How to Find the Make of a Gun With the Serial Number

by Teo Spengler ; Updated September 26, 2017

The road from a serial number to the make of a gun is a long and winding one that very likely won't get you where you want to go. No public databases will help you find the make of a gun using the serial number. However, you may be able to figure out a gun's make from other markings on the gun or by taking it to a gunsmith or firearms professional.

Serial Numbers Allow the ATF to Trace Guns

Every gun manufactured in the U.S., and any gun made elsewhere but imported into the country, must have a serial number. That number must be unique and not a duplicate of another firearm's serial number. Serial numbers must be engraved or cast into the gunmetal in a conspicuous location.

The purpose of the serial number requirement is to allow the government to trace firearms. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives runs the National Tracing Center. They are the only agency authorized to trace guns with serial numbers, and they do not open their doors to the public. Only law enforcement personnel involved in criminal investigations can ask them to trace a firearm.

Can the National Tracing Center learn the make of a gun from its serial number? It probably can. But that service and that information is available only to the police.

Determining Make of Gun From Other Information on It

In addition to a serial number, U.S. law requires gun manufacturers and importers to engrave other data on the gun. This includes the manufacturer, the make of the firearm and its caliber. The make code will be in parentheses after the manufacturer's name.

Look for this information on the frame, receiver or barrel of the gun. If you can find it and interpret it, you will be able to determine the make of the gun. But there are hundreds of make codes that may not appear logical. For example, the code for Bersa is AEI. And imported firearms can have as many as four different makers marked on one gun. Look online for firearm identification books and brochures that list some of the common makes. These may help you find the make of the firearm.

Asking for Help

If you can't figure out the make of the gun from information on the gun, consider asking a gun expert for help. You might take it into a gun shop, ask experts during a gun show, or even post a photo of the firearm online in a gun blog.

About the Author

From Alaska to California, from France's Basque Country to Mexico's Pacific Coast, Teo Spengler has dug the soil, planted seeds and helped trees, flowers and veggies thrive. World traveler, professional writer and consummate gardener, Spengler earned a BA from U.C. Santa Cruz, a law degree from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall, and an MA and MFA from San Francisco State. She currently divides her life between San Francisco and southwestern France.