Writer has handgun serial number question.


August 16, 2011, 08:38 PM
Good Evening. I am jpod and I am a mystery/thriller author. I need some assistance with a technical point for my current novel. Is there a handgun that has the serial number located in more than one place? So, if a perpetrator obliterates the serial number of a stolen gun, the serial number may be present in another area (e.g. under the grip, etc) that would allow the police to prove that he is the person who stole it? I would need to know the make and model of this gun. Thank you.

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August 16, 2011, 09:43 PM
Not that I know of, but serial numbers are most often stamped. Even if the actual stamping is ground off there is affected metal beneath, of higher density than the rest of the frame. Using electrical/chemical methods one can sometimes 'read' the serial number from the affected material below.

Old Fuff
August 16, 2011, 09:45 PM
In what time period does your story take place? It used to be a common practice to stamp the serial number on various parts to insure that in final assembly the right parts got back into the correct frame or receiver.

Also Smith & Wesson used to stamp the serial number on the butt, but when stocks became popular that covered the butt they moved the number to the frame behind the yoke cut-out (the "yoke" is the hinge part the cylinder swings out on). During other times on the inside of the sideplate, back of the cylinder, bottom of the barrel, under the extractor star, inside of each grip panel - and of course the butt... :uhoh:

I could go on and on...

August 16, 2011, 09:52 PM
In many cases removed or defaced serial numbers can be recovered by a police lab. It's a fairly common technology that has been around for decades.

In the U.S. the "official" serial number is the number on the frame. The manufacturer may have marked a serial number in another place, like the barrel for instance, but those serial numbers have no legal standing. The only "valid" number that is used for any sort of legal purpose is the serial number on the frame.

And, yes, there have been many handguns made over the years with the serial numbers marked in more then one location.

Here's an easy example for you. Many S&W revolvers have the serial number stamped on the bottom of the butt of the gun. With the original wood factory grips the serial number is visible. However, if someone replaces the grips with an older set of oversize Houge rubber grips the grips will cover the serial number. (Newer Houge grips are made to allow the serial number to still be seen).

If someone is not familiar with that revolver the only thing that "looks like" the serial number are the numbers etched in the crane of the revolver that are visible when you open the cylinder. The thing is, those are usually a part number used to keep all the parts of that revolver together during assembly and is not the same as the serial number and is not actually the serial number.

Essentially, someone has a pistol, the rubber grips cover the real serial number, the bad guy doesn't know this so he "erases" what he *thinks* is the serial number in the crane. The police recover the gun, notice the crude attempt to erase the serial number on the crane, but simply remove the grips to reveal the real serial number hidden under the grip the bad guy didn't even know about.

I have a Smith & Wesson Model 15 .38 Special revolver where the real serial number is not visible under the rubber Houge grips that has a different "assembly number" on the crane that could be mistaken for a serial number by someone who doesn't know better. (That's a six shot .38 Special revolver with a 4" barrel, adjustable sights, and blued finish, btw).

August 16, 2011, 09:57 PM
Here are pictures of a Smith & Wesson for you.

August 16, 2011, 10:03 PM
My CZ P-01 has the serial on the barrel visible through the ejection port, and down near the muzzle on the slide, but both are quite visible. I agree on the Smith serial and assembly number confusion - when I got my Smith 10-8 approved as an alternative off duty gun, the armorer told me that I had the wrong serial number on my paperwork. When I showed him the correct one, he insisted on writing both of them down on my form, to my vast amusement. I have Pachmeyer presentation grips that cover the bottom of the butt and the true serial number thereon.

Zak Smith
August 16, 2011, 10:04 PM
Glocks have the serial number on the three principal components: frame (the "legal" serial number), slide, and barrel.

August 16, 2011, 10:10 PM
Glocks have the serial number on the three principal components: frame (the "legal" serial number), slide, and barrel.
Doesn't Springfield do the same thing for the XDm?

August 17, 2011, 12:01 AM
At one time Sigs had their serial Nos. in three places; barrel, slide, and frame. My P6 is that way but, I think they are getting away from that now.

