Inheriting Firearms and Pennsylvania Law

Inheriting Firearms and Pennsylvania Law


So you’ve suffered the loss of a loved one. So many memories. Some may even include bonding over firearms. Regardless, inheriting a loved one’s firearm can serve as a special way of remembering them.

Recently, during one of our media appearances, a talk show host asked about inheritance of firearms, and the rules that may apply.

First we talked about the common myth when it comes to “registration.” I have had prosecutors ask me if my client’s firearm was “registered.” The fact is, however, that there is no such thing as firearm registration in Pennsylvania. The only “registration” that takes place at the federal level deals with items subject to the National Firearms Act (for example, fully automatic weapons, short-barreled rifles, and short-barreled shotguns).

In fact, Pennsylvania law makes it illegal for the government to form a registry 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111.4. Whether they use transfer records as a registry is for a different discussion, as we discussed in our post

Next, we examined Pennsylvania law when it comes to the transfer of modern handguns. Typically, sales or transfers of modern handguns between private individuals must take place in “the place of business of a licensed importer, manufacturer, dealer or county sheriff’s office . . . .” 18 Pa.C.S. § 6111. Essentially, these transfers must take place through your Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) or through the Sheriff’s Office.  In facilitating the transfer, the FFL or Sheriff will take the same precautions required of a dealer when selling to an individual. So, yes, the person receiving the firearm will submit to a background check (so much for that “gun show loophole”, right?).

This requirement does not apply to transfers between spouses, transfers between a parent and child or to transfers between grandparent and grandchild. Id. Transfers between folks in these relationships can take place without any record required or background check provided that the transferring person does not knowingly transfer the weapon to a prohibited person. Again, this doesn’t necessarily serve as ammunition for the “gun show loophole” folks, because it doesn’t seem to make much sense to meet Grandpa at the gun show to complete a transfer.

Finally, we talked about laws in the specific context of an estate.

A person who called into the show decided to comment about this conversation on social media.

That person said:

“Gotta love when US Law Shield gives incorrect legal advice on the air…they just said that in an estate context, in PA, a handgun could be transferred to a family member to whom it was willed without going through an FFL. While correct federally, there is no state exception…That being said, I didn’t call them out on it and make them look like an idiot on air…see, I can be nice…after all, it is their legal malpractice that is on the line, not mine…caveat emptor”


Now let’s myth-bust that person’s social media post.

The Pennsylvania law we referred (and the caller obviously missed or forgot) to can be found at 18 Pa.C.S. § 6115. The law prohibits a person from lending or giving a firearm to another or otherwise delivering a firearm contrary to the provisions of [the Uniform Firearms Act].

Further, we find 18 Pa.C.S. § 6115 (2), which reads:

Nothing in this section shall be construed to prohibit the transfer of a firearm under 20 Pa.C.S. Ch. 21 (relating to intestate succession) or by bequest if the individual receiving the firearm is not precluded from owning or possessing a firearm under section 6105.


It has been our position that this means a transfer that takes place in accordance with Title 20 is not contrary to the provisions of the Uniform Firearms Act so long as the person is not precluded from owning or possessing firearms.

We are not alone in taking this interpretation. In fact, Jonathan Goldstein (counsel for the National Rifle Association and present board member) has made this issue a staple of his Continuing Legal Education courses through the Pennsylvania Bar Institute.

In addressing the critics of various “loopholes” in our gun laws, he often jokes that criminals don’t typically form plans that begin with “First, we wait until my family member dies….”

Keep in mind these Continuing Legal Education courses typically serve as a gathering for a number of great firearms attorneys, many of whom have been practicing in this area for decades. While there have been several discussions and even disagreements regarding various laws, we are aware of no attacks on Mr. Goldstein’s position, from any individual (except perhaps indirectly by this person who called in).

So, we disagree with the “analysis” this person decided to post. And in style, a discussion would probably do the Second Amendment community more good than a snide remark on the internet.

But that’s OK. We’re used to having to defend unwarranted attacks. After all, our entire organization is based upon defending the liberty of law-abiding gun owners who have been forced to defend their lives.

We wish our law-abiding gun owners a happy and healthy new year.