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Tech Spec: V20N5

By Rick Vasquez


Firearms and how they are marked are regulated by Title 18 United States Code, Chapter 44, which is also known as the Gun Control Act (GCA). Additionally, Title 27 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) gives further guidance on how to apply markings, where they should be applied, and in the case of the serial number, how deeply they must be applied. There are also ATF rulings that clarify the regulations and statutes.

The history of the requirement to serialize firearms is held in the National Firearms Act (NFA), the GCA, and the military requirement to mark firearms. Generally, it is stated that serial numbers were not required until the passage of the GCA in 1968. Though this date is a drop dead requirement under United States Code, that all firearms made in the United States or imported into the United States would be required to be serialized, the serial number requirements go back to the founding of our nation. In 1775 through 1778, when the first martial arms were produced at Springfield armory, an attempt was made to mark all of the lock pieces and barrels of the muskets being produced. This method of marking was abandoned and then later implemented after 1812. (Lewis, Berkeley R. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Volume (Whole Volume), Small Arms and Ammunition in the United States Service, (With Plates).

The NFA was enacted in 1934, and it required the registration of certain firearms such as machineguns, silencers, and sawed-off weapons. As part of the registration process, a serial number was required. This is, most likely, the first U. S. regulation that required serial numbers on a category of firearms.

There was still not a requirement for all commercial firearms to have a serial number, nor was there a structure that must be followed. Though it was not required, most manufacturers were applying serial numbers on firearms they produced. Many of these firearms manufacturer’s serial numbers were duplicated or used over again between models. A manufacturer could make a pistol and a shotgun and use the same serial number on both firearms. These...


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