Quote for the Day

“Think about the [gun] trust as a means to keep the client safe and legal, and to provide all of the guidance to their beneficiaries so they stay safe and legal.”

Matthew Bergstrom, attorney

Quote for the Day

Regarding the benefits of so-called gun or NFA trusts:

In gun trust planning, it’s in some ways less important to know who owns an NFA firearm and more important to consider who has the right of possession. Access equals possession. A spouse or other family member with access to an NFA firearm registered solely to one family member could be considered in technical violation of the law.

 C. Dennis Brislawn, attorney



Quote for the Day

Although the phrase implies that the carrying of the weapon is for the purpose of “offensive or defensive action,” it in no way connotes participation in a structured military organization.

From our review of founding-era sources, we conclude that this natural meaning was also the meaning that “bear arms” had in the 18th century. In numerous instances, “bear arms” was unambiguously used to refer to the carrying of weapons outside of an organized militia. The most prominent examples are those most relevant to the Second Amendment: Nine state constitutional provisions written in the 18th century or the first two decades of the 19th, which enshrined a right of citizens to “bear arms in defense of themselves and the state” or “bear arms in defense of himself and the state.” It is clear from those formulations that “bear arms” did not refer only to carrying a weapon in an organized military unit. Justice James Wilson interpreted the Pennsylvania Constitution’s arms-bearing right, for example, as a recognition of the natural right of defense “of one’s person or house”—what he called the law of “self preservation.”

Justice Antonin Scalia, District of Columbia v. Heller. 2008.

Why a Use a Gun Trust? or Why Shouldn’t I Use My Existing Living Trust to Purchase NFA Firearms?

Question Mark_Yellow
I had a person ask me about the difference between a gun trust and his existing living trust. I sent him the following (I’ve changed his name to protect his privacy):


Again, thanks for contacting me about gun trusts and more specifically, how a gun trust differs from your existing living trust. I’ll try to be brief:

A gun trust or NFA trust is a purpose-built trust, meaning it is drafted specifically to handle and deal with firearms generally and NFA items specifically.

As I’m sure you’re aware, firearms, unlike almost all other property we may own, is very heavily regulated, especially when it comes to “possession” and “transfer” of those firearms—of course, NFA items are even more heavily regulated. In particular, the laws and regulations governing guns define the terms “possession” and “transfer” very broadly to the end of keeping firearms out of the hands of so-called “prohibited persons.” For example, if you own a suppressor or silencer, and you keep it in your home, and your wife or girlfriend has access to it—meaning, if they wanted to, they could pick it up willy nilly—a zealous prosecutor might consider that “constructive possession” and a violation of the law, an accidental felony, if you will.

Because of all this, the typical living trust is not suited to owning firearms and the issues that come with them. For example,

  • A well-drafted gun trust has specific provisions in it to enable others to “possess” your NFA items and other firearms without running afoul of the law. The typical living trust doesn’t.
  • A well-drafted gun trust has specific provisions to protect against the unlawful “transfer” of NFA and other firearms without violating the law. The typical living trust doesn’t.
  • A well-drafted gun trust has specific instructions to your successor trustees, so they don’t violate the law as they deal with your firearms in the event you die or become incapacitated. The typical living trust doesn’t.
  • A well-drafted gun trust comes with the forms necessary to appoint and terminate co-trustees and lifetime beneficiaries in order to effectuate the lawful possession by and transfer of your guns to others. The typical living trust doesn’t.

On a related note, each time you do buy a suppressor or other NFA item using your trust, you are going to have to submit a copy of your trust, including schedules, etc. to the ATF. Do you really want to give your entire living trust to the ATF?

For these and other reasons, the attorneys I know who practice in this area use gun trusts to handle their clients’s firearms rather than revocable living trusts.

I hope this helps. I hope we have the opportunity to work together on your gun trust.


Greg Taggart




Why Do You Want a Gun Trust?

If your sole purpose in purchasing a gun or NFA trust is so you can buy that silencer and avoid the need for your local Chief Law Enforcement Officer’s (CLEO) signature*, then I’m not your guy. As I explain elsewhere on this site, I see gun trusts as accomplishing that purpose and much more, including encouraging safe and careful ownership of firearms for both you and those who inherit your firearms when you die, as well as helping you make sure that when you die, your guns go to whom you want, how you want, and when you want.

Gun law generally and the law governing NFA firearms more particularly are complex subjects. Persons who ask me to draft their gun trust will get more than a trust, they’ll also receive advice from me and substantial documentation on how to use that trust.

