, just to make sure you understand exactly what they’re worth. 

Think that a Will is unfair? Find out how to challenge it.

You can then sell them privately if you wish, but it might be easier to ask a dealer to do so on your behalf. This will save you from having to register the sale and check the potential purchaser’s firearm or shotgun certificate is valid and appropriate for that class of weapon.

Antique rifles and shotguns

Antique firearms, of any description, are exempt from the need for a licence as they can’t be fired or used other than for display as an ornamental item.

However, you probably aren’t an expert in what is and isn’t exempt, so you should still seek the advice of the police to ensure that this is the case.

Militaria and other weapons

The collection of militaria and other weapons is a well-established and legitimate hobby. However, such items might include potentially dangerous or legally prohibited items, including knives, swords, deactivated and antique firearms and deactivated grenades and other explosive devices.

Sometimes, such collections might even include items found on beaches or in fields or brought home at the end of their military service; this obviously rules out their disposal via your local charity shop!

The best advice I can give is to contact your local police for advice as to their legality. While many of these items are highly collectible, the possession of them in a public place might be an offence, even if the police confirm that no licence is needed to keep them at home.

Find out about the perils of DIY Wills.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) gives comprehensive advice on the law surrounding offensive weapons, knives, bladed and pointed articles, but in summary, Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 makes it an offence to have an offensive weapon in your possession in any public place without lawful authority or excuse.

So what constitutes ‘lawful authority or excuse’? Simply put, you need to have a good reason to have it with you outside of your home, which isn’t an onerous burden and can be easily achieved by following these rules:

  • If you want to take any weapon or similar item to dispose of it or get it valued, it would be wise to make an appointment with the dealer or auction house in advance. By doing this you can prove you have a lawful excuse for having the item with you in public.

  • Keep the item in a bag or closed box and take care not to needlessly show it in public.

  • Carrying a letter from a solicitor that proves you are an executor of the will would be sensible but probably unnecessary in the majority of cases.

Hopefully you won’t need to use any of this guidance for a very long time, but when you do the above steps should help you deal with it in a way that is both safe and legal and doesn’t make a bad situation any worse than it already is. 

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.