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What to do with Dad's guns?

There are options when you inherit a firearms collection


WWII press photo titled, "Burned out guns from battling Japanese at Tarwawa

You inherited a pile of guns? What can you do with them? This historic WWII image is captioned, "Burned out guns from battling Japanese at Tarawa."

A friend of a friend contacted me. Her Dad had been a gun collector for many years. He recently passed away, leaving his gun collection to her and her sister. She asked, “What am I supposed to do with these? I don’t want these guns!”


It took all my fortitude to not blurt out, “Give em to me!” It wouldn't do any good--she probably wouldn't understand that I am cut from a different piece of cloth than most of her friends and associates. Unlike them, I have always believed, a person can’t ever have too many guns. Regardless, I knew she wanted a real path to disposal that would result in converting guns into cash. I was not on that path!

Actually, I have had practice with this type of question. Too often, I hear from the children or survivors of a collector who died without a plan of disposition for their collection. Passing down a gun collection to a pair of women who don’t want anything to do with guns, though, is the top of irresponsible collecting, in my opinion. But, with my friend on the other end of the phone, I couldn’t go into what my opinions about her dad’s collecting habits. She wanted guidance. She really didn’t want these guns that were now stacked like cordwood in her living room.

She did ask, however, “There is a gun show scheduled for later this month in St. Paul. Should I get a table and try to sell them?” Obviously, she knew they had monetary value. She just didn’t have the first idea of how to convert that pile of weapons into a stack of cash. I knew she needed help. She was thinking about entering into a murky world of gun sales at a time when person-to-person sales are coming under much more scrutiny.


Without the time to research a plan of action for her, I asked her an important first question: Do you want to sell them one at a time or all at once? I had to explain that selling individual weapons would take a LOT of time, and even after she had made a great effort, she might still be left with unsalable weapons (though I explained, everything sells—you just have to find that price at which it will sell).

Before she answered, I interjected: “Selling them one at a time will maximize your revenue. Selling them all at once will decrease the amount you receive.”

“Well, how would I sell them one at a time?” she asked.

Before directly answering, I suggested it would be best to get herself out of the equation. The last thing she needed was to have the word get out that she had a bunch of firearms in her house about which she knew very little.

So, I gave her a quick run-down of some options that would enable her to sell the weapons without being directly involved in the sales

*Pawnshop (least hassle, least revenue)

*Sell the entire collection as one unit (low revenue and it might be a lot of contacts before finding the right buyer—also, every person is going to want to cherry-pick the collection leaving her with the unsalable items)

*Sell on consignment through a gun store (slow, but the guns would be out of her home)

*Sell through online gun boards (would protect her privacy, but I cautioned her about the intricacies of cross state line sales)

*Sell through an auction (the guns transfer to the auction house, she would pay a commission on sale prices—best of all, she just had to deliver the weapons and wait for the check).

It didn’t take long for her to decide that the auction route seemed the most efficient and would essentially keep her out of the contact with buyers. She understood that some items would sell high, some low, but at the end of the sale, all would be gone.


An auction house will generally charge about 20% seller's commission. That is not so bad when you consider everything will be gone at the end of the sale, and you didn't have to do anything more than transport the weapons.

“The advantage of an auction house that regularly sells weapons,” I explained, “is that the auction house will act as the Federal Firearms License carrier. They will do the proper paperwork to transfer the weapon.” She liked the sound of that. It removed her name from the transfer. If something would happen with one of her dad’s weapons (say, for example, an accident or crime), it wouldn’t come back to haunt her.

With that, I gave her the names and addresses of several auction companies that regularly advertise in Military Trader. The last I heard, she made contact with several, made the arrangements to deliver the weapons, and is waiting for the sale to occur.


I have written this many times, but it is a good reminder for all of us who collect militaria: Come up with a plan for disposing of your collection.

It doesn’t matter how old you are…I just read about the funeral of a 28-year-old who was killed when his car rolled over him while he was working under it. Yes, we all want to believe we will live to be 100, and we have plenty of time to make plans on how to pass on our collections. But let’s not be the cause of the next call that begins with, “My dad was a collector. What do I do with all this stuff?”

We all say we are caretakers of history. Well, part of that care taking is planning for the disposition of the items when we are no longer able to take care of them ourselves.

I suggest (and commit to doing it myself) that each of us make it a goal to formulate and write down a plan detailing what do with our collections in the event of our unfortunate passing. Sure, this sounds grim, but believe me, you don’t want your spouse, kids, or friends cussing you as they make that phone call that begins with, "My dad was a collector. What am I supposed to do with all this stuff?"

Preserve the Memories,

John Adams-Graf

Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine

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