* This changes on Wednesday, July 13, 2016. After that, individuals no longer need a CLEO’s sign off on their NFA purchase, though they still need to notify the CLEO.

A Note on Why I Draft Gun Trusts for My Clients

I thought long and hard about whether I should do my gun trust business on a different website and under a different trade name than the ones I use for my estate and business planning practice. I’ve noticed that many attorneys separate their gun trust work from their other practice areas for fear, I suppose, that they might scare off potential clients who 357_IMG_2725are not interested in or even loathe firearms.

I decided to do all my business using the same website and trade name. Here’s why.

I draft gun trusts for two basic reasons:

1. Gun laws are complicated. Guns are assets, property that must be handled properly and carefully when the owner dies or becomes incapacitated. This is so because guns are regulated property and are therefore unlike virtually any other property people own. Violate one of the laws or regulations governing the transfer or possession of firearms–even unintentionally–and you or your executor or trustee could be in a fix. As an attorney who holds himself out as an estate planner, I feel an obligation to be knowledgable about and able to help my clients manage their firearms in their estate plans so my clients don’t find themselves in that fix. Moreover, since I represent clients in both Wyoming and Utah, this approach seems like a sensible plan to me.

2. Gun trusts promote safety. I believe gun trusts provide an extra layer of safety to gun owners and those who succeed them in ownership and therefore to the public. A trustee of a gun trust assumes a special or fiduciary obligation under the law when they manage firearms in a trust. The trusts that good attorneys draft make the parameters of that obligation crystal clear. The result, I believe, is better informed gun owners and improved public safety. If that’s actually the case, it only makes sense to draft gun trusts.

Of course, I could do all this without promoting my gun trust business on my estate and business planning website. I chose not to do that for two reasons: 1. Two websites are two times the work. Two trade names are twice as much to keep track of. 2. I want people who come to this website to know who they are dealing with. No surprises. I ask potential clients to disclose a lot when they work with me–that’s essential to good planning. It seems fair for me to be completely open with them as well.


Annie Hide Your Guns? Justice Scalia Has Died.

Betty Hutton, as Annie, couldn’t get a man with a gun. Some are worried that they won’t be able to even use their guns if President Obama gets to appoint a new justice to the Supreme Court now that Justice Antonin Scalia has died. AScalia2I don’t know if that’s a worry worth worrying about, even if  President Obama makes that appointment. Members of the court–left and right–are loathe to overrule themselves. Sure it can happen, and guns may be the issue that causes them to do so. But first, any Obama appointment has to get through the Senate and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell already says that ain’t gonna happen. 

And so, I’ll just say that I’m going to miss Scalia. A lot. His humor. His writing. His intellect. No, he was not perfect as a man or as a justice, but he was good, very good on both counts. I was amazed at how the initial reports of his death stunned me.

So today, I choose not to get political. Instead, I want to praise the man. To that end and for your enjoyment and edification, I share this interview of him by Brian Lamb of C-SPAN:

Shipping Firearms: It’s Complicated

What follows is an attempt to clarify a confusing area of firearms law–the issue of private, unlicensed persons mailing firearms. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about whether an unlicensed person–that is, a person without a Federal Firearms License or FFL–can mail or ship firearms to another unlicensed person. Before we attempt to cut through the confusion, we offer this little caveat: the discussion below does not take into account state firearms laws, which vary. What follows concerns federal law.

So, can an unlicensed person mail or ship a firearm to another unlicensed person without an FFL as an intermediary?

Short Answer

Legally, yes, if intrastate. Practically . . . it’s complicated. Fed-ex

Longer Answer

Legally, an unlicensed person in, say, Wyoming, can ship a firearm to another unlicensed resident of Wyoming, so long as the transferor “does not know or have reasonable cause to believe the transferee is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under federal law” (B1 and B7, pg. 197, ATF Federal Firearms Regulations Reference Guide, 2014 (Reference Guide); see also the citations to the USC and the CFR at B1 and B7). In other words, unlicensed persons or non-FFLs can legally ship firearms INTRASTATE to other non-FFLs. However, if that same unlicensed transferor wanted to ship that same firearm to someone in Utah or Florida–that is, INTERSTATE–s/he would have to ship the firearm to an FFL in Utah or Florida. The law and commentary I’ve cited above is pretty clear on this point–though apparently not to everybody.

Where things get confusing is on the practical side. Practically speaking, if we’re talking about shotguns or rifles–long guns, if you will–a Wyoming resident can mail to a Wyoming resident without an FFL. If it’s a handgun, though, that unlicensed person in Wyoming is probably going to have to ship the gun to an FFL in Wyoming as well–or have a face-to-face meet up with the buyer/transferee–because, as I said, it’s complicated.

