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We have written about auctioneers and firearms several times.

Today’s subject involves serial numbers on those firearms and similar devices.

In regard to firearms and serial numbers, we first identify two federal acts:

  • The National Firearms Act (NFA) became law on June 26, 1934. It requires serial numbers on machine guns, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, and the like.
  • The Gun Control Act (GCA) became law on October 22, 1968 and requires serial numbers on all firearms manufactured or imported into the United States.

Serial numbers on firearms must meet certain standards:

  • Must be conspicuously engraved, cast or stamped (impressed) on the firearm frame or receiver
  • The serial number cannot duplicate the serial number appearing on any other firearm the importer previously imported
  • For firearms imported after January 30, 2002, the engraving, casting or stamping (impressing) of the serial number must be to a minimum depth of .003 inch and in a print size no smaller than 1/16 inch

The major issue with firearm serial numbers is this: basically — if a firearm never had a serial number it can be sold, but if a firearm had a serial number and it was removed, it cannot be sold. Here are the applicable statutes:

    Per 26 U.S.C. § 5861(h), the NFA makes it a crime “to receive or possess a firearm [as defined by the NFA] having the serial number or other identification required by this chapter obliterated, removed, changed, or altered.”
    Per 18 U.S.C. 922 (k), the GCA says “It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to transport, ship, or receive, in interstate or foreign commerce, any firearm which has had the importer’s or manufacturer’s serial number removed, obliterated, or altered or to possess or receive any firearm which has had the importer’s or manufacturer’s serial number removed, obliterated, or altered and has, at any time, been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.”

Based on these two federal statutes, it appears to us that we can divide firearms into legal and illegal — to possess and/or transfer. Most material for auctioneers, these seem to be the rules to go by:

Legal firearms include:

  • A non-NFA firearm manufactured before October 22, 1968 that has a serial number or never had a serial number
  • A non-NFA firearm manufactured on/after October 22, 1968 that has a serial number

Illegal firearms include:

  • A non-NFA firearm manufactured before October 22, 1968 that had a serial number which was removed prior to October 22, 1968 (see below)
  • A non-NFA firearm manufactured before October 22, 1968 that had a serial number which was removed on/after October 22, 1968
  • A non-NFA firearm manufactured on/after October 22, 1968 that never had a serial number
  • A non-NFA firearm manufactured on/after October 22, 1968 that had a serial number which was removed

Possibly the most debated of these illegal circumstances is a non-NFA firearm which (voluntarily) had a serial number prior to October 22, 1968 and that serial number then was removed prior to October 22, 1968.

The details seem to be that while the removal of the serial number prior to October 22, 1968 is/was not an illegal act, possession of this same firearm beginning October 22, 1968 became illegal.

If you are an auctioneer selling firearms, serial numbers are a material part of the discussion.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College of Business, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and Faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University.