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While I was out of town visiting family, TTAG occasional contributor Chris Heuss was taking care of my very large and dreadfully intimidating dogs. Which are definitely not actually a pair of 22-pound cats who sleep an hour per pound per day. Anyway . . .

Chris needed to get something that I had stuffed in my gun safe. I wanted him to get in there and retrieve it (as shamefully, ridiculously messy as the inside of my safe is) and was about to call him with the combination. And then I realized what that would mean.

You see, my safe contains all manner of NFA-regulated and -registered items. Under the laws imposed by our benevolent federal legislators, merely giving Chris the combination to the safe would put him in legal possession of everything therein.

Never mind borrowing any of those regulated items, let alone so much as touching one of them. Just having the opportunity and ability to access the safe without my direct presence would have put Chris in illegal possession of an NFA item. Well, items.

That, as you may know, is a 10-year federal prison sentence sort of a felony and a fine of up to $250,000. For him? For me? For both of us? One thing I know for sure is that neither of us wants to find out.

So Chris remains without the combination. And without the item he needed. But we both remain free. So much freedom.

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  1. Thanks Billy-Bob. Though I’m not a noob, sometimes the abbreviations and acronyms people throw around get the best of me. Now, what does RTFM mean?

  2. If you and him can’t not snitch yourselves off then you probably aren’t responsible enough to own it anyway.
    We’ve got bigger issues out here

      • It was. It’s a great tool to help people understand the legal spaghetti that exists around such regulated items. I’ve had to think carefully about some of my items and the jeopardy they could land me in. I’m actually not sure a locked safe matters much anyway. The batf will just change their opinions (laws) on something and you can be in trouble because reasons.

  3. Hmm. I don’t have anything NFA related, but I *do* have some “gray area” items that might raise an eyebrow in our Glorious Golden State of CA. They didn’t use to, but due to our ever-changing rat maze of gun laws, some of them are now relegated only to desert training instead of being taken to my local gun range. For safety just in case a plainclothes LEA (and yes, we have them here) ambles up behind me.

    As I’m updating my estate documentation/will/paperwork, I’ve considered providing the combination to my standing safe to a trusted out-of-state relative who would be able to retrieve the guns/silver/cash within in the event of my demise, arrest, or incapacitation and remove them to an undisclosed location. Would providing him with the combo be “legal possession”? If I provide nobody with the combo as a backup, how would that be responsible?

    CA sux.

    • I Haz a Question,

      I see two potential “solutions” to the dilemma that you put forward:

      1) Do not give anyone the combination to your safe. In the event of your incapacitation, your heirs will simply have to break into your safe — which is usually not all that hard. (A clever, resourceful, and determined person with unfettered access to your home could probably break-in in less than an hour with angle-grinders, crowbars, etc.)

      2) Give the first half of your safe’s combination to one trusted person and give the remaining half of your safe’s combination to a second trusted person. At that point, neither person knows the entire combination and neither person therefore has access to your safe. In the event of your incapacitation, those two people would then have instructions to contact the other and then — and only then — have access to your safe.

      • After proof-reading my comment above, I thought of a third potential solution:

        Give the first two numbers of your safe’s combination to your trusted person but do not provide the third number. In the event that you are incapacitated, that trusted person will then have to try all possible third numbers. That process would be a bit tedious and time consuming of course.

        The beauty of this third option is that your trusted person will not destroy your safe in the process of breaking into it.

        Disclaimer: while this option will not lead to the destruction of your safe, it may lead to a few dents in your safe when, after 45 minutes of trying several combinations of third numbers, your trusted person suddenly smacks your safe a few times with a hammer in a fit of frustration for having to try so many combinations!

        • Fourth solution:
          Have a second safe in a location only know to a trusted person(s). Only those trusted people would have the combination/key to get in. Keep the key/combo of the big safe with the NFA stuff in the small safe. You have not technically given them the information, but merely have documentation of it in the first safe which they have unearted.

      • I should probably just leave a bread crumb trail of clues and puzzles (complete with geo cache waypoints and goodies) to give him/her/them a “Goonies” experience.

        * So I have guns to defend myself from harm, and from an encroaching tyrannical government.

        * To protect those guns from theft, I have a strongbox/safe.

        * To protect that safe from theft, I am the only person alive who knows the tumbler combination.

        What a world we live in. All this hassle due to the black, cold, selfish heart of our fellow Man. If people just treated each other well, I’d be using guns for hunting, pest control, and fun plinking. Most of my inventory, though, is for stopping two-legged threats.

        • re: point #3, I thought we had established *government theft* was the reason why you’re the only living person allowed to know the safe combo. It still falls under the “man’s inhumanity to man” category, but just for the sake of accuracy…

          I bought all of my guns with fun in mind; the fact that they’re all also useful for stopping two-legged predators is icing on the cake. Of course, with the ammo shortage, I’m not using any of them for anything right now.

