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By James England via concealednation.org

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 is saved alongside the authentication of the background check. Whoops! Your gun is stolen. That’s bad news. Bad news for you and potentially bad news for someone else. Well, let’s be responsible about this. Why are your guns’ 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 somewhere safe. 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 them a separate locked container — make them work for that information.

Option 2: Electronically Record The Serial Numbers
If you understand basic encryption techniques, you may want to store your serial numbers on an external hard drive or thumb drive. You can keep the drive taped to the bottom of a desk or just about anywhere you please. 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 a particularly boring, but effective one for you. It’s using TrueCrypt — which is a pretty reputable open source encryption utility.

There are plenty of other methods. Just make sure you remember the password. If you forget that — the information is useless.

Option 3: A Combination Of Both
Since two is one and one is none, t’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 likely to get wheeled out of your house, 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, the potential need to extricate 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 and file an insurance claim.

Unfortunately, even if law enforcement recovers 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 becomes evidence. You will likely have to wait for the adjudication process to conclude before you can retrieve it. Even then, good luck

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.

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60 Responses to Pro Tip: Keep Your Gun Serial Numbers Handy

    • I view encrypting everything like locking the doors on my house. I’m not worried about my old runners being stolen, but if they’re in the house what else might they take that I do care about.

  1. I keep a spreadsheet of all my serial numbers on Google Drive. I also keep pictures of everything on Dropbox. That way if anything happens, I have both.

    • Yup, I made a Numbers spreadsheet of all my gun stuff (including a Reloading page where I can find the powder charges, bullet weights and Lee powder disk hole numbers for all my reloads, very handy to have with you) in Dropbox so I can get it from any device I have. Very handy. Now that you mention it, I believe I will also add photos.

    • I stopped using Google Drive for sensitive information when it became obvious that Google will hand everything you’ve stored with them over to the feds at the drop of a hat.

      I use an alternate method now.

    • Spreadsheet is in drop box, and also lists price paid and where/when bought.

      Sounds like we’re all in the same chapter if not exactly on the same page.

  2. I record my serial numbers on the side of my guns.
    Some of my guns have no serial numbers recorded on the side of them – but those are pre-68 or home builds.

    • Fire, one of the most common casualties in the country. Unless you put the notebook in a safety deposit box. Which by the way is even better than a home safe for storing such things. Even better, take pictures of ALL your valuables (making sure the date is visible in the image) and store that, either a print copy, thumb driver, disc, whatever, in the safety deposit box where it can be recovered in case of fire or theft. Especially include any expensive rugs, art, jewelry and firearms, sterling silverware, antiques, and the like, even TVs, stereo and computer equipment, cameras, etc.

      • Mark has good advice.

        I had a house fire, it’s something you really don’t want to have to go through.

        Once you gather up that info, spread (encrypted) copies around, IE, family or close friends.

        A fire-resistant box is cheap, just make sure you store it on the floor. Heat rises.

        I gave Jeremy S some static about his big jug of gunpowder he stores on *top* of his safe. Store combustibles *low*!

        If you have something you value like keepsakes, photos, etc. store it as low as possible without risk of flooding, IE, basements but a few inches off the slab.

        • Placing your firebox where it won’t fall into a (now water filled) basement is good. Also at a location where won’t have 20 tons of falling upper story/roof collapsing on it. I suggest a garage (if doesn’t have upper story rooms above).

          Better yet, spend less on fancy countertops and misc geegaws (she will eventually get over it or not) and install residential sprinklers and SAVE YOUR HOUSE FROM THE FIRE.

      • Well if there’s a fire hot enough to eliminate any identifiable trace of the firearms in my safe, I’ll deal with the insurance company when the time comes. I doubt a thief is going to take the time going through every scrap piece of paper in my house. Anyway, I’ve also got the receipts in the original boxes, which won’t be surviving the fire, of course.

      • If your notebook gets burned up in a fire, don’t you still have the “hard copy” engraved on the guns?

        Seems to me the only time a record of serial numbers is going to be necessary is in the case of theft. And a thief who just scored a bunch of guns isn’t going to go through your desk looking for your notebook of serial numbers.

