PART 3: A LOOK AT THE NEW YORK SAFE ACT AND RELATED NEW YORK STATUTES THAT DEPRIVE GUN OWNERS OF THEIR PRIVATE PROPERTY INTEREST IN THEIR OWN FIREARMS
In this installment of our multi-series article on New York’s mangling of the private property right interest in one’s firearms, we look at actual New York Statutes that deprive New York gun owners of that property rights interest in their own guns from the specific standpoint of bequests of firearms. We list the Statutes, describe them, and explain how they operate to defeat one’s private property interest in one’s firearms as the Statutes. We explain how New York Statutes interfere with one’s right to make bequests of firearms to one’s heirs and, so, undermine one’s property interest in one’s own firearms.
We will show you that, under present New York law, a New York resident and citizen of the United States does not have absolute control over his or her own firearms. That means that one’s private property interest is not preserved. If so, that is in contravention to the U.S. Constitution and in contravention to the New York State Constitution as well.
Be forewarned: what follows is not a simple matter under discussion. But for New York gun owners it is certainly a critically important one. As failure to adhere to New York gun laws can create very serious issues for the executor of one’s estate and for one’s heirs.
NEW YORK STATUTES THAT OPERATE TO RESTRICT OR DEPRIVE A PERSON FROM TRANSFERRING ONE’S FIREARMS – ONE’S PRIVATE PROPERTY – TO ONE’S HEIRS
Now, let us begin.
HOW NEW YORK LAW DEPRIVES NEW YORK RESIDENTS AND CITIZENS OF THEIR ABILITY TO TRANSFER THEIR FIREARMS TO THEIR HEIRS IN CONTRAVENTION OF AND IN DEFIANCE OF A DECEDENT’S SPECIFIC BEQUESTS
22 NYCRR § 207.20 says, “the fiduciary or attorney of record [of a decedent’s estate] shall furnish to the court a list of assets constituting the gross estate for tax purposes, but separately listing those assets that either were owned by the decedent individually including those in which the decedent has a partial interest, or were payable or transferrable to the decedent’s estate; and those assets held in trust, those assets over which the decedent had the power to designate a beneficiary, jointly owned property, and all other non-probate property of the decedent.”
The New York Safe Act adds a new and noxious wrinkle to the requirement in 22 NYCRR § 207.20. Under Section 53 of the Act, codified in the Surrogate Court’s Procedure Act, NY CLS SCPA § 2509, titled “Firearm’s Inventory,” because a decedent’s firearms’ collection must be delineated with particularity. That list must be filed not only with the surrogate’s court for probate, but also with the division of criminal justice services.
NY CLS SCPA § 2509, says, “Whenever, by regulation, rule or statute, a fiduciary or attorney of record must file a list of assets constituting a decedent’s estate, such list must include a particularized description of every firearm, shotgun and rifle, as such terms are defined in section 265.00 of the penal law, that are part of such estate. Such list must be filed with the surrogate’s court in the county in which the estate proceeding, if any, is pending and a copy must be filed with the division of criminal justice services.”
At first glance, it’s clear that a person’s gun collection is separated out from a decedent’s other assets for special and undesirable treatment because a fiduciary or attorney of record must send an inventory of those firearms’ assets to the division of criminal justice service for action. The fiduciary or attorney of record doesn’t do that for other personal property.
Section 53 of the NY Safe Act also mandates that a list of the decedent’s firearms must be listed with particularity, consistent with the definitions for ‘assault weapon’ as set forth in Section 37 of the New York Safe Act, as codified in NY CLS Penal § 265.00(22).
Section 37 of the NY Safe Act delineates complex definitional constructions of assault weapons. These definitions are not nearly as clear in meaning as the drafters of the Safe Act may have intended.
Now, suppose a New York resident and gun collector has guns that are defined as ‘assault weapons’ under NY CLS Penal § 265.00(22), Section 37 of the NY Safe Act. Can a testator bequeath those firearms to anyone the testator wishes, including and especially, a family member related to the testator by blood? Well, a testator can certainly bequeath particular items of personal property to whomever the testator wants and that includes bequests of weapons, including the testator’s assault weapons. There is nothing in the probate code of New York to suggest otherwise. And that is consistent with the fundamental right of a testator to bequeath his private property to whomever the testator wishes. And proponents of the New York Safe Act would likely argue that nothing in New York law prohibits a gun owner from bequeathing his or her guns to whomever the gun owner wishes. And, that is certainly true, as far as it goes. But, the real question, the pertinent question, is whether the heir or legatee to the bequest can keep those firearms, especially assault weapons. And there’s the rub. The answer to that question is a resounding, “no!”
