In New York State, many people are mindful of the strict laws and regulations concerning ownership of a firearm. However, most are unaware of the laws and regulations governing the disposition of firearms when a gun owner dies. The NY Safe Act [i] , enacted in response to the Sandy Hook shootings, provides guidelines and time frames for safeguarding guns after an owner has passed away.
Pursuant to the NY Safe Act, when a gun owner dies, the law states that within fifteen (15) days of the death of the owner, the person in charge of the decedent’s personal belongings must either: 1) lawfully dispose of the gun(s); or 2) turn the gun(s) over to the police. [ii] Failure to do so can result in a charge of Criminal Possession of a Firearm in the fourth degree, a class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail or three years of probation, plus a $1,000 fine. [iii]
A gun owner may designate a beneficiary in his or her Last Will and Testament to receive the firearms when the owner passes away. However, even if a decedent leaves the gun(s) to a specific beneficiary, the person in charge of the decedent’s personal belongings cannot simply give the gun to the beneficiary without potential criminal liability. Rather, the person in charge must: 1) know the decedent legally owned a gun; 2) know that the specific beneficiary of the gun(s) may legally own a gun; and 3) adhere to proper transfer procedures.
CAUTION: Transfer procedures are complex and not uniform throughout the state. The local police department typically has jurisdiction to determine proper transfer procedures.
Consequently, if your loved one owns a gun and passes away, it is very important to quickly determine what you must do to properly handle the disposition of the firearm so you or your family members are not subject to criminal liability.
ALERT: NEVER REMOVE FIREARMS FROM THE HOME OF THE DECEDENT OR TRANSPORT GUNS IN YOUR VEHICLE WHEN TURNING GUNS OVER TO THE POLICE. CALL YOUR LOCAL POLICE DEPARTMENT AND ASK FOR AN OFFICER TO COME TO THE DECEDENT’S HOME TO INVENTORY AND COLLECT THE FIREARMS.
[i] The New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, commonly referred to as the “NY Safe Act”, New York Penal Code.
[ii] New York State Penal Law §265.20.
[iii] New York State Penal Law §265.01.