        I suppose an F-5 tornado could destroy your house and scatter everything for miles around. Then an offsite copy (digital or paper) would be handy.

    • +1 on this; TrueCrypt isn’t really considered “reputable” anymore, largely because the team said something to the effect of: we’re not working on it anymore, and you can’t consider it reputable anymore, since it isn’t maintained.

    • Ditto and beat me to it. If you do not have install files originally downloaded from the now defunct project I’d be wary of using it along with it being no longer supported for undisclosed reasons (allegedly they didn’t want to work on the project anymore).

      That said I still use Truecrypt for now.

  3. The question remains un-answered: Why not a clear and focused photograph of the firearm that shows the serial number? These can also be saved on flashdrives or the cloud and printed copies can be stored in safe locations.

    • I micro-stamp mine on the primer of every bullet I fire. I am assured by politicians that this is an efficient and effective way to record my serial numbers.

  4. Also folks, please remember that if you ever post photos of your firearms on the internet, ALWAYS put some duct tape over the serial # beforehand. Or if it needs to be seen for collectible research purposes, only reveal part of it.

    Anyone who sees your gun online, thinks it’s pretty, and knows that number can call the ATF and report it as stolen. While I’ve never met anyone this has happened to, it never hurts to cover your @$$ beforehand.

  5. Guns are recorded with the insurance company and also in an encrypted word document stored in my accounts folder in gmail. It’s worthless without the decryption key which is stored in my brain and would take a desktop PC 125 thousand years to crack.

  6. I make use of NM Collector freeware version run in portable mode up in an encrypted container on cloud storage. Keeps firearm pictures, numbers, accessories, maintenance records, values, etc… accessible from anywhere.

    It was a pain to enter the backlog and set it all up but now it’s super sweet.

    • I’ve not seen/used this program, but it sounds like what I’m looking for. Thanks for the heads-up!

      I think it’s also important to record modifications to your firearms. I know not everyone makes expensive mods to their guns, but I have several Ruger 10/22 rifles that I paid less than $200 each for, and they both have over $800 worth of modifications (bull barrels, trigger assemblies, replacement stocks, etc.). Same for my ARs; many mods, all of which cost money that I’d like to recover a portion of if they are ever lost/destroyed.

      Another thing to record is a description of any optics on your firearms. Many high-end optics have a serial number just like the guns, so recording it along with all the other info might help boost your insurance claim. Again, I have many less-expensive and middling-expensive firearms that have scopes or dot-sights that are worth more than the gun.

      When I started buying guns many years ago, I kept a list of models and serial numbers, and nothing else. Now I have a detailed list that includes serial number, model, caliber (sometimes this can change with drop-in conversion barrels), and a sub-list of all add-on-type modifications and optic mounted to each firearm. A photo of each side of the firearm is added, and at least one close-up photo of the serial number.

  7. “Why are your guns’ serial numbers important and what’s the best way to store them? . . .”

    Why the flaming hell are we protecting serial numbers from theft? And you forgot to mention why they are important! Seriously, you think somebody is searching thru tax records, or something, desperate to know the serial numbers of your guns? What FOR? I pay zero attention to SNs, if my guns are stolen, whether they’re recovered or not they will never be returned to me, so why bother to report it?

    This whole thread seems really paranoid, and silly to boot. Maybe some other state has laws about SNs that make this important, but I don’t see how.

    • Some states make it real PITA to recover a gun, even if the police seized it from your own home, and even if it is registered to you, without “proof of ownership,” that usually requires a bill of sale, evidence of the serial number, and a colonoscopy. It is a game the police play so that they can “lawfully” keep your gun. Tehre was an article about just this here yesterday.Several counties in California have successfully been sued for doing just that–but it hasn’t managed to deter the others engaged in such games.

    • Well, oddly enough on a local gun forum a guy just had a S&W third gen returned to him after it was stolen in 2000. When it was stolen he turned the SN to the police, and 15 years later someone tried to pawn it. He has it back now.

      • Not in Floriduh. Most places have police that are far more corrupt.

        I don’t bother keeping track of my serial numbers. Because, as stated above, I’ll never get them back anyway.

        Criminals are nothing more than the convenient proxy by which cops get to own my stuff… No wonder it’s a revolving door justice system.

