Gun trusts are not dissimilar to other trusts – a grantor places property into a trust under the administration of a trustee to be distributed to a beneficiary.
There are differences, however. A gun trust can have multiple trustees and can last more than one generation.
Gun trusts have also been the focus of gun control advocates who disagree with the anonymity the trusts provide. A 2016 rule by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sought to limit that anonymity by requiring “responsible persons” in the trust to submit photographs and fingerprints when the trust is created or transfers firearms.
The law prior to 2016
Gun trusts can include not only pistols and hunting rifles but also short-barreled shotguns, machine guns, silencers, sawed-off shotguns, grenades and other explosives. It has been illegal to manufacture machine guns since 1986 so only machine guns produced before that date can be included in a gun trust.
Because the trust doesn’t terminate after the grantor’s death, the firearms not only avoid probate but can remain in the trust indefinitely. Weapons were only required to have a serial number and be used only by the registered owner.
The problem was been that some have used trusts to buy firearms to avoid federal laws requiring the buyer to submit fingerprints and a photo to local law enforcement. A trust – being an entity rather than a person – did not have to provide fingerprints or a photo.
Experts say the number of gun trusts exploded from about 840 in 2000 to about 40,700 in 2012.
Changes made in 2016
The changed the rules in July 2016 so that trusts and other legal entities have to follow the same rules that apply to individuals when they make or transfer a firearm.
New rules require a “responsible person” involved with the trust submit a photograph and set of fingerprints when the trust applies to make or transfer a firearm. The idea is to keep ne’er-do-wells from gaining access to powerful firearms.
One of the main points of disagreement between gun enthusiasts and gun control activists was a proposal to require a sign-off on any transfer from the local chief law enforcement official. Gun enthusiasts feared politically motivated chiefs might stymie their Second Amendment rights.
The ATF compromised between the groups: No sign-off is necessary, but trust must forward transfer applications to the local chief law enforcement official.
Gun trusts are a good way of transferring collectibles and heirlooms from one generation to another, but the laws and requirements surrounding them are tricky. It’s best to have a knowledgeable lawyer represent you when you desire to create a gun trust.