BRUNOY, France (AP) - The pistol the elderly French woman inherited from her grandfather had once belonged to a German soldier, killed in a war fought on France's soil in the last century.
Now the woman has turned the heirloom over to police for fear that her grandchildren would stumble upon it.
French authorities want others to follow the unnamed woman's example by turning in millions of old firearms, remnants of the two World Wars and long-abandoned hunting excursions.
The country has launched a weeklong nationwide campaign ending Dec. 2 to collect old, unregistered weapons that are tucked away in attics and storerooms across the country that saw much of the twentieth century's fiercest fighting.
"We believe there are about 5 or 6 million weapons that are being kept in an irregular manner by our fellow citizens," said Jean-Simon Merandat, Head of the Interior Ministry's Central Service for Arms and Explosives. "Eighty to ninety percent of these weapons are in their possession due to an inheritance."
Despite many such historical items seeming harmless, authorities promoting the campaign warn that appearances are deceptive. The old weapons can still be deadly and can be used to perpetuate domestic violence, or even fall into the hands of criminal networks.
The good news is French authorities deem their campaign so far to have been "a real success," claiming to have rounded up 1.6 million munitions pieces, and 65,000 firearms. There will be no legal consequences if weapons are handed over willingly, authorities said.
The overwhelming majority of unregistered weapons that will be collected will be destroyed. But a prized few whose metal barrels tell remarkable stories will be saved and preserved by the state.
"We expect those with historic or cultural value to be spared destruction and brought to one or several museums," Merandat added.
Anyone wishing to hold on to their weapon and join the ranks of France's 5 million legal gun owners can do so if they seek to obtain a legal permit. With a population of 67 million people, France has proportionally far fewer guns than countries such as the United States.
A public outcry over a spike in the number of murders of women by their partners has also prompted authorities to push ahead with the gun collection drive.
Adamson reported from Paris.