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Atty. Ralph D. Sherman

130 West Main Street • New Britain, Connecticut 06052

tel. (860) 229-0213 • fax (860) 229-0235 • e-mail


Legal Opinion

February 2000

A gun with meaning

The Luger in my hands weighed about two pounds, empty. To me, however, it was loaded - with a ton of history.

A client ("Mr. Doe") had come to me to have his will drafted. As I always do when I draft a will, I asked if he owned any firearms. If he did, we would have to discuss some details, because of legal restrictions on the transfer of firearms.

Just one gun, he said. A Luger.

A Luger seemed an odd choice for someone who owned just one gun. But this gun wasn't purchased in a shop.

Mr. Doe, now age 74, acquired this gun in a more personal manner: In July 1944, he lifted it from a Nazi officer in France. One month earlier, Mr. Doe had been one of the U.S. soldiers to invade Normandy on D-Day.

The Luger was a souvenir of a time and place that now seem unimaginable to many. Mr. Doe fired his souvenir a few times after he returned to the States, but otherwise he just kept it quietly at home.

After some discussion with his wife, Mr. Doe decided to sell the gun, but he was unsure how to go about it. I offered to help find him a buyer. A few days later, Mr. Doe brought the gun to my office.

Any Luger collector knows that the value of a Luger depends largely on whether the parts are original and the serial numbers match. I'm no Luger expert, but I did notice a few things right away. The serial numbers on the barrel and the barrel extension were different from the number on the frame. The toggle was a "42," but other parts of the gun indicated it might have dated from World War I. And the holster that had been worn by the German officer was really a holster for a P-38, not a Luger. All these factors would reduce the value.

But this was a "working" gun. It had been used by one or more soldiers, reworked by one or more German armories, and returned to service. Until the Allies invaded Normandy.

That's why the Blue Book value didn't matter. To me, the gun was the weightiest historical artifact I have ever held in my hands. This was the sidearm of an officer of the Reich that Hitler decreed would last 1,000 years. A mere 60 years after that bold announcement, here I was, a Jew, in the greatest democracy in the world, working to preserve the right of civilians to keep and bear arms. What was I doing? Oh, just calmly examining a weapon that represented the greatest threat to democracy and civilization that the world has ever known. And across my desk was the guy who stole the Luger and brought it home. He was Jewish, too.

If only Hitler could see us now, I thought.

The marvelous Luger was a tempting purchase. In the end, however, I found a dealer who bought it for a fair price. On reflection, I realized that my perspective was like that of the stamp dealer in the movie "Charade." By an accident, the dealer briefly takes possession of one of the rarest stamps in the world. When the rightful owner discovers the accident and comes to claim the stamp, she offers to buy it back, but the dealer returns it and refuses any compensation. It was enough to hold it in my hands for a few minutes, he says.

My feelings exactly.


Copyright 2000 by Ralph D. Sherman

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