What to do with found guns?
December 27, 2006 4:53 PM   Subscribe

What should my friends do about the three guns (one possibly Russian) they found in their new apartment?

My friends just moved into a new apartment and found a box with three guns. One looks old but serviceable and has CCCP written on it. They want to notify the LAPD but they are afraid the guns will just be taken away from them and they would feel stupid just handing over something legal that has actual value.

Of course they want to obey the law and hand them over if they were used in a crime, but is there a way to see if guns are illegal without calling the cops?
posted by tsarfan to Law & Government (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How stupid are you're friends going to feel if, while they are wasting time deciding what to do, the guns are discovered somehow and it turns out they are stolen or have been used to commit a murder?

How would the guns be discovered? Suppose an ambulance was summoned to the apartment for an injury and a EMS worker saw it? What about if there was a fire in the building (it need not be a roaring blaze even a small electrical fire in the walls might cause the FD to force entry to several apartments)? How about a busted pipe that leads to a super entering the apartment when no one is home?

After the LAPD has run the firearms through NCIC and received a hit, the story that they were in a box when you're friends moved in is going to be a hard sell.
posted by mlis at 5:08 PM on December 27, 2006

They should call the cops now, non-emergency. Follow the directions. Forget the guns.
posted by nj_subgenius at 5:26 PM on December 27, 2006

Well, here's a PDF which may help, including a list of prohibited weapons. I think I agree with MLIS on this, especially since this is the People's Republic of California we're talking about.

Also, since California law is more stringent for handguns, are these handguns or rifles?
posted by blenderfish at 5:27 PM on December 27, 2006


It seems to me that it's a simple found-property issue. If the guns are not registered to anyone, and not found to have been used in any crime, then if no one claims them after some amount of time, I would expect ownership would revert to your friends. Provided of course that they obtain the permits necessary to legally own them. Maybe they can sell them without having permits. Either way, yeah, inform the cops now while the story still has some weight of truth to it.
posted by autojack at 5:28 PM on December 27, 2006

You are getting good advice. Inform the police now, while your story can be believed.
posted by JayRwv at 5:36 PM on December 27, 2006

Tell the police what you found, and ask them to run the serial numbers through their database. Inform them that you would like to keep them if (1) it is legally possibly to do so and (2) they havn't been used in a crime.

Guns aren't free, and they aren't typically difficult to transport. It seems very odd to me that someone would leave three of them lying around in a vacated apartment.

If it isn't too late do not touch the guns. You don't want your fingerprints on them if they turn out to be crime-scene evidence.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:54 PM on December 27, 2006

Take it to the cops, and as others have suggested, fill out a claim for the found property.

One looks old but serviceable and has CCCP written on it

And for the love of God, don't fire any of them until they've been inspected by a really, really skilled gunsmith. Besides being old and possibly defective, you'll have a hard time finding the correct ammunition, both in terms of size and power. Don't blow your hand off putting a mis-sized, Magnum load into a defective pistol that was never designed for that kind of power.
posted by frogan at 6:13 PM on December 27, 2006

Can you post back to this thread with an update when all is said and done - to let us know what happened?

As for my highly non-expert advice, I'd suggest not offering to transport them. If the police want to look at them enough to send someone to come and collect them, then maybe they have a reason :-)
(Also, if the guns are registered, the owner is known, and is therefore, not you).
posted by -harlequin- at 6:24 PM on December 27, 2006


jesus h. christ, they didn't find plutonium!

The first thing to do is not to freak out. Besides the fact that if they putz around with them they can get killed, the guns are not going to spontaneously start disharging bullets if left alone. It sounds like the friends have been handling them, or certainly the box, so I'd counsel them to quit doing so unless they are familiar with weaponry... which I am guessing they are not based on the tenor of your post. The cops will know how to handle the weapons and render them safe.

I agree that the safest thing to do is notify the police and let them come get the guns. If they haven't been used in a crime, they should be returned to the original owners, ethically. It seems odd anyone would leave behind three guns, especially three that had been used in some criminal fashion. It would be just as easy to dump them in a creek or dumpster.

Your friends will be no worse off once the things are gone, and will at least have a good story to share around. If they want guns, they should follow local laws, buy what they want, and not depend on serendipity to surface potentially lethal tools with uncertain history. Shopping by chance for this kind of stuff is fairly stupid. By the same token, keeping found material that can be repatriated to its potentially legal owners is patently unethical. Staying mum and holding on to the stuff is also dangerous, possibly illegal.