You see, there’s the USPS and then there are common carriers like Fed-Ex who service the public at large and contract carriers like trucking companies who service a short list of clients. The Reference Guide says common or contract carriers can transport handguns; the USPS can’t.USPS

Title 18 USC §1715, the law governing the US Postal Service and firearms, is quite explicit. Except in very limited circumstances,

Pistols, revolvers, and other firearms capable of being concealed on the person are nonmailable and shall not be deposited in or carried by the mails or delivered by any officer or employee of the Postal Service.  (Emphasis added)

However, our unlicensed person can mail shotguns and rifles to another unlicensed person in the same state via the USPS, subject to certain requirements. Both the ATF (see B6, pg. 197 of the Reference Guide cited above) and the USPS give thumbs up to the process. And handguns? Well, the AFT says that “a common or contract carrier must be used to ship a handgun” whether it’s INTRASTATE to an unlicensed person or INTERSTATE to an FFL (B7, pg. 197 Reference Guide).

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) at least the large common carriers are not so willing participants in the shipment of firearms–handguns or long guns. Both Fed-Ex and UPS clearly state that they will only ship if an FFL is at the receiving end, regardless of whether the shipment is INTRASTATE or INTERSTATE.UPS

Of course, Fed-Ex and UPS are not the only common carriers around. Check your local listings. If you find another, probably smaller or local carrier, they may allow an unlicensed person to ship both handguns and long guns to an unlicensed person who lives in the same state without the FFL intermediary. The law allows them to that. The question is do their internal policies? You’re going to have to ask around.

Contract carriers, trucking companies and the like? That’s a concern for another day.

One more point worth noting: Transfers between unlicensed persons that go through an FFL are subject to background checks–with few exceptions. Thus, given that

  • at least the larger common carriers require that all firearm shipments–intra and interstate–between unlicensed persons go through an FFL,
  • the USPS doesn’t ship handguns at all and requires interstate shipments go through an FFL,
  • Federal law requires that all interstate transfers between unlicensed persons go though an FFL,
  • even simple transfers–no money exchanged–between residents of different states must go through an FFL, and
  • at least 18 states and the District of Columbia require all or most intrastate transfers between unlicensed persons go through an FFL,

few firearms transfers legally escape background checks. And that includes online purchases through online outlets like Gunbroker.com that cater to private sellers. In fact, as explained in the Reference Guide:

An unlicensed person who is not prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms may purchase a rearm from an out–of–State source, provided the transfer takes place through a Federal rearms licensee in his or her State of residence. (B3, pg. 197)

Yes, some do escape and fall into the wrong hands. The law is not the only ass, after all.

To this end–the end of keeping firearms out of the hands of asses–the ATF encourages federal firearms licencees (FFLs) to work with private sellers to facilitate background checks on private buyers (see page 175-176 of the Reference Guide for more). Not a bad idea, especially if you–the private seller–are worried about bona fides of a potential buyer. Could save you and someone else a lot of heartache.

How about shipping to yourself? Well, as they say, that’s different. Federal law–remember, we’re talking only about Federal law–says that you can ship interstate to yourself for your own use to engage “in hunting or other lawful activity,” but according to question B8, pg. 198 of the Reference Guide:

The package should be addressed to the owner 1in the care of’ the out–of–State resident. Upon reaching its destination, persons other than the owner may not open the package or take possession of the firearm. (emphasis added)

Likewise, a gun owner moving from one state to another may “may transport or ship the firearm interstate” and if using a moving company, “must notify the mover that firearms are being transported” (B9, pg. 198).

And NFA firearms? Do the same rules apply? Of course, if any of the firearms you want to ship or transport are of the NFA variety, then you “must have prior approval from ATF.” The prior approval process does not apply to suppressors/silencers, by the way (CFR §478.28).

ATF 41F — Update

Below is a slightly revised version of an e-mail I just sent my gun trust clients:

We finally know the effective date of the ATF’s new rules regarding gun trusts, responsible persons, and other related matters. That date is Wednesday, July 13, 2016.

Once the new rules become effective, gun trust grantor/trustees will be a responsible person and thus subject to the new photo/finger prints/CLEO notification (not signature) requirements. So will any co-trustees they appoint–though it appears that can be fixed by limiting the powers of those co-trusees. (I’ll keep you all posted on this.IMG_2331 I’m waiting on further guidance from the BATFE.) Mind you, the photo/finger print/notification are only required at the time of a new transaction.

