We recently sold my mother-in-law’s house. In the process of cleaning it out we found a bunch of ammunition my father-in-law had stuck in a closet. It was a box approximately 8” x 12” x 4” full of various cartridges and shells in various calibers. My son the gun nut didn’t want it because of its size and age. We were trying to find some way to dispose of it. He suggested we turn it in at the police department. I gave the local precinct a call to see what they wanted me to do. The following conversation ensued between me and someone who answered the phone just as “Precinct One”  . . .

Me: We were cleaning out my mother-in-law’s house and we ran across a bunch of old ammunition my father-in-law had stashed back and wondered how we should dispose of it.

Precinct One (in a slow southern drawl): Uh, you can do most anything you want with it.

Me: This is live ammo – shotgun shells, 22 long rifle bullets, 9 mm cartridges. You mean I can just toss it in a dumpster somewhere?

PO: Pretty much. The only federal law is that you can’t send it in the mail.

Me: So I can dump it anywhere, just as long as I don’t mail it to anyone?

PO: Pretty much.

Me: (Pregnant pause) Okaaaaaayyyy….  thank you.

PO:  No problem!

After consulting with RF, we carted the boxed ammo to a local gun range that disposed of it for us. Although the P.O. was right (thanks AI), there’s an important lesson here: do NOT depend on the police to give you the 411 on applicable gun laws.

Law enforcement officers often have no clue as to the statutes in their city, county or state. Equally, they can not be held legally liable if they give you a bum steer.

The same holds true for gun dealers. And firearms forums, FAQ sites or law-firm sponsored websites. There is only one trustworthy source of information regarding any and all aspects of gun law: the laws themselves.

Take the time to go to the official government websites and read your local and state firearms statutes; ignorance is no excuse under the law. Luckily, most gun laws are written in plain English. So it’s not such a big deal. But it will be if you get it wrong.

As always, remember to STFU if and when you get into any firearms-related problem involving the police. At that point, any friendly advice from law enforcement officials is worth exactly what it was worth before you got into “trouble”: nothing.

Recommended For You

42 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Read The Actual Gun Laws

  1. Paint me as clueless, but the police were right. …right?

    Just throw them in the garbage or bury them. Heck…sell them for $5 on craigslist. I would be more worried about throwing away paint or drain cleaner than old ammo.

    • The best option (other than what was done) would be to sell/barter/trade/give-away on CL. They may be of some value to someone, at least the brass anyways.

      The police are correct – live ammo isn’t considered a Hazardous Material, although it is a Dangerous Good and has shipping restrictions (ORM-D for those who need to ship it). Burying it is fine (from a safety standpoint), but be aware that you are introducing a potential environmental and health hazard (lead).

      • That brings up a question in my mind I’ve never asked. How can lead be a hazard in the ground when it came out of the ground? It wasn’t considered hazardous while it was sitting in the ground, but we take it out, melt it into whatever shape and then rebury it and it becomes some kind of man-made disaster to the earth.

        • Lead in the ground is in ore form, not metallic form, and is usually bound up in rock with other metals like copper and zinc. It requires quite a bit of processing to separate it and extract it and turn it into something you’d recognize.

        • Also, a lot of stuff that’s naturally occurring is dangerous, but not at the concentration at which it is naturally found. Apple seeds contain a small amount of a cyanide compound, but in practical terms, no amount of apple seeds would ever collect into a small enough area to raise the concentration enough be a danger to anyone.

        • No, but when my father, who was a watchmaker, was retiring and relocating, he called the local waste disposal authority in the small town he lived in to find out how to dispose of some potassium cyanide (used as a cleaning solution), enough to kill the entire town. The genius at waste disposal said “Oh, just put it out for roadside collection”. He ended up moving it with him and disposing of it with waste disposal in his new town. Seriously, roadside collection? Doesn’t everyone know what cyanide can do?

        • Mr Carrube is spot on here. Live ammo is a regulated dangerous good (ORM-D). It only requires HAZMAT shipping papers if moving through an air network, not ground.

  2. Too true… the local PD got a call that I was carrying a firearm in my yard. I was, from my car to my house because I had just bought it at auction. A neighbor, being the scared little man that he is, called the popo. They knocked on my door and demanded to see said firearm. I politely asked what laws I had broken (it’s legal here to shoot inside city limits, so I see guns all the time.) They responded that it is illegal to carry a gun in public! I politely laughed and suggested that they check city and state codes before they tried to make that one stick in court…

    • You’re lucky it wasn’t a no knock warrant at 3 am with flash bangs, tear gas, plastic zip ties, or worse. You do bring up a good point which is whatever is illegal is too often defined by a man in uniform holding a gun.

