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.