If they don't get rid of them, I'd consider hanging out with someone else for a while. Guns and stupid friends = bad mix.

(I used to be a firearms dealer.) Good luck.
posted by FauxScot at 7:09 PM on December 27, 2006

this is all really good advice. and yes i will post back up here if i can later when this is resolved.

they're not dumb friends, in fact just the opposite.

its too bad theres not an online registry where you can do a search for serial numbers to see what guns have been used in crimes and which are just cool.

thanks all!
posted by tsarfan at 7:15 PM on December 27, 2006

Delete the word guns and rephrase the question with the words "possibly valuable property". You don't just need to figure out if the stuff was used in a crime, you need to figure out who owns it. If you're not willing to do that yourself take the above advice and report the stuff as lost/found property.

As far as I know (IMNAL) there's a pretty standard criminal offense (that is, in different jurisdictions) known here in Canada as possesion of stolen property. For example, see receiving stolen property.

Your friends have no reason to believe the guns were left as a gift or abandoned, so they should be looking to return them to their proper owners. The question shouldn't be whether the guns are legal or not, but what the legal thing to do with them is: I'd be willing to be keeping them isn't on that list.
posted by tiamat at 7:40 PM on December 27, 2006


The OP has posited that the items found by his friends are weapons, but they're only (presumptively) guns, not radioactive reactor parts. It's not illegal yet, even in the People's Republic of California, to possess guns, unless the person possessing the weapons has a previous criminal record, or pending domestic restraining order.

The poster doesn't say whether they are long guns or hand guns, or shot guns (and may not know). The items found may be replicas, stage props, starter pistols, or other non-functioning gun lookalikes, perhaps even stage props left by previous actor/tenants. If the poster's friends don't know anything about weapons, contacting the police and offering what they've found for inspection isn't the worst thing they could do, but it is not the only reasonable course of action. If any of the poster's friends who are in possession of the weapons is not eligible to possess or buy firearms in California, because of a prior criminal record, or current restraining order against them, they'd be money ahead to approach the police voluntarily, and immediately. But assuming they are otherwise law abiding citizens, they aren't under any duty of law, of which I'm aware, to make that first call a call to the cops.

Once they report the weapons to the police as suspect items, there is a fair chance the cops aren't going to be returning them, even if the items found are not weapons, and don't show up on a current hot sheet, or are reported as lost items. In America, the cops don't have to tell the truth. The police may want to inspect the premises upon which the items have been found, and may ask the new tenants to allow them access. Police aren't under any obligation to return gun-like items to the finders, if they "feel" such things are likely to be used as "weapons," and they can be pretty intimidating to people trying to "claim" found property that actually are weapons, even if the person claiming such things otherwise has an otherwise perfect right to do so, having met whatever local regulations are for the claiming of such after public notification, etc.

IMHO, there is nothing wrong with bagging the "guns" in plastic bags, and going to a retail gun dealer with the items, explaining that they are "found" items, and asking for identifications and valuations. If what the posters have found are even, in fact, weapons, the gun dealer will be immediately able to identify them as such, and suggest valuations, which would guide the possessors in the decision to surrender the items to the police, and pursue their later return to the rightful owners, or release to them as found property.
posted by paulsc at 7:54 PM on December 27, 2006

It's not illegal yet, even in the People's Republic of California, to possess guns ...

When we say that something isn't illegal we really mean that a person who does this will be vindicated by a court. Most people don't want to be arrested, charged with an offense, produce bail, pay a lawyer, or appear in court. I totally endorse the natural right of every person to exercise his or her liberties but a prudent person will try to avoid the whole judicial process without good reason.

Other posters have said that the circumstances under which the guns were found is suspicious. I think his friends are telling the truth, but I also think that every cop has heard the "I just found it" excuse many times before. Let's suppose a crime is committed and the cops come across the guns while investigating it. Having guns around will likely make the charges more severe and will cause the cops to treat his friends differently - not necessarily badly, but they may start assuming that his friends have a criminal background of some sort. If the guns can be tied to crimes then there is now a link between the friends and those crimes, which will have to be investigated. If the guns were to be stolen then his friends' fingerprints would be on guns that will likely be used for crimes - and there's nothing they can do to stop the linkage being made. How could they report the theft of these guns, given that they have no real way of identifying them?

