Mark Twain once famously noted that the only certainties in life are death and taxes.  We’re all going to die someday, some of us a little sooner than others. Which is why it is important to prepare ahead of that eventuality by helping your loved ones identify and value your firearms collection.

Like all of us, I know a lot of guys who buy guns that their wives know nothing about. I know even more whose wives know about the guns in only a peripheral sense, but don’t really know much more than “There are a lot of guns in that safe.”

Just as men may not know how much used purses or jewelry might be worth, a lot of women aren’t up on firearm values. Heck, plenty of people — both men and women alike — remain uneasy around guns as they may not understand how to make them safe, much less adequately appraise their value.

Need an example of this? Each day, non-gun people “turn in” estate guns at police stations across America because they aren’t comfortable handling those icky things.

For a lot of families, ignorance of gun values is not power.  What’s more, plenty of folks don’t really know how to dispose of unwanted firearms in their deceased relative’s collection and not get fleeced – or worse – while doing so.

In some states, there is an additional urgency. In Illinois, for instance, if the spouse or executor of the will does not have a Firearms Owners ID card, then they have just sixty (60) days to either get a FOID card or dispose of all firearms and ammunition in order to comply with the law. And these days, it can take up to a year for the state to get around to issuing a FOID card.

If you have the misfortune of living in a state with regulations on owning or transferring firearms, you should consult local laws to stay within the law.

Make a list.

The single best thing you can do to help your family after your death – at least when it comes to your guns – is to make a list. And just like Santa, check it twice.

Include the make, model, serial number, approximate resale value, and any accessories that go with each firearm and their approximate respective value as a package. Take pictures of them, too (this is also a good idea for insurance purposes).

This also serves as a good opportunity to earmark certain firearms to go to certain individuals as appropriate.

For example:

GLOCK 19, Gen 3 with Trijicon night sights installed in 2018. 9mm Luger. Ser. 123GRT. Estimated value $450-$500. With about five spare GLOCK mags, estimated value about $15 each. I’d like this to go to my son Mark.

For others, it will be more complex.

Ruger Precision Rifle. 6.5 Creedmoor caliber. Serial No. 12345A. Estimated value about $1400. With Vortex Razor 5-20×50 scope (attached and sighted in) serial No. 6789X. Paid $1900 for scope. Estimated value at least $1200-ish. Rifle with scope, scope mount ($100), Harris bipod ($100), Timney trigger upgrade ($200), two spare magazines and misc. accessories, the rifle as is should bring at least $2800 as a package, or easily $3000 with the custom hand-loaded ammunition nearby in ammo cans. Don’t recommend breaking this up as you’ll never sell the small stuff.  

You could take a few minutes to compile the above information for your wife or kids now. Or you could get hit by a bus before getting around to it. Then your loved ones might have some unscrupulous person tell them how the rifle they have is nothing special (“Bolt action? Ewww! It’s not even a semi-auto!”) with a junk Chinese scope on top. “I’ll give you $500 for the whole thing and that’s being generous.”

Which scenario would you prefer?

Protect your family from theft. 

Do you have any black sheep of the family living nearby? Or even worse, drug addicts or bad neighbors who know you have a collection of guns? Remember, for some folks, a half-dozen or ten guns is an “arsenal” and desperate people do desperate things.

If you are anything close to a prolific gun owner and have theft concerns, advise your family to get the majority of your guns out of the house to someplace secure after your death.

Also, make sure they have one or more trusted friends, also with guns, at your residence to watch things during the visitation and funeral. Because bad guys, knowing that NRA Joe has a bunch of guns, would never target a house while his wife attends his funeral service, right?

Actually, it’s so common that people have a name for it: obituary burglars.

From the New York Post:

Their loss was allegedly her gain.

A Bronx woman is accused of preying on the bereaved — allegedly looking up the obituaries of their loved ones online and then burglarizing the homes of the grieving family members while they were attending the funerals.

Latonia Shelecia Stewart, 26, was arraigned this week on a slew of charges connected to six different break-ins that were reported in Westchester between fall 2017 and spring 2018, according to prosecutors.

Her indictment says she targeted people who were attending their spouse’s wake or funeral service.

Also, having strangers come into the home of a widow to look over a guns she wants to sell is also an invitation for a robbery. Or a robbery homicide.  That’s a no-go for safety if potential buyers aren’t well-known and vetted.

C.J. Hurst of West Covina, Calif., poses with his collection of about 600 antique guns, Aug. 21, 1952. He holds up a .44 caliber rim fire Model 66 Winchester rifle. (AP Photo/Don Brinn)

How do you dispose of a collection following a death?

Ideally, you’ll have family members to whom you can pass down heirloom firearms and other pieces with sentimental value, along with ammo and accessories.

For the rest of your guns, you have options . . .

Options vary from your descendants selling the guns piecemeal, or taking them to an auction house. Or your heirs could simply selling the whole collection to a gun shop. All have their pros and cons.

One easy way to dispose of a collection, large or small, is to work with a local gun shop to sell them on consignment, locally and/or through on online auction service like GunBroker.

Yes, the gun shop will charge maybe 10-20% of the purchase price for the service, but the guns will be out of your house and in a secure location. Not only that, but the gun shop will handle all the paperwork.

The downside is that it may take time to sell them if they aren’t priced competitively — and most people think their guns are worth more than they really are. Another downside here is that most stores will want little to do with buying “used” ammunition, primers or powder, even if it’s in pristine condition in boxes.

Another option available for immediate transfer of the guns out of the house are large firearms auctions. For example, here in Central Illinois, Bauer Auctions in Mattoon has massive, hybrid online/in-person gun auctions four times each year. No doubt other states have similar sales.

They have experience at handling multi-hundred gun estates, so you won’t overwhelm them with a collection of 100 or even 500 firearms. They can also sell ammo, powder, reloading gear, accessories and so forth, too. They will charge a sliding scale fee depending on the sale price of the firearm, but it’s relatively low.


Depending on when you get the guns to them (or they come get them), it may take a few months before there’s a sale, and you’ll then get paid in the weeks following the sale. Remember, they can and will sell stuff like ammo, gun safes and reloading gear at auctions. If your heirs aren’t in a hurry to cash out a large collection, that’s probably going to net you the most dollars for your guns with a minimal amount of work on your end.

For high end collections, there are always auctioneers like the world famous Rock Island Auction.

In a hurry? Yes, there’s a way to do that as well. Call nearby gun shops and ask if they’ll come out and make an offer for the entire collection. Expect to receive about 60% of the wholesale price for guns in good shape, and less for poorer quality specimens. That will translate to about 40-50% of current market prices. You may get 10% more for highly sought-after collectibles. You get the money instantly, but you’ll pay (dearly) for the urgency.

Lastly, you can always advertise the firearms for sale to private parties. For a handful of guns, that’s no big deal. Trying to sell a hundred guns? That would become almost a full-time job dealing with the tire-kickers and low-ball artists.

Do your loved ones a big favor and make the process easy on them. Inventory your guns and accessories, include approximate pricing information and recommendations as to how to dispose of the guns that aren’t family heirlooms or sentimental. And while you’re at it, make sure you earmark who gets what if you want specific people to get certain firearms.

One thought on “PLANNING AHEAD: Help Your Family Value Your Guns and Safely Sell Unwanted Firearms and Accessories”
  1. I remember hearing a gun owner’s nightly prayer. “Lord, if I die please don’t let my wife sell my guns for what I told her I paid for them.”

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