How does having a serial number on a firearm prevent crime?

How does having a serial number on a firearm prevent crime?

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That is a good question. I don’t know that the serial number prevents crime, but the ability to trace firearms transferrers does seem to help explain crimes committed with the firearms.


Obviously, it does not. The theory is that it can be traced back to the owner to solve the crime. However, as felons do not obtain their firearms legally, the trace only comes back to who originally bought it at the FFL that purchased the firearm from the firearm manufacturer. No crime that I am aware of was ever solved by tracing. What it does do is get the police to scrutinize the original purchaser.

Which still does not solve the crime. According to the ATF, the time to crime for firearms is about 12 or 15 years (I had posted the link on another thread, and the time to crime varies a bit from state to state). Based on the ATF tracing data, most firearms are sourced from within the state in which they are recovered. One other issue with tracing is that even the ATF - after finding who originally owned the firearm - does not return the firearm to the rightful owner. So the only purpose of tracing is that the purchaser becomes a potential criminal in their eyes, ala straw purchaser or whatever else they decide to try to get you on.


Conjecture on my part, and just my opinion…

IIRC, one of the research reports used by the Obama administration during their push for reasons to restrict firearms from the population stated that a significant number of guns used in crimes came from a few FFL’s that commonly disregarded the background check requirements… at least that was my take away. Someone (I don’t remember if it was myself) linked it a year or so ago in this forum, IIRC.

One could argue that tracing the serial numbers could identify FFL’s with a propencity for supplying those that don’t meet the current requirements to own a firearm. This might not stop crime, but could reduce firearms going to those with a history of illegal activity in the future.

However, I haven’t heard this argument in the media. Additionally, any restriction on an item or activity can create a “black market.” Therefore, IMO, if there is a potential for financial gains, even if one is taken out, another one will pop up in it’s place. What sort of equilibrium (e.g. restrictions vs % of those breaking the law) is accepted might depend on the political environment, and the people’s disposition to live with the restriction in order to keep the related crime down to a realistic level.

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No, they want serial numbers simply so big brother can keep tabs on who owns firearms, what type, and how many. Their assumption is that any type of “ghost gun” (I hate that term) is manufactured with the sole intent of committing crime.

Personally, I want serial numbers on my firearms so that I can identify them and claim ownership if there’s any kind of mixup. I can’t imagine when I would ever get it mixed up because that sort of implies that I lost track of my own firearm, but stuff happens. I remember cleaning up a stack of M16s that fell over; I guess that lesson never left me. Plus, at least there’s a snowball’s chance in Hell that they can be recovered if they are ever stolen. I had an old musket, once, without a serial number, so I left my mark between the barrel and the stock so I could identify it, if needed.


It prevents crime the same way no gun zones prevent gun crime. :crazy_face:


You mean it invites crime? :wink:


No way, who in the world would dare to violate a gun free zone? Why, it would be downright criminal!


Neither have I heard it from the ATF nor any other policing agency. Without source data, it is mere hearsay, aka, speculation. Please source your comment before claiming it to be true.

There are also safety reasons for serialization. If there is a safety concern with a range of manufactured weapons, a manufacturer could communicate, to the public, a range of serial numbers affected to afford them the opportunity to avoid using a dangerous (for other reasons than the obvious) weapon until issue is corrected or weapon replaced. Not that I believe this is the reason for serialization of weapons but…it is a real benefit of serialization.


Actually, the major manufacturers for that reason and others began serialization well before the government decided to mandate it for “crime control”.


@Ouade5 @Dave17

I cant find the “multi quote” for replies so I’m just doing the “@” thing…

Since the study I mentioned states:

In 1998, 1,020 of 83,272 federally licensed retailers (1.2 percent) accounted for 57.4 percent of all guns traced by the ATF (Wintemute et al., 2005).

…one may draw the conclusion that the ATF does trace guns to dealers. However, I don’t know how high on the priority list that is, nor how often this is used in practice.

@Dave17 I find it interesting that someone asks for a source to my comments when they haven’t sourced anything themselves. I’m sure that was an oversight on your part. I’m also not validating nor justifying anything in the report, but it’s out there for anyone that wants to read it. If anything my take away from it was a request for more goverment $$$ to those that are applying for grants to do more reports on the subject… common among many scientific studies in all fields.

Institute of Medicine and National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. 2013. Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence . Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

However, the statement I quoted was a sourced comment in the above report. The original analysis (cited in the quote) was more focused on one subject:

Wintemute GJ, Cook PJ, Wright MA. Risk factors among handgun retailers for frequent and disproportionate sales of guns used in violent and firearm related crimes. Inj Prev. 2005 Dec;11(6):357-63. doi: 10.1136/ip.2005.009969. PMID: 16326771; PMCID: PMC1730299.

The author did a later multivariate analysis in 2009 which might also be of interest:

Wintemute GJ. Disproportionate sales of crime guns among licensed handgun retailers in the United States: a case-control study. Inj Prev. 2009 Oct;15(5):291-9. doi: 10.1136/ip.2007.017301. PMID: 19805596.

*** Just a side query… if there is/was no federal registration for firearms, wouldn’t they have to trace the serial number to the dealers to get the paperwork with the purchaser’s info?

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I usually do source my facts. As I stated, I have referenced that in another post, so it isn’t like I have not done so. Easy enough to find out yourself as it is from the ATF (ATF tracing data as the search, here you go, was just so difficult, if you really wanted to learn). You should know me by now, I always have the source. I see you did not hyperlink your sources, nor provide the website, and you b-tch to me?


That told you what? That certain high population, high crime areas are more likely to have firearms sold to firearm owners? Wow, what a surprise.

That is what is done. The ATF contacts the manufacturer that tells them who they sold the firearm to (FFL). They then go to the FFL and find the sale record. Go to the ATF site, it explains the process, not difficult to understand.
How to do multi-quote is no different than doing one quote, just highlight the next comment you want to quote, and the same “quote” shortcut appears.

I don’t really understand the attitude and snarky comments. What are you trying to accomplish?

I gather you did not read what you wrote. What am I trying to accomplish? You might want to read your reply to me and ask that question to yourself.

I thought the serial number was so one could identify it if it was stolen or you needed to get something on it fixed.


Agree with that, warranties and recovery after theft. The VIN Number on my car will aid in recovery if the chasis is found after it has been stolen or if someone tries to sell to a dealership. The serial number on a Rolex can alert the same to a Jewelry reseller. Another use for serial numbers is for authentication, it can help to determine when an item was made, or if it is a valuable item or knockoff. So, one crime that can be prevented by a serial number is potentially fraud.


I didn’t even think about repairs. I was trying to imagine when I would lose custody of my own firearm and have to reclaim it. This is a legitimate example.

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The problem with that is the ATF does not, nor police departments, use tracing of crime guns to return property to their rightful owners. The ATF link I provided earlier also explains what they do with tracing. Returning property is not one of them.

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Did somebody say something about “tracing”? Neither ATF or PD are supposed to have any idea what serial numbers are on your firearms (or your stereo or microwave oven, for that matter). That’s what we’re fighting to prevent, anyway.

As others have observed, the recovery of stolen property begins when you report the theft, and you provide law enforcement with identifying information like serial numbers or custom paint job or your initials scraped on the bottom.

When your stuff shows up in the miscreant’s basement during some drug bust or domestic complaint (in plain sight, of course, unless they have a warrant to be looking for stolen property), then there’s some chance you’ll see it again. Also, it might help support your story about not being involved in the crime where your firearm (or microwave) was used feloniously.

Serial numbers are great! They just don’t belong to anyone except the owner of the property.