  3. I’ve had a problem lately with the local PD refusing to return a pistol to a friend of mine because he is 20 (His roommate attempted suicide and the PD seized all his firearms). A quick use of my google-fu came up with the applicable TX statute, and I thought a phone call to the local ATF office would help me with the federal laws. Was I wrong. The agent on the phone “quoted” 18 USC 922 and then told me his personal beliefs about private party sales – “they would lead to huge problems, don’t you understand?”

    I haven’t gone with him back to the station because they are “still running the serial numbers, just to make sure they haven’t been used in any other crimes,” which apparently takes almost a month.

    As disappointed as I was in myself for not being able to quote the law, I am a hundred times more disappointed in these LEOs for not knowing.

    • This. Most people don’t understand that you actually can own handguns that aren’t “Mass compliant” as long as you get them in a private transfer. That law applies only to FFLs not being able to transfer non-compliant handguns.

      • So… how do you get them into MA to begin with? Dont transfers, even private sales, have to go through an FFL if its being sold to someone in another state?

        • Most consumers who want to buy a noncompliant firearm in MA such as a Gen4 Glock (it’s not illegal to own or buy them, but it is illegal for an FFL to sell them) buy them from MA cops. No sh!t. Cops can buy new Glocks, which is a privilege denied to the rank and file.

          The transfer is done face to face in state by the two state residents, so no Federal laws are offended. No FFL is required either, but the transfer must be reported to the Firearms Record Bureau on Form FA-10.

        • What ralph said…
          There is also the people who move into the state with non-compliant handguns. Those guns get grandfathered in, and then they can usually fetch a good price in private sales if they are not on the approved roster.

  4. But, you see, that’s the point of all the laws. So many, and so confusingly written, the better to make it impossible to stay within the law. That’s how the tax laws are too, no matter what you do, you have probably done something wrong. Yes, we are definitely a nation of laws, not men.

    • the tax laws are confusing but the opposite if what you stated

      I can’t remember who it was, but they asked each of the big 8 accounting firms to complete a tax return for some made up family and then again for some made up business. Each return came out to a different amount you needed to pay 0r the amount of tax refund you would recieve.

      The IRS was asked to review each, and said all where valid.

      The laws are purposely vague so that attorney and courts can flexibilty sometime for good and sometimes for bad

  5. This story highlights the glory of the internet. You could have more easily googled to learn more about the subject. And if the ammo is that old then it might even be collectible.

    I remember back in the late 80’s I was moving from Virginia to California with my newly owned firearms in the car. I was worried about how legal it was to have them with me in the various states as I drove around. I did the same thing as Frank, I called a local police department and got a similarly unhelpful answer (it’s not their job, to be fair). Now, I can just get online and figure it out much more easily.

    The internet, if we keep government control out of it, will make us much more informed and educated.

    I learned about collectibility of old ammo just yesterday when I took my .22 rifle to the local range. It was only the second time I’d ever shot my dad’s old rifle. I find the .22 to be very boring. I brought his .22LR and .22S rounds and proceeded to burn them up. One of the range workers stopped and admired the 60 year old boxes of ammo and told me they were collectibles. I was surprised anyone would want the junk, so I gave him a box of the .22LR. He seemed to think it was worth money, so more power to him. He probably would have liked the .22S more, but I had never shot it and was curious what it was like. It was even more boring than .22LR.

  6. So how is it I get ammo shipped to me all the time? Ususally, UPS. They’re allowed to transport ammo but the USPS may not?

  7. “Free” legal advice is usually worth exactly what you paid for it: nothing.
    If you want legal advice you can rely on, read the law yourself. If the law is hard to understand and the issue is important, hire a lawyer and get him to write a formal opinion on the topic. (and then hope he’s a good lawyer, because they are plenty of dumb-asses out there).

    • I issued formal opinions of counsel. My price was $10k and higher, depending on the subject matter. A so-called “reasoned opinion” was a little less costly because no professional liability attached when I used weasel-words like “should” and “might,” but they weren’t cheap. Verbally counseling a client was less expensive, but at my hourly rate most folks would not spring for an hour or more of my time.

      • I have a question for Ralph or anyone else out there about this Q&A I found about transporting a handgun into MA. “Q.When do I not need a non-resident License to Carry?
        A. The only time a non-resident may bring a handgun into Massachusetts without a license is for a pistol or revolver competition – in general, provided you are a US resident and have a pistol license issued under similar conditions to Massachusetts – or if a law enforcement person on official duty. You can not come into the state to practice with your handgun without a License to Carry. See C. 140 § 131G ” Does anyone know what states have “similar conditions to MA” I would suspect CA, NY, NJ, HI, MD and some of the other no good COMMIE states would qualify, but I can’t find a single person including several police officers who have a clue.

  8. One of my local ranges has a monthly “Law Day”; a three hour review ($50.00) of NH’s gun related and personal defense laws and how they apply to the armed citizen. This presentation is conducted by a NH attorney who specializes in gun law. He does an excellent job reducing the legalese into plain english, but even he says that it’s important to read the actual statutes on your own.