August 17, 2011, 12:14 AM
I just thought I'd mention again that before you take this plot point too far how relatively easy it is for the police to recover a defaced or "filed off" serial number. The procedure for doing so has been around for decades and newer high tech ways of doing it have made it even easier.

Just a thought before you hang too much on the idea that the "bad guy would have got away with it because he removed the serial number but didn't know about the second serial number" idea.

August 17, 2011, 12:31 AM
I believe that under current Federal law, just posessing a gun with an obliterated serial number is a Federal felony, whether the posessor is the one that originally stole it, or not. Mere posession of a stolen gun does not prove that the posessor is the one who stole it, and there is no way that I know of to prove who stole or used a gun by the serial number alone. That's why stolen guns that are used in crimes are usually destroyed, thrown away, or sold to other criminals as fast as the shooter can get rid of it after the crime is comitted. Nobody with any sense would use a gun with a paper trail from a legal purchase in their own name to comit a crime.

August 17, 2011, 01:04 AM
Mg357 ?

August 17, 2011, 02:39 AM
My Perfected in 38S&W has the serial number in 3 locations. under grip, face of cylinder and on rear sight. as posted above i believe this was to facilitate assembly.

August 17, 2011, 06:05 AM
Most European made guns will have the SN on frame, slide and barrel. USA made guns are usually frame only. Some (maybe all) S&W revolvers have the SN on the butt as well as inside the frame. The one on the butt cannot be seen with most grips installed.

All my bolt action rifles have the last few digits of the SN on the bolt. This is to ensure the correct bolt goes out the door with the correct rifle since the bolt is not always with the gun during production.

August 17, 2011, 12:39 PM
I'd be interested to see what kind of fictional point you'll cook up with this topic.

The receiver stamp is the one that ID's the gun, really. The other parts could just as easily have come off another gun at some point in time and won't necessarily match.

I've owned several old service rifles with unmatching serial numbers on the bolt and receiver. If I scratched off the serial number of the receiver, one would be incorrect to try to use the bolt serial number as a means to ID the gun. It is very common to find guns (especially like old service rifles) which have had serial numbered parts changed out during their lifespan for one reason or another (part breakage, undesireable headspacing, etc).

August 17, 2011, 01:06 PM
Some older guns have no serial number at all, as it was not required, but are still in circulation. Also filing or scratching off a serial number might be ineffective, but while I was in the Army, CID recovered an M16A2 that they were sure was US property. The problem was that the entire portion of the magwell that had the info was cut out with a drill press. The guy still went to jail for possesing an unregister MG, but they could'nt prove it was a military weapon.

August 17, 2011, 01:49 PM
my HK also has it in a few places


but all places are highly visible....the barrel and slide you really cant miss, and if you flip the gun upside down you can see it on the frame, its even on a stainless plate with black lettering, so it really pops out

if someone was removing serial numbers, they couldnt miss any of the 3

also note - a lot of states dont have registration - so there may not even be a point to take the number off....here in ohio, no registration...so any gun ive bought here, if stolen and used in a crime, would never trace back to me because they arent registered to me....private sale or ffl

August 17, 2011, 10:41 PM
Thank you all for your informative replies. It is a contemporary story. Basically, the private eye (the protagonist in my novels) disarms an intruder who tries to kill him. The intruder escapes, but the private eye retains the gun and notices that the serial number on the barrel has been obliterated. However, when he removes the grip, he finds the serial number that was stamped on the frame. This serial number allows him to trace the handgun to its original owner (not the intruder)--- a key aspect of the plot.
Hope this explains why I needed this information. Any and all comments are welcome. I appreciate your help.

August 17, 2011, 11:48 PM
jpod, how do you plan to link the serial number to the original owner? Do you plan to have the protagonist contact the manufacturer? Or was the weapon reported stolen and the owner gave the SN to the police?

The members here (excluding me :) ) may have some more advice for you in this area.

ETA: Check out this thread: http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=609383 for a discussion on serial numbers and gun non-registration. It may give you some more ideas.