      • I think the better solution is just two safes. One NFA safe that will be buried with you, unopened, when you die and all your non NFA stuff in another safe that you can give out the combo to whomever you want.

        That said, if this is in CA (or any other “universal background check state” like my former CO), wouldn’t giving your friend the combo to the non NFA safe be the same problem only on just a state level?

    • The safest strategy is to use a safe deposit box located within a bank. This does involve an annual cost (minimal). If an individual has a spouse then have a safe deposit box for both.

      Employ the strategy that has been used by persons that are familiar with how estate laws actually work within the United States. This involves the concept of [his is hers and hers is his]. In the husbands safety deposit box place all of the items that the wife wishes to pass down to heirs or to pass to the husband without undue snooping from outside individuals. The husband has access in the event of the death, or other unfortunate event befallen to the wife (assuming of course this is a trusting relationship). The wife has access to the husbands safety deposit box under the same set of circumstances.

      The combination to the safe can be held within the safety deposit box on a sealed envelope that would only be opened upon death or incapacitating events.

      In some instances, when an individual dies, and kind authorities make their presence known, safety deposit boxes put off limits until the contents are inventoried by the authorities (IRS, etc).

      So when the husband passes away, and the safety deposit box is off limits, except for authorities, the wife will be able to access her safety deposit box without interference. Suggestion, have safety boxes in separate banks.

      So, the result is that heirs and beneficiaries will be able to receive the husbands possessions that he wants them to have (the wife would know who to give these to, within a trusting relationship).

      This does not answer the question about a trusted friend accessing a safe to get something out. Honestly, I have only opened m safe to one friend during my lifetime. And aside from my trusted wife of nearly 40 years, I would never give the combination to anyone!

    • I Haz A Question:

      Give the trusted person(s) one of two(2) thngs:
      1. A sealed envelope containing the combination and instructions not to open until after your demise.
      2. The following is similar to a what is called a “Poor man’s copyright”. To do this prepare a letter suitable for registration containing the combination and take it to your local post office and send it registered mail to a relative/person of your choice. The clerk will ask how much indemnity, i.e., insurance do you want and tell them you want the minimum amount which used to be $100. Registered mail is all treated the same whether indemnified for $100 or $1,000,000 and no need to pay any more than necessary to get it registered. Note: you do not have to reveal the contents, which is the combination, only say it is a letter that you want to be absolutely sure the addressee receives. Of course, write a brief letter containing the combination and avoid feeling like you lied to the clerk. It is a letter and the exact contents of the letter is not the clerk’s business. Also, the clerk may try to talk you down to “Certified” mail, but do not fall for that and insist on registered.
      To properly prepare a letter for registration do place any tape on any seam and use a plain white envelope. Do not place any stamps on the piece. The receiving clerk will place a date stamp across each seam and then initial each, all, seams. Date stamping and initials are to protect the integrity of of the contents and is evidence that the piece was not tampered with from origination to destination. Every person who touches registered mail has to sign for it all along the way until the addressee signs for it. This way if it is stolen or lost they have a good idea as to where it left the mail stream, which is one reason registered mail is more expensive.
      If you instruct your relative or other to not open the envelope until the combination is needed, then they do not know the combination and the sealed envelope is evidence that they do not know the combination. You should instruct the addressee to not open or lift any seams but to save the entire envelope Unopened until needed.
      FYI: Certified mail is commingled in regular mail and is separated at the destination office and delivered.
      Also, you can request “deliver to addressee only” and then only the person you want to receive the piece will be able to sign for it. A wife, child or any other cannot sign for it only the addressee can sign for and receive the piece.

      • You left out the most important part of the instructions. On your death, the holder of the Certifide letter must contact your local BATF agent, and have said agent accompany you to the safe. Only open the letter at the location of the safe in the company of the BATF agent. Then watch as the agent inventories the NFA weapons and takes TEMPORARY legal possession. The weapons are then transferred as per the will/trust agreements. The first post-death transfer is exempt from the $200 transfer tax.

  4. In my $DAYJOB I’ve spent several decades in IT security. One common (sometimes mandated) best-practice is role based access control, very fine-grained by both actor and asset, granting the least privilege necessary to accomplish the purpose, and auditable. I often use a small consumer-grade lockbox as a prop to demonstrate problems in the counterexample: Access to anything means access to everything, and if something’s missing there’s no way to tell who (among the people with a key) has it.

    • A great example, but not easy to implement for most people, especially those with large collections. I suppose you could lock NFA items to the inside of the safe/room, rather than them being available for anyone who access to the safe in general.

  5. I have no idea of the author’s circumstances. But I have a friend who has a number of NFA items. He secures them and the NFA paperwork separately from the more mundane items. Yes it’s more expensive, but it works for him. It also doubles the trouble for the bad guys.

  6. Oh good God, your so afraid of a bullshit law. Who would have known he had the combination besides yourselves? And didn’t I read this about a year ago, pretty sure I did.