  9. I tried reading Kalifornia’s gun laws and soon my brain nearly exploded. Fortunately, the California Rifle and Pistol Association publishes a yearly, updated summary of California Gun Laws that explains them in plain English and that is very helpful. For really sticky stuff I have an Attorney that specializes in CGL and will consult verbally with you over the phone for a reasonable price and keeps a record of the conversation in his files. So, all that works for me. The Attorney helped me review the current legality of my firearms. Money well spent.
    For any other Kalifornians wondering, CRPA annual Membership is only $20.00 and you get the “California Gun Law” summary as part of the package plus a printed monthly newsletter that keeps you aware of what the State Legislators are planning next to keep our lives interesting as gun owners. Several California gun attorneys advertise in the CRPA newsletter, if you need a consultation.

    • Hi Derry, I get the same Cali gun law book mailed to me every yr, also.On the CRPA website they can be bought by non-members also. A side note to all gun owners & enthusiasts – join your State’s pro-gun organization(s), make a donation,volunteer some time to them (working a table with them at a gun show; leaving membership forms or newsletters at the range, etc) get a friend to join etc. I’m a Life member of Cali Rifle & Pistol Assoc, it wasn’t too much considering what you get in return. There is at least 2 more Cali 2 A Orgs also, I’m a member of them also.

  10. One of the nice things about living in (the good) Washington is the RCWs are easily accessible online, and written in fairly straightforward language. Additionally, the law is pretty favorable to gun owners and self-defense. We’re not Arizona, but then it’s never 120 in the shade, either.

    • Absolutely, I had been out on deployment for six months and called my local PD in regards to CCW in restaurants. I quoted the law as I knew it before I left and what I found on the web and got the response “well, we can carry anywere…you know more than I do”. You can’t necessarily trust the guys who answer the phone.

  11. Well, any “Gun nut” who won’t take a box full of assorted old ammo isn’t much of a “Gun nut”. And if we’re supposed to remember to “STFU” when it comes to police and guns, why would You call Them in the first place?
    Giving it to a local range was a good idea, but you also could have dropped it off at a fire station- “Found this in Grandma’s closet”- They’d know just what to do with it——–Shoot it!

    • I agree with you John. Any gun nut would keep the ammo, no someone to give it to , or a range or a club. Sometimes bringing it to a Station House will open a can of worms. For example “Was the deceased allowed to own a firearm, where are the firearms now ? Do you expect us to believe that he had a few different calibers/ga of ammo but no firearm ? What else are you trying to hide from us ? Can we come over to look around ?”

  12. It’s remarkable how many otherwise intelligent NY gun shops and POs believe it’s illegal to use a pre-ban mag in a post-ban gun. None of them can tell you where PL 265 outlaws this, but they’ve all “heard it from someone” and believe it.

  13. Mistake # 1. – asking the cops any question. Most treat everyone as a suspected criminal until proven otherwise.

  14. Worst ever came from an off duty cop working in a gun store who told me PA would not let an out of state buyer carry a long gun with a rifled barrel out of the store, it had to be FFLd to the home state.
    I bought a rifle the next day in PA and the gun shop told me that if I wasn’t allowed to take it the nice folk on the phone would have said so, after all I don’t live in NJ. This off duty cop was clueless. He poo pooed my Florida permit, called is useless, and had other gems of wisdom for the customers. A few weeks later he was gone.
    He probably works the phone at the po-po station fielding gun law questions.

  15. “Law enforcement officers often have no clue as to the statutes in their city, county or state. Equally, they can not be held legally liable if they give you a bum steer. The same holds true for gun dealers.”

    Absolutely true. I once tried to transfer a registered handgun (in my name) to my sister, who lives in a different state. She was going to use it as her legally carried concealed weapon (with license). We went in to a large gun dealer – shooting range and talked to a guy behind the counter, who was an off-duty policeman. He told us that “all he would need to see was a letter from the prior owner, saying he had sold it to the current owner.”

    That didn’t sound right, so I went to the ATFE web site and looked up the regs on out-of-state handgun transfers. It is ILLEGAL (Federal crime) to transfer a handgun to anyone who is not a resident of your state, UNLESS you go to a FFL dealer, and he transfers it on his books. That’s what we did – went to the local smalll gun store, the FFL dealer charged my sister $15, and we transferred the handgun legally.

    DO NOT rely on advice from anyone except (maybe) a highly-qualified firearms specialist lawyer. RTFM – Read the frickin’ manual. (In this case, the ATFE regs).

  16. This is the first thing I did before I got my gun. I will tell you though that when I was in the military I did not care about this because if we where under arms we had the authority to use force to protect the systems any where, anytime.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *