Gone Outdoors

How to Check Serial Numbers on Guns

by Lee-Ann Scott

According to a Gallup poll, a solid 73 percent of Americans believe that every citizen has the right to own a gun. However, the right to own a firearm comes with additional responsibilities, particularly in ensuring the legality of any gun in your possession. Federal law requires that all guns made or imported into the U.S are imprinted with a serial number, and thorough records of these numbers are kept by firearm manufacturers and dealers. In the event of a crime, law enforcement can use a serial number to trace a gun's owner and identify a gun that has been stolen, sold or discarded.

Check that the gun is unloaded before handling it, and flip the safety catch to the on position. Firearms should always be handled with great care and it is vital to prevent accidents that could lead to injury of yourself or others.

Consult your firearm's user manual, first and foremost. If you do not have a user manual, the serial number is typically located in one of several places, depending on the manufacturer and type of weapon, and can usually be found with thorough inspection. Check the gun's handle, slide, trigger guard and receiver as the most common serial number locations, followed by the rest of the frame. If you have difficulty finding the serial number, contact the gun manufacturer or your local firearms dealer for further assistance.

Look for a serial number in a different place on the gun if the first is illegible, as some guns will have their serial number in more than one location. However, the metal should be fairly durable and a worn, damaged or filed-down serial number may indicate a stolen gun. Contact your local law enforcement if you have any concerns.

Check the government search tool or criminal apprehension site appropriate to the state in which you bought the gun. Some states have accessible websites where you can check if your gun is stolen or linked to any crimes.

Visit your local police station and have them check the serial number against their databases. Be sure to also provide the manufacturer, model and caliber of your firearm, as serial numbers can be accidentally duplicated by different manufacturers or product lines.


  • Always keep a record of the serial number, manufacturer and model of every firearm in your possession and store this record in a safe, secret place. Report any firearm theft or loss to police immediately.
  • In recent years, microstamping technology has become increasingly popular and may be worth consideration. This technology imprints the serial number of your gun onto bullets as they are fired and can help law enforcement identify if your gun has been used in a crime, even if the gun itself is not found.


  • It is a federal offense to deface a firearm's serial number. Be wary of anyone attempting to sell you a gun with a damaged serial number; if you are found with a defaced gun in your possession and have not reported it you may be convicted by law.
  • If your gun is proved to be stolen, you may be asked to surrender it to local law enforcement. Therefore, it is in your best interest to run all of the above checks before purchasing firearms from anyone other than a licensed dealer.

About the Author

Hailing from the southwest of England, Lee-Ann Scott began writing articles in 2010 on creative topics such as culture, advertising and the arts. Studying for a Bachelor of Arts in graphic design, she secretly considers herself an English student at heart.

Photo Credits