Having a planned course of action in case of unexpected events is advocated throughout the defensive firearms training industry. It is also important to have a plan for your firearms in case something unexpected happens that prevents you from possessing them, such as incapacitation or death. Gun trusts are the best way for responsible gun owners to leave explicit legal instructions regarding how their firearms are stored and distributed in the event of incapacitation or death. Taking the time upfront to inventory, plan, and have a backup plan for your firearms may save you and future generations of your family time, money, and potential legal hassles.
It’s important to understand that a gun trust is not merely useful for transferring items after the owner’s incapacitation or death. It’s equally important, and sometimes more important, to have the gun trust in force to legally allow specified others to possess the NFA items without the creator(s) of the trust being physically present.
The National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934 mandates specific regulations regarding the sale, transfer, and possession of many firearms and devices. The most commonly regulated are fully automatic firearms, short barreled rifles, short barreled shotguns, and suppressors. As responsible firearms owners, we need to understand the implications these regulations have on where the firearms and devices are stored, along with who is authorized to use the firearms or devices. Certain states are imposing laws that regulate magazine capacity and types of firearms that are not addressed by the NFA. A gun trust can also detail exactly how to deal with these restrictions.
Gun trusts have become increasingly popular as responsible firearms owners are looking for ways to own and use NFA firearms and/or devices. The rising popularity of gun trusts has rung in a popular wave of “do-it-yourself” gun trusts and “fill-in-the-blanks” online forms to create gun trusts. While tempting for some because of the perceived lower cost or greater convenience, be wary of taking the do-it-yourself route. Those DIY gun trusts will most likely not provide the requisite specificity of provisions or adequate instructions regarding how your firearms and devices should be handled. Such details include factors like: ensuring the items go to the appropriate and authorized persons, transferring to those individuals in full compliance with the law, avoiding unnecessary expense, ensuring the trust lasts for more than one generation, ensuring the trust correctly designates multiple trustees if appropriate, and coordination with state and federal laws.
Here at Reno Guns & Range, where I am the Range Manager and Senior Instructor, we work with and recommend Anderson, Dorn & Rader, Ltd, who specifically write trusts for individuals located in California and Nevada. They also have a network to accommodate those who live throughout the United States. I highly recommend working with an experienced firm, such as the one we work with, that can articulate what a gun trust is, and how and why the Trustor(s), Trustee(s), and beneficiaries interact with one another.
Compliance With Local and Federal Laws
Creating a gun trust is not just about planning for your firearms and/or devices after your death. It also helps keep you in compliance with local and federal laws. This is usually spelled out as to the “intent” of the gun trust. My gun trust states, “We created this trust to own, possess, and transfer firearms and accessories, especially those that must be dealt with under express provisions of state or federal law, in accordance of all applicable law. We desire to maintain our privacy and avoid probate and guardianship.”
If you own NFA firearms or devices personally, you are the only person who is legally allowed to be in possession of the given weapon or device. You must be physically present while any other individual merely holds the weapon or device. The gun trust helps mitigate the legal exposure of the owner and the person using or possessing the item or device from being placed in a situation where they may face criminal charges. Avoiding this type of situation is another reason why I recommend having a gun trust, because the gun trust becomes the owner of the devices or firearms and lists who is allowed to use and possess them. Proper documentation still needs to be present with the NFA items, but the originating individual(s) who established the trust is no longer required to be physically present.
Creating a gun trust also helps the creators think about what should be done with the firearms and devices should the beneficiaries not be able to take immediate possession should the need arise. This could be due to the beneficiaries being out of the country, under 21 years old, or living in a state where the firearm or device is illegal. The trust should include back-up plans that specifically address these and other plausible circumstances as dictated by the creator’s lifestyle.
Storage Options + Gun Trust = Security
Reno Guns & Range has storage options for our members and the general public. These storage options, along with a well-written gun trust, may be the difference between the firearms and devices getting liquidated or being able to stay within the family. Thinking through plausible circumstances and taking into account that laws are constantly changing, your gun trust should be able to evolve with those changes. Having a personal inventory is also important for insurance reasons, should the firearms and devices be stolen or destroyed through a natural disaster. Your attorney should help you devise a plan to keep your inventory up to date, and keep back-up records for you.
As an active Combat Focus Shooting instructor, I teach students to prepare for the worst-case scenario with their handgun. Off the range, I also teach that preparation for worst-case scenarios is not just about guns and criminal activity. Understanding that we cannot be in control or aware of everything all of the time leads to better planning. It’s a holistic approach to our lifestyle — which should include planning for after our death — that helps bring comfort and balance to the present.