Do Hawaii’s gun-control laws restrict my ability to pass my firearms to my children when I die?

Many gun owners want to give their guns to a particular friend or family member at death.  In addition to obvious questions, such as whether the intended beneficiary will know how to handle a firearm properly, there are important legal considerations.

The recipient must be legally able to possess a gun, which excludes anyone under 21 years of age and probably anyone else with a history of alcohol or drug abuse, serious mental health disorder, or criminal background.

State law usually requires that a newly acquired gun be registered with the police department in the county of the new owner’s residence within five days of acquisition.  But when the acquisition is by inheritance or under the terms of the prior owner’s will or trust, the permit must be obtained before the new owner takes possession of the gun.  Registration can be avoided by transferring the gun directly to a licensed gun dealer, along with a copy of the previous owner’s death certificate.

Big Island residents can access additional information, including locations where guns can be registered, by going to  Residents of Oahu will find information pertinent to them at

In addition to state gun-control laws, the National Firearms Act regulates the ownership and transfer of so-called NFA guns.  These include, for example, any gun that automatically fires more than one shot with the single pull of the trigger.  Attempts to transfer ownership of an NFA gun, whether during the owner’s lifetime or at the time of the owner’s death, can be onerous at best, impossible at worst, depending on each set of circumstances.  Possession of an NFA gun by anyone other than the owner can violate federal law, and consequences can include up to 10 years in prison, up to $250,000 in fines, and forfeiture of both the NFA gun and any vehicle used to convey it.

Many owners of NFA guns, and even some owners of other guns, choose to hold there guns in a “gun trust,” which is usually similar to a standard revocable living trust, but with important modifications.  Gun owners typically appoint themselves as the initial trustee, or co-trustee; retain the right to revoke the trust at any time and for any reason; and decide who will be the successor trustee following the owner’s death. 

Guns that cannot be handled or transported by anyone outside the presence of the gun’s registered owner can be handled or transported by the new trustee immediately after the owner’s death.  And instead of six to eight months, the required paperwork at the owner’s death may take only a few weeks to complete.

Beginning July 16, 2016, the trustee and possibly the beneficiaries of a gun trust will need to submit fingerprints, photographs, and proof of citizenship, and give notice to the local chief law enforcement officer.  Gun trusts established before that date will not be subject to the new requirements.

As always, I must add that this blog does not contain legal advice, and that you should not rely on any of the above information to determine what is in your own best interest.

Pictured above is attorney Kumu Belcher hunting on the slopes of Mauna Kea. 


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