August 18, 2011, 12:53 AM
Thank you all for your informative replies. It is a contemporary story. Basically, the private eye (the protagonist in my novels) disarms an intruder who tries to kill him. The intruder escapes, but the private eye retains the gun and notices that the serial number on the barrel has been obliterated. However, when he removes the grip, he finds the serial number that was stamped on the frame. This serial number allows him to trace the handgun to its original owner (not the intruder)--- a key aspect of the plot.
Hope this explains why I needed this information. Any and all comments are welcome. I appreciate your help.

How is he able to trace the handgun to the original owner?

In real life, the ATF can trace a firearm from the manufacturer to the distributer and then to the retail outlet and the first retail purchaser. It's an involved process though as most of the paperwork is not electronic and paper records have to be hand searched. This is especially true of older paperwork.

(And each step has to be done. The manufacturer would have no idea where it went after it went to the distributer, and then the distributer's records have to be searched to find the retailer, and then the retailer's records have to be searched to find the buyer).

Local law enforcement agencies can request the ATF do this, but normally would have no reason to do so. If the ATF did do this at the request of a local agency it would take a couple months, minimum, for trace to work through the process.

There is no way for a PI to have access to this kind of trace. There is no centralized database he could access, or even hack into, to get the info. And, it's not as simple as "asking for a favor" from a police friend or even a ATF agent. The whole trace process is cumbersome and requires official paperwork and effort on the part of many people.

I do have a workable alternative for you though. For quite a well it was popular for firearms owners to electro pencil their name or other ID on their guns for proof of ownership in case of theft. Because this was kind of ugly, it would often be done under the grips.

In some cases people would add their Social Security number as well (this was before worries of identity theft).

The PI could disarm the bad guy and, when he checks under the grips, find the original owners name and possibly even soc sec or old phone number or driver's license number. (I've seen all three used as ID on guns before).

Of course, this only works if the bad guy stole or "borrowed" the gun from the original owner. If the original owner gave the bad guy the gun specifically to kill the PI, then the original owner obviously wouldn't give the bad guy a gun to use that had the owner's name electopenciled on the gun.

This avoids the whole "impossible for the PI to trace the gun" problem.

EDIT: I forgot to include the possibility of a state level registration system that the PI could get access to, probably unofficially. If the state the story takes place has handgun registration, that is a possibility, and would be more likely then a ATF trace.

August 18, 2011, 02:52 PM
If I recall correctly, some Spanish Star and Astra pistols have the serial number stamped in a visible place on the frame and again under the grip. Also, some FN/Browning guns like the 1910 and 1922 .32 and .380 have the complete serial number stamped internally on the underside of the slide

At any rate, to thoroughly obliterate a serial number on metal, you have to give it a real "workout' with a metal center punch to completely alter the molecular structure of the metal where the original number was stamped.

The most common method for years was the application of acid to the area where the serial was. The stamping of a character "upsets" a certain amount of metal around said character, i.e. compresses it, making the molecular structure more dense. When the acid is applied, the oxidation rate is different for the compressed metal and a faint outline of the character becomes visible.

Having said that, there are modern high tech methods in use now that have more or less made the acid method obsolete. However, I still think a good working over with a steel center punch will sufficiently alter the metal enough to obliterate the original characters completely.

August 18, 2011, 02:58 PM
...notices that the serial number on the barrel has been obliterated.

A bit of a technical point here: Removing the serial number on a barrel would (a) not be a violation of Federal law and (b) only prove that the barrel was stolen.

August 18, 2011, 08:56 PM
I think we are thinking too deeply. For most people not familiar with guns and gun laws a fiction writer can easily make up a ficticious database, etc. Remember, it's a made up story in the first place. With the way computers are now today, it's not a stretch on making up anything and have it be believable.

August 18, 2011, 09:38 PM
If the gun was stolen and reported stolen would the sn not be in the NCIC database along with the person who reported it stolen? To add to this what about poly guns? The only sn I see on my ruger is on the poly frame. That could go away very easily.