    • I learned along time ago from my Dad, when i was a little fellow, to just do what ever i needed to do and keep my mouth shut. If everyone else would stop being so damned afraid and follow that advice we would be in a better place in this country. Everyone is so afraid of “breaking the law” that they have forgot what true Liberty is.

      • I think its a bit deeper than that. What I’ve noticed is that over time “right and wrong” have been replaced by “legal and illegal”. All too often it seems the rational is if its legal its right and if its illegal its wrong. Our system of law was originally designed for legal recourse when someone believes they have been wronged. The implementation of “revenue generating” laws, and an endless maze of stupidness has buried the original intent of true law, and put amoral law on a pedestal for the little people to worship as they slowly replaced the basis of law with the law itself. Ultimately, it gives complete authority to those that make the laws, and more laws, and so on. What we see today is a culmination of these efforts.

        • You are absolutely correct!!

          Look at abortion for example. It is legal but for most folks of faith, it is immoral.

          Defending our loved ones against imminent death or severe harm is a moral obligation, however, the law oftentimes makes it illegal.

  7. JEREMY S.,

    Yeah well you planned poorly then didn’t you?

    Next time, do a better job of looking after your stuff.

    It’s one of those “grown up” skills.

      • The “Jeremy S.” should have simply said “No, can’t do that” and left it at that. I keep stuff locked up with the guns too. And I’ve had someone doing me the favor of looking after the house. There was never any question that they would be asking me how to get those locked places unlocked, the answer would have been “No”.

        • It wasn’t necessarily “Chris” asking “Jeremy” if he could play with the toys while “Jeremy” was away.
          Perhaps “Jeremy” needed “Chris” to do a favor for “Jeremy” involving something in the safe?

  8. Well, it could be argued by the right (or wrong) scum sucking bottom dweller of a (at the bottom of his/her Law School class) Lawyer, that even having access to your home, without your presence, is in violation of the NFA (Biden or Harris would go there). That’s how Libtard minds think. After all, no reasonable, beta male, latte sipping, Prius driving, flaatus snorting Democrat would even contemplate owning a gun, let alone an NFA gun or device
    Dude, your screwed no matter what we do, because you and I own guns, and support the 2and Amendment. 🤪🤪🤪

  9. Shortly after the state of Colorado adopted it’s stupid UBC law in 2013, a friend and I were chatting about an upcoming camping and shooting trip we had planned with several other people, some of which were newbies we were planning to expose to a bit of the depth and breadth of firearmdom. Unfortunately, it had turned out that I was going to have to miss the trip due to an unavoidable obligation. My friend asked something along the lines of, “can I borrow your X and Y and Z, I told some of the guys they would get a chance to shoot those.” I said, “sure, no problem”, and then realized that, no, I couldn’t because now, in CO, if you are not my wife or kid or nephew or cousin and your gonna have my gat outside of my supervision, then both you and I could be in trouble. I am not at liberty to say what I decided to do.

  10. Two words.

    Gun Trust.

    Beneficiary Trustee(s) control the Trust after the Guarantor passes.

    NFA (and other) items BELONG TO THE TRUST, not Guarantor or Beneficiary Trustee(s).

    You should have set one up BEFORE they changed the rules (27 CFR Part 479 [Docket No. ATF 41F; AG Order No. 3608– 2016])

  11. You mean it’s against the law to give someone not named on the tax stamp or listed on the trust access to your machine guns, SBR’s, SBS’s, AOW’s, or silencers? OMG ! Good thing Jeremy gave us the heads up ! Who woulda thunk ? Duh !

  12. I bought a house from some old people and after escrow closed the wife said she had a little surprise. In the master closet under the carpet was a very nice floor safe. Big enough to hold some small things but I kept finding post its with the combo everywhere. She was afraid she was going to forget the combo. One way to keep a combo in plain sight is to hide it in a phone number. Most of the times you just need a prompt to remember anyway.

  13. Dan Z.
    Not having commented on this article until now (and this is not really a comment), why did I receive about 40 emails bearing comments by others about it this morning???

  14. Right now all of my NFA items are in a safe only I have control of. When I move into a house and stop moving every two years, I will build a gun room. The NFA items will remain in the safe that only I have the combination to. The large safe my wife will have access to and the outer door my wife will have access to. My HD gun will go in a different security cabinet in the bedroom with me for easy access which has a short barrel and suppressor on it.

  15. It never fails to amuse me how gun owners like to invent possible scenarios where they could be jammed up.

    We HAVE to be the only subset of the population that spends so much time and energy consuming ourselves with the “well if X happens and there’s a Y involved, and the day is divisible by 3, and the sun is north of the equator, then you could catch a felony” nonsense. This stuff is like a fetish in our crowd.

    Further proof that when guns are actually outlawed, 97% of y’all will get in pursefights over the best way to turn yours in.

    Do you think ANTIFA or BLM sit around all day long on discussion forums hashing out how they could possibly get busted for arson …. for setting fires? No. They do whatever they what, and don’t worry about it.

    We need to be taking a page from their playbook. Because it’s working for them.


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