March 10, 2013

An Undiscussed Gun Issue: Disposing of Guns from an Estate



Carolyn’s Online Magazine (COMe) in January 2015.

I invite you to visit the new site and encourage you to Follow it.


On February 21, 2013, a two-year-old accidentally shot himself using a he gun found in his mother’s purse. The event occurred in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, an hour away from where I currently live.

He was rushed to UPMC Children’s Hospital. He survived.

Since the mother had the gun in her purse, in her home, I presume that she intentionally owned it.
Detail_unfinished_gunBut what about a person who has unwilling possession of a gun? A gun not brought into the home by a relative, co-habitant, or friend?

I speak about one neglected issue In the massive controversy about gun control. I’m speaking of guns found while cleaning out an estate.
Detail_unfinished_gunDuring the month of May 2012 my husband Monte and I lived, at his late brother-in-law’s home near the St. Lawrence River in Northern New York. His brother had died in early March and Monte was executor of the estate.

One of his responsibilities was clearing out the house before it was sold. Being the dutiful wife I worked alongside him.

One afternoon I was clearing out the dresser and a bed-stand in the guest room. I found clothes, linens, and other typical household and personal paraphernalia in the dresser.

Next I opened the drawer of the bed-stand. And I drew back at its contents.

A gun.

Was it real? I gingerly placed a finger under it and raised it slightly. Its weight told me it definitely wasn’t a toy.

I called Monte into the room. Neither of us knew what to do with the gun. We didn’t even know if it was loaded.
He decided to put it in the safe in the basement.

He picked it up slowly and cautiously and held it away from himself. He almost tiptoed to the basement steps. As he descended I heard him catch himself as he lost his footing. My heart fluttered, fearing that the gun would discharge.

He returned, the gun safely locked away. We wondered what should be done next.

Further clearing uncovered a few bullets, which were also put in the safe.

The auctioneer arrived. He eased our minds by telling us the gun wasn’t loaded. However, he also informed us that it couldn’t be sold at the auction.

We had no papers for it. We couldn’t sell it ourselves. Besides, what if it landed in the wrong hands?

We contacted the police. They wouldn’t take it. Nor could they suggest anywhere to take it to dispose of it. They suggested we give it to a family member who had a gun permit. Who would that be? Monte didn’t know.

We wouldn’t know to whom Monte could give the gun.

No one seemed able to instruct us on our next move.

The only suggestion we received was to give it to someone who already had a gun permit. But who? We were nomads in the community with little knowledge of it.

A family member had a gun permit and took the gun.

What if there was no family member with a gun permit, a family member who was willing to take the gun and bullets? What then?

We had to return home when at the end of the month. We couldn’t leave the gun in the house. The gun would have had to be packed in our car, brought to our home.

Then what? Where would we keep it?
Detail_unfinished_gunI wondered if Pennsylvania had a means to dispose of guns under these circumstances. The question was answered by a similar circumstance that occurred in Southwestern Pennsylvania. While clearing out an estate the executor found a gun—it wasn’t loaded, but bullets were stored close by. Like with us, the estate executor went to the police. Again, the police had no answers on how to dispose of it. The estate executor brought it into his home because there was nothing else to do—it couldn’t be left behind.

And a child discovered it.
Detail_unfinished_gunI would guess that these are not isolated cases. One of my relatives in New York State found ammunition in her home after her husband’s death. She too called the police. They came and were willing to take possession of it, but before doing so they really grilled her about the circumstances by which she possessed the bullets. I might mention that this case occurred in the mid-1970s.
Detail_unfinished_gunThese situations raise a question I’ve not seen discussed in the controversy about gun control: how does one properly dispose of a gun and/or discovered by an estate executor in an estate?
What if Monte and I had been forced to bring the gun and bullets to our home? What if, no matter how cautious we were, one of our grandchildren discovered the gun? What if that child thought it was “cool” to show his find to his friends? What if that child were caught with the gun or the bullets while attending school? What if a tragic accident happened and someone was hurt, maimed, or killed with this weapon?
Detail_unfinished_gunI recall a September 2010 tragedy in my community: an 11-year-old Ligonier Valley Middle School student was accidentally shot and killed while visiting a friend after they retrieved a gun being stored in the home. Could a situation like this arise in a household where a person is hiding a gun they acquired while performing their estate executor duties?
These can’t be isolated cases. Executors clean out estates every day.
Detail_unfinished_gunI’m left without answers to the question What does a person do with the gun and/or acquired while cleaning out an estate?

Public officials and politicians need to consider this issue. Estate executors need to have meaningful answers.



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  1. From Diane by email…
    My dad had two rifles. I just gave them to two family members though now I wish I had kept them.

    I’m pretty sure they could be sold at local gun shops but if not, it is pretty easy through gun clubs to find people who would take the gun. You don’t need a permit to own a gun, just a permit to carry a concealed gun.

    Just for kicks, you might stop at the gun shops in Latrobe and ask how they handle it. There is also a Wilderness Club in Ligonier. They teach classes and may have more experience in documenting a transfer of gun ownership.

    Diane Cipa
    Ligonier Living

    Comment by Monte Holland — March 10, 2013 @ 6:06 pm | Reply

  2. This certainly speaks very poorly of that police department. They may not be REQUIRED to take possession of the gun, but you would think they would want it safely off the streets. At the very least they should have directed you appropriately. My next approach would have been to contact the State Police, or a licensed gun shop.

    Comment by Pam — March 23, 2013 @ 9:24 am | Reply

    • Nice hearing from you…of course, your suggestions are logical. However, in N. Y. we didn’t have time or energy to research alternatives, and the PA woman’s situation happened so rapidly she hadn’t had time to do so either. Hope all is well with you.

      Comment by carolyncholland — March 23, 2013 @ 11:35 am | Reply

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