The New York Safe Act proscribes anyone but the original owner of assault weapons from keeping those firearms. And that includes close family members, whom the testator may wish to bequeath those weapons to. So, the bequest of assault weapons to heirs, who are not also licensed gun dealers, is an empty bequest. The testator’s wishes, upon his death, are unconscionably countermanded by the New York Safe Act; and the heir’s desire to obtain the testator’s private property – the testator’s assault weapons in accordance with the testator’s express wishes – to become, then, the new owner of them, as the testator wished – is helplessly and hopelessly frustrated and thwarted.
Section 37(H) of the NY Safe Act, codified in the Penal Code of New York, NY CLS Penal § 265.00(22) (h), says, “Any weapon defined in paragraph (e) or (f) of this subdivision and any large capacity ammunition feeding device that was legally possessed by an individual prior to the enactment of the chapter of the laws of two thousand thirteen which added this paragraph, may only be sold to, exchanged with or disposed of to a purchaser authorized to possess such weapons or to an individual or entity outside of the state provided that any such transfer to an individual or entity outside of the state must be reported to the entity wherein the weapon is registered within seventy-two hours of such transfer. An individual who transfers any such weapon or large capacity ammunition device to an individual inside New York state or without complying with the provisions of this paragraph shall be guilty of a class A misdemeanor unless such large capacity ammunition feeding device, the possession of which is made illegal by the chapter of the laws of two thousand thirteen which added this paragraph, is transferred within one year of the effective date of the chapter of the laws of two thousand thirteen which added this paragraph.”
Section 37(H) of the NY Safe Act, codified in the Penal Code of New York, NY CLS Penal § 265.00(22) (h), means that any firearm, defined as an ‘assault weapon,’ cannot be lawfully retained by anyone other than the original owner of it.
So, while an assault weapon can be bequeathed by a testator to an heir, that bequest is more often than not an empty gesture. It means nothing because, once again, the decedent’s heir cannot keep the assault weapon (or assault weapons if there is more than one) for more than a few days even if that heir otherwise holds a valid pistol license and, where required, namely, in New York City, a valid rifle and shotgun permit as well.
Section 37(H) of the NY Safe Act, codified in the Penal Code of New York, NY CLS Penal § 265.00(22) (h), is extraordinarily draconian, for it categorically denies ownership of assault weapons by New York residents beyond first generation, original owners.
Do you understand what proponents of the New York Safe Act are doing here?
Proponents of the Safe Act are destroying the possibility of ownership of entire categories of firearms, defined as assault weapons, to future generations of New York residents and U.S. citizens. This, clearly and obviously enough, to those who read through the NY Safe Act, was the intent of the drafters of the Act.
Curiously, even the neighboring State of Connecticut – which does not, by any stretch of the imagination, have gun laws one might call, “liberal,” apropos of firearms ownership and possession, and is not a State that can honestly be said to respect the import and purport of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution – does not itself deny ownership of firearms defined as assault weapons to successive generations of gun owners who are otherwise eligible to possess firearms. So, Connecticut, unlike New York, respects, to some extent, at least, the possession of firearms classified as ‘assault weapons’ by heirs to the original owner of them, in its own Statutes, to heirs who are eligible to possess firearms.
To be sure, Connecticut, even more so than New York, has devised an undeniably complex, if more comprehensive, system for categorizing those firearms it calls ‘assault weapons.’ See, Conn. Gen Stat. § 53-202a. In fact Connecticut’s system of categorizing firearms is more comprehensive and complex than New York’s system, if less ambiguous overall.
