You found what in the closet?!?!

  • Date:
  • Posted by kindle

As time marches onward, we are experiencing the loss of more of “The Greatest Generation” each year. Many of these individuals were veterans who served this country proudly and have an amazing storied history to tell of their travels and the battles in which they waged war to secure and preserve the freedoms which we all now enjoy.

Because of these travels and this history, people are coming face to face with an unusual dilemma. The finding of war trophies and souvenirs which have been brought back home from other countries as remembrances of their past glories can bring serious problems to decedent’s relatives. Due to several factors, there may be mixed emotions regarding some of these items, but it should be said that some are safe and legal to keep, others are not.

Most of these trophies are benign. Photos, uniforms, medals, bottles from a fancy wine all have historical interest. Many can be passed down from father to son or given to a grandchild to remember their grandfather and some can be donated to a local historical or military museum with little effort, However some trophies can be more problematic.

Knives and bayonets (since sharp are obviously best handled with caution) are not too difficult to pass down if desired or they can be sold to an antique store, collector or online with relative ease. Old trophy firearms are another matter entirely.

I have seen instances where a father or grandfather has passed away and the family goes into the closet or attic and finds an old rifle or pistol that was brought back from the war only to find out it is a weapon that upon closer inspection is considered a prohibited weapon. Just what is a prohibited weapon?

A prohibited weapon is a class of weapons that the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives) has determined to be illegal.  These are known as an NFA weapons. Federal law prohibits the ownership of certain weapons pursuant to the National Firearms Act. (NFA) These include destructive devices, firearms capable of firing more than one round with a single pull of the trigger (automatic weapons), shotguns and rifles that have been altered to make them shorter than the legal length as well as anything that qualifies as a silencer and certain exotic weapons or explosives.

If you find any version of any of these weapons they are illegal to own. Period.

There was a time that you could own one of these found firearms such as a machine gun, but it would have had to be disclosed to the government prior to May 19,1986 as this was the end of the amnesty period for registering them. If you come into possession of such a firearm, according to the BATFE you should contact the nearest ATF office immediately. A listing of the telephone numbers can be found online at Since it was not registered before the amnesty period expired, it is contraband. Once contraband, always contraband.

If you want to own an old machine gun, short barreled rifle or shotgun, or suppressor, it is possible, but It is a very expensive process with several legal hurdles that must be crossed.  You need prior BATFE approval, pay the tax stamp (licensing fees) and then wait for approval all before you purchase the item. If you fail to follow the procedures, you can pack for a long mandatory prison sentence. You can’t just keep the one you found thinking no harm no foul, because someone will eventually find out and someone will be prosecuted for it.

There are other items can also create a possible legal issue that has to be looked at before you decide to keep them or give them away to family or friends, or worse, try to sell them. Certain items that on the surface seem to be benign, but in reality, can create a very convoluted situation. I am talking about explosives that may or may not have been demilitarized (made inert) that have been kept as souvenirs or made into other objects.

The most well known of these items are grenades. We have all seen the old army grenade attached to a board with the tag that reads, “Complaint department – please take a number.” (as if pulling the #1 tag would set off the grenade.)  It is all a chuckle, but this could actually lead to a felony conviction if found and prosecuted.

I contacted an attorney who specializes in firearms law in Florida, and he replied with the following. The numbers refer to the specific Florida Statues which can be researched online.

790.165 Planting of “hoax bomb” prohibited; penalties.

(1) For the purposes of this section, “hoax bomb” means any device or object that by its design, construction, content, or characteristics appears to be, or to contain, or is represented to be or to contain, a destructive device or explosive as defined in this chapter, but is, in fact, an inoperative facsimile or imitation of such a destructive device or explosive, or contains no destructive device or explosive as was represented.

(2) Any person who, without lawful authority, manufactures, possesses, sells, delivers, sends, mails, displays, uses, threatens to use, attempts to use, or conspires to use, or who makes readily accessible to others, a hoax bomb commits a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

As far as old demilitarized grenades, shells and such goes, they were NFA weapons when they were live, and even if they were demilitarized they would normally need to be registered. In my honest opinion, it’s not worth the risk. If they have not been made inert you are taking a gamble with life and limb, and if not, you are taking a legal risk that could end up costing you thousands of dollars in fines or even jail time. In Florida I would interpret this to even mean items such as the fake claymores that are sold as trailer hitch covers. In today’s climate, it’s just not worth the risk.

In 2014 a man in St. Albans, Hertfordshire, UK was arrested for having a huge cache of old military ordinance that was found by metal detecting all over the UK. In addition to illegally owning these items, he was also charged with metal detecting on protected sites. This was a more than just finding an old gun in grandpa’s foot locker, but if not careful, grandpa’s old trophy could still result in an arrest or prosecution. If it is a firearm that is legal to own, passing it to a decedent, as long as they are not a prohibited person, should be fairly easy.

Most importantly Stay safe. If you are not one hundred percent sure, call an expert. Call your local gun store, call the police, call the ATF. If you don’t know if a firearm is loaded or not or don’t know how to safely check, don’t mess with it. Call some one who can safely check and unload it. There are so many different types of firearms out there, even a police officer may find one that he may not know exactly how to unload. This is especially true with antique and historic weapons.

This article is an informational guide and is not intended as legal advice. For a specific opinion, please contact one of the agencies cited or an attorney. I would like to thank Attorney Jon H. Gutmacher, ESQ, Author of “Florida Firearms – Law, Use & Ownership” for his response to my query. If you are interested, his book is available on his website at It is the best resource on firearms topics in Florida.


This article in an edited form was published on on April 20th 2018 and in the print edition of Florida Today on Sunday April 22nd 2018