Beneficiaries and successor trustees should not be considered responsible persons under the new rules.

FWIW, I think gun trusts come out well in spite of the new rules. No, you don’t need a gun trust to avoid the CLEO signature requirement, but they still allow trustees to share the trust’s NFA items. In addition, a well-drafted gun trust provides guidance to trustees and to successor trustees on how to handle firearms properly, so they can avoid the “incidental felony.” Finally, the whole process of setting up a gun trust and then administering it forces grantor trustees to consider how they are going to distribute/handle their firearms upon their death and incapacity. These last two reasons have lead me to think that gun trusts are actually a safety measure and an aid to more responsible gun use and ownership.

In short, I continue to think people who have gun trusts–my clients, at least–made a good decision to set one up.

Trying to Think Straight About 41F: Who is a “Responsible Person”?

After stewing over ATF 41F for a few days, the rule is finally starting to make sense to me, at least the definition of the so-called “responsible person” in a gun trust. Of course, it has always been obvious that a Grantor/Trustee of a gun trust is a “responsible person” or RP. However, it seems that co-trustees, special trustees, and beneficiaries of  most any stripe in a well-drafted gun trust might avoid shouldering the burdens of an RP–if they satisfy the conditions in two different rules or sentences in newly amended § 479.11. Here’s the relevant text of that section:

§479.11 Meaning of terms.

* * *

Person. A partnership, company, association, trust, corporation, including each responsible person associated with such an entity; an estate; or an individual.

* * *

Responsible person. 1.) In the case of an unlicensed entity, including any trust, partnership, association, company (including any Limited Liability Company (LLC)), or corporation, any individual who possesses, directly or indirectly, the power or authority to direct the management and policies of the trust or entity to receive, possess, ship, transport, deliver, transfer, or otherwise dispose of a firearm for, or on behalf of, the trust or legal entity. 2.) In the case of a trust, those persons with the power or authority to direct the management and policies of the trust include any person who has the capability to exercise such power and possesses, directly or indirectly, the power or authority under any trust instrument, or under State law, to receive, possess, ship, transport, deliver, transfer, or otherwise dispose of a firearm for, or on behalf of, the trust. Examples of who may be considered a responsible person include settlors/grantors, trustees, partners, members, officers, directors, board members, or owners. An example of who may be excluded from this definition of responsible person is the beneficiary of a trust, if the beneficiary does not have the capability to exercise the powers or authorities enumerated in this section. (emphasis and numbers supplied, except in the section heading)


The first rule of the road to freedom from the burdens of a “responsible person” is stated the first sentence in the paragraph labeled “responsible person.” The second rule is in the second sentence of the same paragraph.

Each rule is slightly, but importantly, different from the other. The first rule has one “and” in it. The second has two. Thus, the first rule has two “get out of jail free cards,” the second has three. Cotrustees and beneficiaries must satisfy both rules before they’re free of the “responsible person” burdens imposed by ATF 41F.

Based on all of this, I’m thinking I would analyze the provisions of a trust governing co-trustees or beneficiaries essentially following the logic of these diagrams (click to enlarge), beginning with Rule 1 and then Rule 2, making sure the powers and authorities of each cotrustee, special trustee, or beneficiary are limited in the trust document, so those persons don’t fit within the definition of a “responsible person.” (By the way, it seems that the words “direct” and “possesses” in the rules are particularly important, so I’ve bolded them in the diagrams.)Slide2

What kept bothering me as I initially read the rules and the commentary was that the commentary seemed at times to contradict or modify the actual rules. That confusion was at least in part due to my thinking that there was only one rule in the “responsible person” paragraph in §479.11. Once I finally settled on the idea that there were two different rules or sets of conditions in that paragraph, things started to make a little more sense.

Things made even more sense after I diagramed the two rules or sets of conditions and compared my diagrams to the wording in each part of the commentary that used the actual wording of the rules or paraphrased them in some way. Basically, I asked in each case, did the wording on a particular page of commentary make sense in light of either or both rules or sets of conditions?

What I discovered by doing that is that words in the commentary that at first seemed to be all over the map and had seemed to contradict or confuse the wording in the “responsible person” paragraph in §479.11, suddenly made more sense.

I stress that this is not my final thinking on the subject, and I’m open to correction. More importantly, what I’ve done above doesn’t begin to touch on what some of the words mean in the rule. We need to understand the meaning of words such as “direct,” “management,” “policies,” “possess,” “transfer,” “directly or indirectly,” “capability,” before 41F makes complete sense.

Fun times.



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