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Unless you buy a gun brand new, there is a risk that the weapon may have been stolen or used in a crime. The easiest way to check a gun's history is to obtain the serial number from the body of the gun and then ask a gun professional to run a stolen weapons search. Some websites also have searchable public databases of stolen registered weapons.
Locate the Serial Number
Every registered gun has a serial number associated with it. You can find this listed in the owner's manual and plainly printed on the body of the gun, usually on the handle, trigger guard, slide or receiver. Licensed firearms dealers such as gun stores and pawn shops are obligated to keep records of the firearms they sell. You could also contact the dealer and see if it has a record of the serial number. If the dealer has gone out of business, contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The ATF keeps the firearms sales records of licensed dealers who have gone bust.
Run a Police Search
The local police department or sheriff's office can run a gun serial number search for you using the national ATF eTrace database. Police records will indicate whether the gun was reported lost or stolen or was used in a crime. Some law enforcement departments – for example, the Florida Crime Information Center – provide a free online search tool for stolen property within the state. Visit the law enforcement website of your state to see if it offers this service.
Ask the Internet
The HotGunz Stolen Firearms Database maintains a free, searchable database of stolen firearms (see Resources). Enter the gun's serial number without spaces, dashes or other special characters in the 'Search the Stolen Gun Database' box. HotGunz is a user-submitted database, which means that gun owners self-report the information that their firearms were lost or stolen. Searching the database is quick and easy, but it isn't a substitute for an official police check.
Vintage guns may not have serial numbers printed on their bodies. Identify the gun's make and model by visiting the manufacturer's website; there may also be tips there as to where to find the serial number. For a fee, an antique gun dealer or gun shop might also be able to run a basic search on the history of the gun. Sometimes a lineage of previous owners can be composed, and you should be able to figure out the age and primary use of the gun.
What to Do With a Bad Weapon History
It is illegal for dealers to sell guns that were stolen or lost or are wanted by law enforcement. If you discover that a firearm has a suspicious history, report it to the police. As a responsible gun owner, you might also add the serial number to the HotGunz database. You should also report any gun that doesn't have a serial number printed on its body. A filed-off or worn serial number is a strong indicator of a stolen gun.
Every gun has a serial number. The serial number can tell you the manufacturer's date and model. Finding out whether or not a gun you purchased has been reported stolen can also be determined from a gun's serial number. If you want to look up information about a gun, you can contact the gun manufacturer or your local police, or visit online databases to find out whether the gun is stolen.
Locate the Gun Serial Number
The serial number can be found in many different locations. Typically the serial number can be found on the handle, slide, trigger guard or receiver. There is no typical serial number. For example, a Browning serial number can range in length from eight to ten characters, a Glock number is only five characters long. Serial numbers can contain both numbers and letters. A serial number is stamped in metal so it doesn't wear easily. If a serial number is worn, try looking for the serial number in a different place on the gun (some guns will have more than one serial number). A worn or filed-off serial number is an indicator of a stolen gun.
Contact the Manufacturer
Call the gun manufacturer or go to the manufacturer's website to access their online search tool. There is no central resource for gun manufacturers. See Resources for the gun manufacturer's online directory of many gun manufacturer websites. For lesser-known manufacturers, you can conduct a search online or look at your user manual for contact information. Submit the gun serial number to the representative over the phone or enter it into the search field online. Write down the gun manufacturing date and the gun model as provided by the representative or online search tool.
Check the search tool in the state where you purchased the gun. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement agencies, for instance, provides a free online search tool. If that gun is reported stolen, the search tool will display that information. You can conduct a search online for checking firearm serial numbers in your state, or go directly to the police department as described in step two.
Gun Value By Serial Number
Visit Your Local Police Department
Give the officer the gun serial number and ask him to run a check on the gun. If the gun was ever reported stolen anywhere in the United States, the officer will be able to tell you. The police department will run the gun's serial number through the FBI's NCIC database which records all stolen guns that have been reported in every state.
Enter the serial number into a third-party website like HotGunz or StolenWeapon. A gun owner may register the gun with one of these sites after he realizes that it is stolen. These sites, therefore, can only tell you if the gun has been previously registered to them as stolen, not if the gun has been reported stolen to a law enforcement agency.