The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

The Legal Guide to NFA Firearms and Gun Trusts: Keeping it Safe at the Range and in the Courtroom (2d ed.)

Book Reviews

Firearms and gun trusts bookThe landscape of firearm laws comprises a myriad of state and federal regulations. Many seem arbitrary or archaic. This is especially the case with items such as machine guns, suppressors, and others that are federally regulated by the National Firearms Act. To complicate matters, violations of the NFA, even unintentional, risk significant fines, legal costs, and even prison terms.

Enter The Legal Guide to NFA Firearms and Gun Trusts, a collaborative effort of seven attorneys whose experiences range from trust law to firearms, both in hobbyist and professional contexts, to lend enlightenment on the subject. Ambitiously, it seeks an audience that includes both experienced trust attorneys who may not have experience with firearm issues and non-lawyers alike.

To that end, each chapter begins with a glossary of key terms relevant to the pages that follow, though the glossaries are likely far more helpful to the non-lawyer audience the guide hopes to reach. Doubtless, anyone (lawyer or not) unfamiliar with firearms laws will find the guide extremely informative. Though the focus is on NFA items, the authors do provide context for federal firearms laws.

After an introduction and a chapter on gun safety and range etiquette, the guide continues with an overview of the history of the Second Amendment and major federal legislation and U.S. Supreme Court decisions affecting the bearing of arms. It also provides a brief overview of state laws as they apply to categories of NFA items.

From that foundation, the book delves into ownership and possession of NFA items.

As the guide illustrates, one particularly thorny area of NFA compliance deals with transfers of registered items. An NFA item can be registered to one, and only one, individual, and possession of the items is strictly limited to the registrant. Thus, the registrant cannot loan the item to a friend, even for a moment at a shooting range. Furthermore, as the guide explains, it is potentially a felony for anyone other than the registrant to have access to the item, say by sharing a safe key with a spouse, regardless of whether that person actually takes possession.

As a result, many prefer to register NFA items to business entities or trusts. The guide provides a useful summary of registration of NFA items to a trust, but quickly moves on to its title topic of trusts. It provides a very well-considered explanation of the benefits of registering NFA items to a trust. It also distinguishes many ways in which standard trust language either falls short of or runs afoul of the NFA, including in ways that may subject settlors, trustees, and beneficiaries to federal prosecution. Overall, The Legal Guide to NFA Firearms and Gun Trusts excellently lays out the backdrop of the NFA and identifies pitfalls for the unwary.

Chris Traina is a registered patent attorney and partner with Garrity Traina, PLLC, a South Florida boutique firm that practices intellectual property, franchise, and business law. His practice focuses on patent, trademark, copyright, and other intellectual property matters.