Walther pps 9mm

The Importance Of Keeping Your Firearm’s Serial Numbers Handy


Firearm serial numbers.  They’re normally located on the barrel and the upper receiver but depending upon the age of the gun — there may only be one.  It’s the number that gets pulled for the Form 4473 that gets saved alongside the authentication of the background check.

Whoops!  The gun got stolen.  Bad news.  Bad news for you, the gunowner, and potentially bad news for someone else.  Well, let’s be responsible about this.  Why are your gun serial numbers important and what’s the best way to store them?

Option 1: Keep The Bill Of Sale Separate From The Firearm

When you purchase a gun — whether through private sale or through a dealer — make sure that bill of sale has the serial number written on it.  Keep that receipt in a separate file cabinet.  Most thieves don’t want to go through your old tax records from 2005 and they’d likely miss a folder with gun receipts in it.  If that doesn’t float your boat, keep it in a separate locked container — make them work for that information.

Option 2: Electronically Record The Serial Numbers

If you understand basic encryption techniques, you know how to encrypt an external hard drive or thumb drive.  You can keep this thumb drive taped to the bottom of a desk or anywhere you please.  Please keep it away from sources of direct heat or high electromagnetic interference (like a transformer or magnets).

If you don’t know how to encrypt a thumb drive or external hard drive, there are some really good tutorials and open source software available on the internet.

Here’s one boring tutorial for you.  It’s using TrueCrypt — which is a pretty reputable open source encryption utility.


There’s plenty of other ways but just make sure you remember the password.  If you forget the password — the information is useless.

Option 3: A Combination Of Both

It’s always good to have a paper backup.  An encrypted copy can be convenient and useful.  Both can be stored separately in case something catastrophic happens like fire or flood.  Some people store the information in their gun safe.  If you have an extremely heavy safe that’s not getting wheeled out of your house easily, that’s a solution.  If it’s something that can be lifted easily be two strong men and a dolly, it’s a risk — but what isn’t?

The reason firearm serial numbers are so important is, obviously, extricating yourself from the liability of your firearm being used without your consent or permission.  In the event your gun is stolen or lost, that serial number can be used to inform law enforcement of the particulars.

Unfortunately, even if law enforcement recover the firearm, if it was used in the commission of a crime or just found in the possession of someone who shouldn’t have it — it’s now evidence.  You will likely have to wait for the adjudication process to conclude before you can go in and retrieve it.

We have a nice article about civil forfeiture if you’re curious about that process.

The responsible thing to do after a firearm is stolen or lost is report it.  Reporting it helps law enforcement know what they may be going up against.  It will also be crucial when you try to recover it later on.

Categories: Beginners Guide, General
About James England | View all posts by James England

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry…

James England is a Marine Corps veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and has served as a defense contractor in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His daily concealed carry handgun is a Glock 36 in a Lenwood Holsters Specter IWB or his CZ-75D PCR in an Alien Gear MOD holster.

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  • jw

    Another option: Save it in the cloud. A thief would also have to be a skilled hacker to even figure out where to look (amazon s3, Google drive, onedrive, dropbox), then to figure out my email and finally figure out my password. With Multi Factor authentication it would be impossible to find.

    • Chris Lee

      The cloud is not a place you want to store anything you care about or deem as sensitive information. Professional experience (web designer/developer) here telling you that, I’ve counted on Google Drive and Dropbox both to deliver projects to clients and while for the most part it’s 100% reliable, it’s not by any means “safe” and it’s by no means reliable enough for information you deem to be sensitive.

      No offense, just another opinion. The best thing to do is keep hard copies of sensitive information in a secure location in your home and off premises like a safe deposit box. The odds of the bank and your house being broken into or burning down are unlikely.

      • Is a serial number sensitive, or just something you don’t want to lose? If a thief stole your gun(s), then they already have the serial number(s). I’m not sure about reliability, but I’ve never heard that cloud storage is any less reliable than local storage mediums.

        • Chris Lee

          It’s not that your serial numbers are sensitive, but the way the article makes it sound is like it is. I don’t believe in cloud storage as being the most secure and reliable medium from professional and personal experience.

          • ookoshi

            The reality is, as long as you’re actually good about following password rules and using two-factor authentication, Putting an encrypted file on Google Drive + safe deposit box is is probably just as safe as “physical copies at home + safe deposit box.” The odds of Google Drive going down and your bank burning down is almost extremely remote. The odds of an account with a two-factor authentication system in place being broken into specifically to target sensitive information like your firearm serial numbers is about as remote as your home being broken into.

            I understand many of us who work in IT think physical copies are some sort of magical solution, but they are not, and as long as you are sufficiently safety conscious, using cloud services is not a big deal.

            The reason things like two-factor authentication and public key encryption exists is specifically because we need a way to send sensitive information across public networks. The idea that you can’t store sensitive information in some form online is ridiculous.

  • Anita Alsup Page Hurlburt is a cool kit to keep track of all your firearms. It is manual but it is small enough to keep in a safe deposit box or some place away from your firearms, and it is un-hackable. And the kit is easily expandable too.