I think it's pretty clear that these guns are a major headache. Put them in a plastic bag or bags and take them down to the police station - or better yet report it and wait for them to come to the apartment. Ask for them back by all means, but the downside of possession at present is hugely more than the upside of ownership. Don't risk the heavy hand of the law for the sake of some dodgy firearms.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:48 PM on December 27, 2006

If they call the cops, they are never going to see those guns again, no matter what the story is.
posted by bingo at 6:36 AM on December 28, 2006

Dude, just call the cops. Since when has the ethical thing to do with found goods been 'sell them'? Isn't the right answer always 'return to rightful owner or to police if suspicious or unclear who rightful owner is.'

Seriously, I don't even see the debate here. Who wants to become a gun runner just to make some one-time cash?
posted by Kololo at 6:57 AM on December 28, 2006


That's presumptuous, irrelevant, and not the issue.

Safety of the finders is primary. Establishment of legitimate ownership is secondary. Who gets to benefit from the find is way down the list. The finders have some primacy in that regard, which varies by circumstance and locale.

Valuation is irrelevant to the ethical obligation to return them to their owners and is the same as if this had been a jar full of found money.

This is a little different because the jurisdiction restricts ownership of weapons and options that might otherwise apply are not available.

The OP didn't mention that the finders were experienced with weapons, so my gut feeling is to lean towards their protection.

THe OP suggests that they are smart, which begs the question, "Why AskMeFi?" If they are just looking for consensus to support unethical choices, that sucks. Otherwise, the first thing smart people do is to make themselves safe.

I don't like The Man either, maybe even moreso than most folks, but to cast the entire lot into the 'Evil' bin is wrong. This is an odd circumstance that has to be sorted out. The cops can help, cheaply, albiet with some inherent and odd little risks. If these folks can afford it, perhaps they could let an intermediary (lawyer) be their interface and protect their interests. Personally, I'd have no trouble calling the police.
posted by FauxScot at 7:08 AM on December 28, 2006

FauxScot seems to be the most knowledgeable person here (since he states he is a former firearms dealer), but his answers suggest to me another course of action; find a local gun shop and ask them what to do; they should be reasonably familiar with all of the local rules and regulations and may well have a customer who works in law enforcement and can check out the guns and get them returned with minimal hassle. The local gunsmith can also make sure they are in operating order, tell them what ammo to use, and give them an idea of their worth/help them sell them, among other useful things.
posted by TedW at 8:34 AM on December 28, 2006

The cops and the value of the guns are relatively minor side issues.

What about the previous possessors of these guns? If they are valuable, they will want them back, and they may not be the sort of people who would be too happy to hear "oh, those-- I gave 'em to the cops." They might be the sort of people, in fact, who would be inclined to vent any displeasure they might feel at their loss on your friends.

If the previous possessors have used any of the guns to commit the kind of crime which could be traced back to an individual firearm, they will not hesitate to rob or break and enter to save themselves from prosecution for more serious crimes.

Which leads me to the question of why they left the guns there in the first place. They may have been stupid, reckless or feckless, or they may not have been able to retrieve them because they were too busy doing something else, something like, oh I don't know, sitting in jail?

The safest course for your friends is to give the guns to the cops and find a new apartment.
posted by jamjam at 8:56 AM on December 28, 2006

TedW has a great idea. I am myopic! Seems like a prudent course of action short of a direct call to the police if they can find an ethical dealer.
posted by FauxScot at 9:15 AM on December 28, 2006

FauxScot, you sure did read a lot into my statement, which, as far as it goes, is true, and, if the OP's friends want to keep the guns, is something to consider. How high up the list of priorities that desire should be, and whether any given choice in this situation is unethical, is for them to decide, and any of us to merely weigh in on. And as far as that goes, I have as much right as you.
posted by bingo at 6:05 PM on December 28, 2006

I agree, Bingo. (On re-read, I was a little blunt! Spent all day working a silly problem and typed way faster than I thought!) My biggest worry is for their safety. There is always an element of personal financial interest in found stuff, undeniably. In an ideal resolution, they'll get leave to ethically enjoy their find and be safe in the bargain.
posted by FauxScot at 7:26 AM on December 29, 2006

Calling the cops in LA is the stupidest possible thing that they can do. If the items are in fact on one of California's "you can't have this but everyone else in the country can" list, you can very easily get busted for some serious charges. Although as of 1/1/07, the DA can choose to prosecute it as an "infraction."

Call a local gun shop and very carefully explain the situation. If they're over 50 years old, they may fall under the Curio & Relic laws anyway. You need to speak with someone in California that holds an FFL. You might have something valuable, but you might have some plain ol' mass produced firearms.

And guys, c'mon. Old Russian stuff is rarely used in crimes.
posted by drstein at 6:59 PM on January 1, 2007

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