For many executors the process of administering an estate includes dealing with unfamiliar assets and concerns, and not uncommon among these are the firearms of the deceased and the question how to store these firearms prior to transferring them. While this topic can become complex I will attempt to set out some of the more general points of firearms-related legal obligations which an executor would be wise to consider prior to dealing with any firearms in the estate.
The first thing an executor should know is that even without owning a firearms license an executor is permitted to possess and transfer firearms from the estate. [Note: if the executor is prohibited from possessing firearms he/she will need to find a licensed alternate person to hold the firearms prior to passing them to the beneficiary]. This “grace period” does not extend indefinitely; the executor must act within a reasonable amount of time. It is unclear whether, and to what extent this “reasonable amount of time” can be expected to vary according to the particular circumstances of the estate. Executors who may be holding a firearm for an extended period of time would be well advised to either obtain a firearms license or to place the firearms with someone who has a firearms license.
During the process of arranging for transfer of the firearms it is important to remember that Canadian law draws a distinction between non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited firearms and this extends to certain details of storage. For an executor unfamiliar with these rules it is best to follow the rules for prohibited firearms because these are the most onerous of the requirements and compliance will often ensure the satisfaction of other possible storage requirements.
The applicable regulations state that a prohibited firearm must be:
- unloaded, and either
- made inoperable by a locking device and then stored in a secure container or room (the room must be securely locked and constructed so that it cannot be easily broken into) and, further, if the firearm is an automatic firearm that has a removable bolt or bolt-carrier, the bolt or bolt-carrier must be removed and stored in a different, securely locked, and difficult to break into room; OR
- stored in a vault, safe, or room that has been specifically constructed or modified for the secure storage of prohibited firearms and that is kept securely locked;
Once these conditions are satisfied the firearm must also not be within easy or convenient reach of ammunition, unless that ammunition is stored (either separately or with the firearm) in a container or room which satisfies the same conditions as set out above.
Following these rules will help to minimize the risk of penalties while storing firearms as executor for an estate.
Note: Storage of firearms is not actually addressed in the Firearms Act. Instead, for further reading on the topic of storage I refer the reader to Storage, Display, Transportation and Handling of Firearms by Individuals Regulations, SOR/98-209