Uncluttering and firearms

Editor’s Note: Regardless if you are for or against the possession of firearms, there may be an occasion where you may run across them while uncluttering and organizing. Generally, this would be when you are cleaning out a space that does not belong to you, for example a deceased relative. In this situation, we should always expect to discover the unexpected, and a firearm might be one of those unexpected things.

To provide some guidance on what to do when you come across firearms, we welcome today’s guest, Monica Ricci. She is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker, author, blogger and firearms instructor. She enjoys cooking, travel, music, photography and competitive shooting.


After 20 years in the organizing and productivity business, you can imagine I have seen nearly everything there is to see in a person’s home, from dirty diapers under the sofa to “adult novelty products” in the bedside table drawer. For most organizers, finding these items is no big deal. We remain unfazed, letting professionalism and discretion prevail in what might otherwise be an awkward situation.

However, as prepared as most of us are for the aforementioned items, stumbling upon a firearm is a different story for someone who is not accustomed to dealing with them. As an experienced shooter and firearms instructor, I am not personally unnerved by the presence of a firearm, however I’m also not cavalier about it. Finding a gun when you don’t expect to can be a surprise for everyone.

The good news is that firearms aren’t magic. They don’t “just go off” by themselves. They are mechanical devices which require human interaction to work, which means as long as you follow some basic rules of firearms safety, you can prevent an accident.

Rule # 1: A gun is always loaded. Never — and I mean NEVER EVER — take the word of another person who says, “It’s not loaded.” First of all, unless you see them physically check the gun in front of you, they are guessing or assuming and you never guess or assume when it comes to firearms. Secondly, even if they check the gun while standing in front of you, please do not take their word for it. They may know enough to drop a magazine out of a pistol but there may be a round in the chamber and they may not know to check for it. If neither you nor the others you are with have the skill to check the status of the gun, do not attempt it. But always assume every gun is loaded.

Rule # 2: Always keep a firearm pointed in a safe direction. This is more difficult than it sounds because by default it has to point somewhere. But for our purposes, that means do not put yourself or another person in front of the muzzle and never allow another person to “sweep” the muzzle of a firearm past you. In the case of finding a firearm while uncluttering and organizing, take note of which way it is pointing when you find it and stay behind it (the handle side) at all times. If you or someone else picks up the gun, always ensure that it is pointing away from people and in a safe direction. Outdoors, a safe direction might be the ground, but in a home, unless you’re in a basement, pointing the gun at the floor may not be a safe direction because there may be someone below you. Sometimes you have to choose what you perceive as the safest option such as pointing it at the floor, and this is why the four rules always work together to prevent accidents. So that even if you must point a gun in what could be construed as a potentially unsafe direction, if you follow the other three rules, you shouldn’t have an accident or injury.

Rule # 3: Keep your finger OUTSIDE the trigger guard and OFF the trigger. When you hear someone say, “It just went off!” what they failed to also say is that someone had their finger (or another object) inside the trigger guard which moved the trigger. Rest assured that a gun in working order does not “just go off.”

Rule # 4: Know your target and what’s behind it. This typically pertains to when you’ve actually chosen to fire the gun. It’s important to know not only what you’re shooting at, but what is beyond it. The reason for this rule is because bullets can penetrate walls, floors, windows, furniture, and lots of other things!

Getting back to the scenario in which you happen across a firearm in the course of uncluttering and organizing…

First, remain calm and let everyone you’re working with know you’ve discovered a firearm. Next, determine if there is a space in the home to store the firearm so no one else will have access to it — preferably with a door (or box with a lid) that is lockable. Ensure everyone knows where the firearm will be stored until proper gun storage can be arranged.

If someone in your group says they are comfortable moving the firearm then let them do so BUT, be mindful that they may not know the rules of gun safety. This is the time for you to stay alert. Tell them that you will stay behind them as they do so. Keep your eye on them to be sure they keep their finger out of the trigger guard as they pick up the gun and transfer it to the designated storage area.

If no one is comfortable moving it, leave it where it is (remember it will not go off by itself as long as nothing touches the trigger) and shift your attention to work in another area, or leave the building until someone arrives who can handle the gun safely (e.g. police officer, firearms dealer, or other firearms expert).

Be mindful that in some countries, if you find a firearm, you must, by law report it to authorities (usually the police) who will take the firearm for safekeeping until proper ownership and safe storage is arranged.

Although many people own firearms, the odds are fairly slim that you’ll find one just lying around in the course of your work. However, it is still a good idea to consider what you would do, so if it ever happens you’ll be able to be prepared.