        • If a detailed police report is filed when guns are stolen, they often will turn-up years later. I see it happen quite regularly on the various firearm discussion forums. Even if you don’t trust your local PD to do the right thing, sometimes the department that recovered the gun in another state/locality will contact you directly.

          Occasionally, a person who received an insurance settlement might have to discuss the situation with their insurance company, but rest assured, the return of stolen guns DOES happen fairly regularly — but only if a good detailed report (with serial and model numbers) was filed at the time of the theft.

        • Guess it depends on where in FL. I had a 357 stolen in 93 that turned up at a drug raid in 2007. Perp was busted for the drugs and being a felon in possession. I got the gun back from Pinellas Co. sheriff in 2009. It was pretty rough when it came home buf I did get it back. They called me in 07 saying it had been recovered. I knew when it was stolen and had the serial number.

      • There is only one cop that I believe returns people’s guns and that’s
        Accur81″ – a common commenter on this blog.

  8. In the service, guys living in the barracks were required to fill out a “High Value Items Inventory” with a list of all their stuff that cost more than $200 along with the serial numbers. All Privately Owned Weapons were in the Arms room, but your TV, stereo, PC, etc would be on there.

    I still do that (although now it includes firearms), and I keep a relatively up-to-date copy in my safe deposit box. If anyone steals our stuff, the police get a by serial number list of everything we have that has any significant value.

    • God I hated being the HDV NCO. Didn’t help that I was the armorer, too. Keeping M2HB’s up to snuff? Fun. Being anal retentive about serial numbers, not so much.

  9. I will add having pictures of your guns (the whole gun as well as a closeup with the serial) s very helpful when filing an insurance claim. I had 3 guns stolen in a vehicle break in and it made the whole insurance filing process as painless as it can be (I’ll give you a hint, it kind of feels like being robbed twice). Having photos and receipts made the entire process a whole lot less miserable from filing the police report and getting my money from the insurance co. It even helped when one of the guns was recovered in a drug bust 3 weeks later, if there was a silver lining to be found in the whole ordeal.

    • ” It even helped when one of the guns was recovered in a drug bust 3 weeks later, if there was a silver lining to be found in the whole ordeal.”

      How does the insurance company deal with a recovered gun after they paid a claim?

      Do you get a letter asking for a refund of what they paid you?

      • Short answer: yes, they paid out for it so it is officially “theirs” so to get it back you would have to pay them what they paid you to get your property returned. The PD that recovered it sent it back to the Sheriff’s office in the county where it was originally stolen, but they would not return it to me until Allstate signed off that everything was ok to release it back to me (as it is their property since they already paid it, if you take it without paying them, that is called insurance fraud). I ended up not having to pay for it, but my case was unique and involved a lot of time on the phone with Allstate to make sure everything was kosher, (read more below if you have an hour)

        Long answer: my situation was unique, it was a vehicle break in, and the firearms were basically the only valuable thing stolen (they got a really nice REI day pack, and a leather monogrammed shaving kit my parents had gotten me for my college graduation, and some clothes I had packed for 2-3 days at the ranch, but that stuff was only about 1/3 of the total value stolen). So two things happened, first, because theft goes on your homeowner’s insurance policy it is subject to your homeowner’s deductible (usually 1% of the total loss value stated on your policy). Second, Allstate (and most other insurance providers in Texas) cap firearms coverage at 2k unless you add a special rider for high value items, which was fine because I only owned a rifle and pistol at the time. However, my dad was with me, and his pistol got stolen too, so we were a good bit above the amount covered by my policy. So they applied the total value of everything stolen to the deductible, and paid out what was leftover, firearms were capped at 2k leaving about $600-$700 on the table (basically one of the pistols wasn’t covered). So when I got the call from the Sheriff’s dept. that an ATF trace on a gun recovered at a drug bust matched my stolen pistol I called the detective handling the case at the PD that recovered the pistol to confirm I could get it back after the case was complete, and then I immediately called the claims adjuster who I had worked with and explained the situation. It hadn’t even been a full month, and the check had literally cleared the bank a few days prior, so he still remembered me. I told him what was up, and after a little bit of back and forth, I made the case that the recovered pistol was less than the value that was not covered by the 2k firearms cap and then got his confirmation in writing that he would release the pistol to me without me owing them anything. 8 months later, POS drug dealer was finally behind bars, and my pistol was back at the Sheriff’s office. All they needed was the confirmation from Allstate that I could have my property back (because otherwise you would be committing insurance fraud). Here is where the written record from that conversation 8 months ago was crucial, because my claims adjuster was no longer working at Allstate, and the new person tried to have me fork over the 600 they had paid out for the pistol, a quick confirm later though and they phoned the Sheriff’s office and released my pistol.