But, Connecticut, unlike New York, does not exclude successive generations of families from owning those assault weapons, assuming heirs to one’s firearms are eligible to possess firearms at all. See Conn. Gen Stat. § 53-202b(b)(3), which exempts from transfers of assault weapons, those transfers of assault weapons to heirs. The Statute sets forth a specific exemption for: “the transfer of an assault weapon for which a certificate of possession has been issued under section 53-202d, by bequest or intestate succession, or, upon the death of a testator or settlor: (A) To a trust, or (B) from a trust to a beneficiary who is eligible to possess the assault weapon.” New York, unfortunately, does not have a similar statute. Weapons classified as assault weapons cannot be transferred to heirs under any circumstance in New York.
WHAT MUST THE EXECUTOR, ADMINISTRATOR, OR HEIR DO ONCE HE OR SHE COMES INTO CONTACT WITH DECEDENT’S FIREARM OR FIREARM’S COLLECTION?
Once a New York firearms’ owner dies, the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate who comes into possession of the decedent’s firearms, or, otherwise, the heir who comes into immediate possession of decedent’s firearms, has a very short window in which to surrender the firearms to the appropriate official.
NY CLS § 265.20(a) (1) (f) of the New York Penal Code says, in pertinent part, “. . . A person who possesses any such weapon, instrument, appliance or substance as an executor or administrator or any other lawful possessor of such property of a decedent may continue to possess such property for a period not over fifteen days. If such property is not lawfully disposed of within such period the possessor shall deliver it to an appropriate official described in this paragraph or such property may be delivered to the superintendent of state police. Such officer shall hold it and shall thereafter deliver it on the written request of such executor, administrator or other lawful possessor of such property to a named person, provided such named person is licensed to or is otherwise lawfully permitted to possess the same. If no request to deliver the property is received by such official within one year of the delivery of such property, such official shall dispose of it in accordance with the provisions of section 400.05 of this chapter.”
This Section is very important. It tells the administrator, executor, or holder of firearms that the firearms – all of them, not merely those that are defined as assault weapons – must be surrendered to the appropriate authority within 15 days of receipt of the firearms, upon the death of the owner of the firearms.
And, who is an appropriate authority who can receive firearms? The first – and lengthy – sentence of NY CLS § 265.20(a) (1) (f) of the New York Penal Code sets forth: “A person voluntarily surrendering such weapon, instrument, appliance or substance, provided that such surrender shall be made to the superintendent of the division of state police or a member thereof designated by such superintendent, or to the sheriff of the county in which such person resides, or in the county of Nassau or in the towns of Babylon, Brookhaven, Huntington, Islip and Smithtown in the county of Suffolk to the commissioner of police or a member of the police department thereof designated by such commissioner, or if such person resides in a city, town other than one named in this subparagraph, or village to the police commissioner or head of the police force or department thereof or to a member of the force or department designated by such commissioner or head; and provided, further, that the same shall be surrendered by such person in accordance with such terms and conditions as may be established by such superintendent, sheriff, police force or department.”
This means that firearms must not be surrendered to just any governmental official. Firearms must be surrendered to the appropriate official as defined in CLS Penal § 265.20(a) (1) (f) of the New York Penal Code.
Now, suppose the administrator, executor, or holder of the firearms of decedent fails to surrender the weapons within fifteen days of receipt of them as the law requires. Well, under NY CLS Penal § 265.01-b, “A person is guilty of criminal possession of a firearm when he or she: (1) possesses any firearm or; (2) lawfully possesses a firearm prior to the effective date of the chapter of the laws of two thousand thirteen which added this section subject to the registration requirements of subdivision sixteen-a of section 400.00 of this chapter and knowingly fails to register such firearm pursuant to such subdivision. Criminal possession of a firearm is a class E felony.”
If a person – namely, the executor or administrator of an estate or the heir to a firearm or firearms, who comes into immediate possession of the firearm or firearms upon the death of the original owner of the firearms – fails, within fifteen days, to transfer the firearm or firearms to the appropriate official – that person is in unlawful possession of said firearm or firearms. Thus, failure to timely transfer a firearm or firearms of a decedent to the appropriate official, upon the death of the decedent – whether such failure to transfer is deliberate or inadvertent – places the possessor of the firearm or firearms in an untenable position. For that person is in felony possession of a firearm. That person is a criminal under New York law!