7 Comments for “Uncluttering and firearms”

  1. posted by Julie on

    I’m Canadian. When my grandfather passed away, he left behind a collection of antique firearms (mostly rifles). My dad — who had no intention of keeping them anyway — informed the police, who came to collect them. They were professional about it, but there was a bit of a tense moment where my dad tried to step forward to tell them something and they politely but firmly insisted that he stand back while they collected up all the guns.

    Didn’t take very long, though. Less than a half-hour, start to finish, once the police arrived.

  2. posted by Joy on

    This is very helpful as I will eventually have my elderly father’s huge gun collection to deal with. Some, I plan to keep or give to various relatives (sentimental reasons). Others, I will probably look into selling (through someone authorized to do so) or disposal.

  3. posted by Valeria on

    While clearing out my grandma’s apartment years ago, we found a revolver that had belonged to my grandfather when he lived in a rather dangerous area as a new immigrant. We all though he had gotten rid of it decades ago! Now, nobody in my family knows the first thing about guns or has any interest in them, so we contacted the firearms authority in our area and were told they could provide detailed instructions on how to make sure it was safe for transport, in order to deliver it to them. My father handled the gun and made sure it was unloaded while I stayed behind relaying the instructions to him. (My dad said he didn’t want me around for that but he needed someone to be a second set of eyes and doublecheck that he was doing things right, and to call for help in case something went wrong.) We then took the gun to the firearms authority’s office to be disposed of, filled some forms, and went back to decluttering. Definitely a stressful experience!

  4. posted by Audrey Johnson on

    Thank you for sharing your very good advice about this. A big thank you also for not making it seem like a horrible thing to find. Making it less “frightening” is one key to keeping people safe. You gave great instructions as well as took away the shock factor. Thank you for sharing in the way that you did.

  5. posted by Kenneth in Virginia on

    Taking something for “safekeeping” is another way of stealing, if you ask me.

  6. posted by E.T. on

    Thank you for this article. While I would be shocked to find a firearm when de-cluttering someone else’s home as well, before I read your article, I may not have handled the situation with enough caution. I would have tried to be careful of course, but I’m not sure if I would immediately have thought I need to be ‘life or death careful’. I don’t own any firearms or have any firearm training. If I ever run across this situation, I think your article will make me proceed with a much more heightened sense of caution and care.

  7. posted by Monica Ricci on

    @Julie: Thank you for your comment. I’m curious to know if the Canadian authorities compensated your family for what was likely an expensive collection. It hurts my heart to think that a family asset was simply “removed” without compensation.

    @Joy: Thank you for your comment. Couple things… first (if I may offer my opinion), there is almost never a need to dispose of a firearm. They are hearty, solid machines that can be sold in almost any condition to a gunsmith or a collector who will refurb them. Second, I don’t know where your father lives, but if you choose to sell or give away your father’s firearms privately, be sure to research the laws that apply to the private transfer of firearms, regardless whether money changes hands or not. Do your research so you know what’s involved and then you’ll have enough info to decide whether it’s smarter / easier to do private transfers or just sell the collection to a firearms dealer. Note that if you go to a dealer, you will likely get less for them, because it’s like selling anything else — you can make more if you sell it yourself but you have to ask yourself if it’s worth your time and effort.

    @Valeria: Thank you for your comment. Your situation is exactly the one I wrote for… finding a firearm when you don’t expect to. There is nothing inherently dangerous about a firearm unless its mishandled and for someone familiar with these machines, unloading and making it safe is simple. BUT if you are unfamiliar with the machines, ANY handling of it can potentially be “mishandling” because you don’t know what you don’t know. You and your dad did exactly the right thing.

    @Audrey: Thank you for your comment. We may happen upon things in our profession that we aren’t familiar with or don’t approve of personally, but there’s no sense getting worked up over it, no matter what it is. Heck, I’ve found sex toys, pornography, dead animals, firearms and “other things” while working with clients and frankly out of that list, I’d prefer to find the guns. It’s less embarrassing than any of the others, IMO. Anyway, my goal in writing the article was to help readers approach this unfamiliar item with the same respect and non-judgmental attitude as they would the sex toys or dead mice, rather than with fear and heated emotion or disapproval.

    @Kenneth: Thanks for your comment. Heard and understood. That’s always a legitimate concern.

    @E.T.: Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found my article helpful! And as much as I dislike uninformed hysteria over firearms, if you are completely unfamiliar with them, it IS always better to err on the side of extreme caution because you don’t have the luxury of making assumptions or guessing.

    Wow what a great conversation we’re having! Thanks to all for your thoughtful input! :o)


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