  10. What if most of your guns don’t have serial numbers because you made them yourself?

    Isn’t this a lot like self-gun-registration? Especially when you put it in the cloud… [facepalm] Everything in the cloud is essentially in government hands. The 4th Amendment does not apply in the cloud, or even on your own computer, now that Apple and Microsoft have both admitted that they roll over to mere requests, no warrant needed. Consumers asked to give away the keys to the mansion to the corporate butlers because they couldn’t be asked to take care of their own computers, and that’s what happens… Might was well publish it in the newspaper…

    And, if you’re encrypting them, that might be a cool way to keep the record… Newspaper records live forever…

  11. Good practice. I’ve got more he on a flash drive and in a paper notebook. The flash drive is at a friends house and his flash drive is at mine.
    Side note- we had a local gun store burgled and he lost close to 100 guns.
    They all got entered into NCIC. They were still trickling in from places like Alaska over 10 years later.
    Know your make, model, caliber and serial numbers!

  12. Back in the early 80’s a number of my guns were stolen from my parent’s house in Illinois while they were on vacation.

    I had recorded the purchases in a logbook noting from whom purchased/date/serial number. When law enforcement came to look into the theft they were quite pleased that the information was available, which in part contributed to the successful return of a 6″ Python about 2 years later. Insurance reimbursed me for the remaining losses.

    When located the (arresting?) officer put his initials on the trigger guard with a sharpie pen rather than with a metal scribe (bless him)… That Python is still in the family.

  13. I have mine on my computer in a spreadsheet, I also have them in my gun safe and then have them in my financial planners online safe.totally away from personal control. I also have a copy in a safe deposit box.

  14. Spreadsheets are good, but databases were made for this, and do much better.

    There are plenty of database aps for iOS and Android now that make home inventory, including firearms inventory, a snap.

    One I’ve used in the past is MyStuff. It used to be free, but now has paid/lite/pro versions. Built in ability to add pictures right from the phone, categorize items, item cost, Serial #s, etc. The new version can even read barcodes off items, and auto-populate an entry. Looks like data import/export from multiple formats is also possible.

  15. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Evernote. It’s a great app to store everything you might want to look at again, from receipts to your lists of things to do. They will keep your data forever for free, and a free and paid plans (if you stop paying, you can switch to the free plans, and your data stays safe. Win, Mac, browser, Android, iOS, and others.

    Also, Lastpass can store your text data (set up for passwords), it is a zero knowledge system, your data is only encrypted on your systems, they cannot access your information, only the encrypted blob of data.

  16. I would also advise a backup of your flash drive such as a second flash drive stored in a location physically different than the first. Generally if flash storage fails there is no recovering data without extreme expense. Physically separating two copies helps to prevent both from being lost due to fire, theft, natural disaster, etc.

    Encryption of sensitive data with a strong password is important. Flash drives with built in encryption (hardware or software based) that are even FIPS compliant are not too expensive. A utility that encrypts storage or creates encrypted file containers is another excellent option. As suggested there are many free or paid utilities available. I would not rely on or consider strong the native encryption of an access database, excel spreadsheet, or word document.

    If you worry about remembering a strong password use the advice of the above posted XKCD comic or do what I do. I generate a password randomly using a combination of utilities then further complicate it. This is the really applicable part here, I then write it out by hand as many times as necessary to remember it. I then burn the paper it was written on. Typing it numerous times is also helpful.

    I also do not recommend using the same account name and password for multiple things. To this end a password database if very helpful but not without its own risks. If you must store passwords in clear text format never store it in context of what account it goes to or what site.

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