How to Track the Serial Number of a Gun

How to Track the Serial Number of a Gun

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Keeping track of your gun's serial number is crucial, in case your firearm is ever lost or stolen. In a few easy steps, you can track this important information – which can absolve you from liability should your gun be stolen and used in a crime. From the time the gun enters your possession to the time it leaves, here's the best way to track it.

Check Before You Buy

Go online. Ask the gun seller to supply you with the serial number so you can enter it on sites like HotGunz, where people who have guns stolen from them can submit the serial numbers. Enter the gun's serial number; if it's not listed, the gun has not been registered on the site as stolen. Keep in mind that a gun could still be stolen but not listed on a website, because people who don't keep track of their gun's serial numbers don't have any way to report them.

Go to the police. Check to see if your local police station will perform a National Crime Information Center (NCIC) check to see if any police reports have been filed listing the gun as stolen. The police usually require the gun to be in your possession, because they need to accurately input information such as make, model and barrel length. Keep in mind that if the gun shows up as stolen, it will be confiscated.


  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is the only agency authorized to run a trace on a gun serial number to see if it has been involved in a crime. Law enforcement can only legally use this service when a gun is involved in bona fide criminal investigations.

Sealing the Deal

If you're buying the gun from anyone but a licensed firearms dealer, get a notarized bill of sale from the seller documenting the gun's serial number and description. If your new gun is ever identified as having been involved in a crime, this paper documents when you came into possession of it. Keep the notarized document in your bank safety deposit box or another safe spot where you won't lose track of it in the event it's ever needed.

Take a Picture

Keeping a picture of your gun along with a closeup of its serial number on the Cloud can provide you with an easy way to keep track of your gun's serial number. Should your gun be lost or stolen, you won't have to wait until your bank opens to access your safe deposit box to get its serial number; simply access your photos on your smartphone or a computer.

Parting Ways

If you decide to sell your gun in the future, don't let it leave your possession without a notarized bill of sale. List the gun's serial number and description, and have the notary make a copy for you as well as for the buyer. Put your copy in your safe deposit box and hold onto it forever. Should your gun ever turn to a life of crime, the finger won't be pointed at you as long as you can prove it was no longer in your possession. This step is especially important if you purchased your firearm through a licensed dealer and filled out a Form 4473 that shows the ATF that you were the gun's original owner.


  • Not all states allow private individuals to sell their guns without using a licensed firearms dealer. California, for example, requires private party transfers to go through a licensed firearms dealer who will charge a fee of $10 or less.

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