Now, suppose a firearm or collection of firearms is in fact timely delivered to the appropriate official upon the death of the original owner. In that case NY CLS Penal § 400.05(6) says, “A firearm or other weapon which is surrendered, or is otherwise voluntarily delivered pursuant to section 265.20 of this chapter and which has not been declared a nuisance pursuant to subdivision one of this section, shall be retained by the official to whom it was delivered for a period not to exceed one year. Prior to the expiration of such time period, a person who surrenders a firearm shall have the right to arrange for the sale, or transfer, of such firearm to a dealer in firearms licensed in accordance with this chapter or for the transfer of such firearm to himself or herself provided that a license therefor has been issued in accordance with this chapter. If no lawful disposition of the firearm or other weapon is made within the time provided, the firearm or weapon concerned shall be declared a nuisance and shall be disposed of in accordance with the provisions of this section.”
The last paragraph of NY CLS Penal § 400.05(6) makes clear that a firearm or other weapon will be disposed of if the party who surrendered the weapon does not arrange for the sale or transfer of it within the applicable time frame – one year from the date that the firearm or collection of firearms is delivered to the appropriate official.
And, what does the expression ‘disposed of’ mean? NY CLS Penal § 400.05(2) spells that out bluntly. The Statute says, “The official to whom the weapon, instrument, appliance or substance which has subsequently been declared a nuisance pursuant to subdivision one of this section is so surrendered shall, at any time but at least once each year, destroy the same or cause it to be destroyed, or render the same or cause it to be rendered ineffective and useless for its intended purpose and harmless to human life.”
The expression, ‘disposed of’ by an official” means ‘destroyed’ by that official.
Now, NY CLS Penal § 400.05(1) defines ‘nuisance’ as, “Any weapon, instrument, appliance or substance specified in article two hundred sixty-five, when unlawfully possessed, manufactured, transported or disposed of, or when utilized in the commission of an offense, is hereby declared a nuisance.”
We know that any firearm or weapon that is surrendered to the appropriate official by an executor or administrator of an estate or by another lawful possessor of such weapon, namely and particularly, an heir of decedent to whom a bequest of firearms has been made, in accordance with NY CLS § 265.20(a) (1) (f), is specifically not a nuisance under the applicable Statute, NY CLS Penal § 400.05(6), and therefore is not subject to summary destruction.
NY CLS Penal § 265.20(a) (1) (f), provides that the officer to whom such weapon (or weapons) has been surrendered, “shall hold it and shall thereafter deliver it on the written request of such executor, administrator or other lawful possessor of such property to a named person, provided such named person is licensed to or is otherwise lawfully permitted to possess the same. If no request to deliver the property is received by such official within one year of the delivery of such property, such official shall dispose of it in accordance with the provisions of section 400.05 of this chapter.”
NY CLS Penal § 400.05(2) makes abundantly clear that the official – to whom a decedent’s firearms’ collection is delivered, in accordance with NY CLS § 265.20(a) (1), namely within 15 days of a party’s possession of it – cannot summarily destroy the weapons. He is the custodian of them. The firearms are still the property of decedent’s estate. And so long as decedent’s heir to the bequest of firearms timely informs the official as to the ultimate disposition of them, namely, within one year of the date of surrender of those firearms to the official, that official, the custodian of them, is responsible for their safekeeping.
This does not mean that the official to whom the weapons are surrendered will perform his or her duty. What, then, is the responsibility of the State when those firearms are prematurely damaged, lost, or destroyed, prior to the one-year time period? That issue turns on whether the official would have known that failure to preserve the firearms violated the owner heir’s clearly established statutory or constitutional rights. See, Maio vs. Kralik, 70 A.D.3d 1; 888 N.Y.S.2d 582; 2009 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 8062; 2009 NY Slip Op 8187.
In the next installment of this series, Part 4, we will provide you with a checklist for gun owners. Given present New York law, a testator who wishes to bequeath firearms to his living heirs, must be aware of traps and snares that lurk for the unwary.
Be advised: failure to consider contingencies may place both the executor of one’s estate as well as one’s heirs in real danger of incurring felony charges for failure to make proper disposition of firearms in strict accordance with the applicable laws.Copyright © 2015 Roger J Katz (Towne Criour), Stephen L. D’Andrilli (Publius) and Vincent L. Pacifico (Orca) All Rights Reserved.