The Importance of Gun Serial Numbers and Why They Are Required
Ghost guns can certainly be scary, but they pose a different kind of danger than the ghosts you might find in your local haunted house. The term “ghost gun” refers to a firearm that is not marked with an individualized serial number, either because that number has been obliterated illegally or because it is exempt from federal laws that require those markings.
A gun’s serial number is a unique identifier assigned to a singular firearm, and they have been a legal requirement for many years. They can be used to search for the make, model, and history of a gun, but the average individual is not privy to much of this information.
Ever since the Gun Control Act of 1968 went into effect, American firearms manufacturers were required to include a serial number on every gun’s frame or receiver for identification. The serial number requirement is still in effect, and in a Firearms Verification Guidebook issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE), the following serial number requirements are listed:
- 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.
About Privately Made Firearms, Their Legal Status, and Their Future
The complicated part about this law is that federal law does not require privately made firearms to have serial numbers or other identifiers. If it is intended for personal use, a ghost gun is exempt from federal regulation. It is illegal to sell or give away privately manufactured firearms without a license, and as you can see, there are strict laws surrounding serial numbers on guns.
As we all know, where there are laws, there will be outlaws. It is possible for criminals to create guns for private use, sale on the criminal market, or arming violent extremists, and because these guns do not have serial numbers, this crime can be difficult to manage.
The impact of ghost guns has been widespread. In May of 2020, CBS’s “60 Minutes” reported that 38 states had identified criminal cases involving ghost guns, and they had been used in at least four mass shootings. One man in Florida has even been convicted of making more than 200 ghost guns. While we can point to specific crimes of note like this, there is no telling the true number of ghost guns that are in circulation in the U.S. BATFE disclosed in May of 2021 that nearly 24,000 ghost guns had been recovered by law enforcement agencies in the past five years.
New Proposal From the Department of Justice to Address Ghost Guns
As we are seeing the instances of crime increase in this area, we are seeing law enforcement ramp up their efforts to put an end to it, particularly from the Biden administration. In May of 2021, the Biden administration proposed a new rule aiming to hold ready-to-assemble gun kits to many of the same legal standards as normal guns. This would be in an effort to prevent untraceable ghost guns from reaching those who are not normally allowed to buy firearms. The Department of Justice has proposed the following as part of the new rule:
- Companies that sell gun kits would be required to print serial numbers on the gun parts and run background checks for buyers, both of which are already required for fully assembled guns.
- The federal definition of a firearm would expand to include complete guns as well as kits that “may readily be assembled” to function as guns. It also broadens the definition of a gun receiver so it applies to “partially complete” items.
- Hobbyists would still be able to make their own guns, but licensed dealers would need to ensure that all 3-D printed or homemade guns are sold with serial numbers.
This proposal is still in its beginnings, and the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would need to formally publish it, at which point the 90-day period in which individuals can send in comments would begin. If you are a gun owner or looking to become one, it is always important to stay up to speed on the latest gun laws so you can remain a law-abiding citizen and steer clear of legal troubles.
If you would like to learn more about how to stay informed and protected from weapons charges, or have other criminal defense needs, call The Law Office of Brian C. Andritch at (559) 484-2112 or contact us online.