August 19, 2011, 06:42 PM
What about the recent developments involving Chiappa and the attachment of an RFID chip to the polymer portion of their Rhino pistols?

August 19, 2011, 07:08 PM
My Rock River Arms 1911 .45s have the serial number on a few parts, but only actually stamped on the frame.

I have so many non-gunnies and/or libs that already believe that the gov't has a massive supercomputer gun data base, that jpod's "fictional" account would be taken as "known fact" with no problem. :)

August 19, 2011, 07:19 PM
Back when hand-fitted parts were more common in firearms manufacture, makers like S&W would routinely s/n fitted parts to the frame that they were originally matched to, and these numbers are commonly used to verify recovered s/ns when the primary s/n is defaced. If you'd care to check the back of the extractor star on an older S&W, or the inside of the sideplate, you might be surprised at what you'll find. Because modern manufacturers also realize that s/ns are commonly defaced, many of them have made it a step in the production process to stamp multiple copies of the s/n on the metal parts embedded in the frame, so if the primary IS removed, they can still recover it (by cutting away part of the synthetic frame).

August 28, 2011, 05:20 PM
Thanks to all of you for your replies. You've given me some great information. As far as the storyline, the gun is registered and the owner commits a crime. The gun is then confiscated by the police, but turns up again when someone tries to use it to kill the PI. When the PI checks the serial number under the grip, he discovers that the original owner of the gun is in now prison. Therefore, the source of the weapon that was used to attempt to kill him is actually the police.

August 28, 2011, 05:22 PM
Thanks for the pictures. What is the exact description of this S & W?

Jim K
August 28, 2011, 08:24 PM
The serial number is required only to be on one specific location as determined by the manufacturer, usually (but not always) on the frame. On .22 Ruger automatics, for example, the serial number is on the receiver (the part the barrel screws into), not on the grip frame.

There is no requirement for multiple serial numbers, but many manufacturers have placed the number in hidden places, like on a revolver cylinder or the barrel. That reduces the chance that obliterating the most obvious serial number will make the gun unidentifiable.

So, your gun can be an older S&W, and the "hidden" serial can be on the cylinder.

AFAIK, there is no national registry of stolen guns to which NICS or anyone else has access, and in fact NICS does not have the serial number of the gun being transferred, only whether it is a rifle, shotgun or handgun. State and local authorities sometimes keep records of stolen guns, though.

Some anti-gun groups tout gun registration as being the key to "a total elimination of violent crime" (to quote one such group), but outside the world of fantasy, obliterating the serial number is pointless except in the rare cases where the gun can be traced directly to a criminal. If the gun is stolen, a trace will show only the last legal owner, not the name of the thief or anyone else down the line. Of course, the legal owner is the one the anti-gunners want to imprison - for the crime of owning a gun; they don't care about murderers or robbers.


P.S. Before I get sniped at, yes, I know there are other locations, but I see no reason to help anyone with an evil mind to locate them. What I wrote is OK for a work of fiction.


P.P.S. The Chiappa chip is used for product tracing and inventory BEFORE sale. Like the famous mattress tag, it can easily and legally be removed by the end customer.


Chuck Dye
August 28, 2011, 09:48 PM
Post #19 put the kibosh on my tangential thoughts, so I guess I'll have to be brief(er :)).

As others have suggested, the willing suspension of disbelief brought to fictional works covers a multitude of sins. Any PI has access to acids. If I were feeling playful, I might add some slightly unusual light source and photography, UV or cross polarized or both.

Before I got too playful, I would scour the website of the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners (http://www.afte.org) and other such resources.

Acquiring the serial number, whether through desktop lab work or uncovering a missed number is the least of the problem. Getting believably from that serial number to the knowledge that police were the source of the intended murder is going to be tough, but, perhaps, that is why I am a consumer of fiction not a writer of fiction.

August 28, 2011, 09:52 PM
When the PI checks the serial number under the grip, he discovers that the original owner of the gun is in now prison

This assumes that the State in which the story takes place has a state level handgun registration system and that the PI has official or unoffical access to that system.

Check the real life laws for the state in which you have set the story. If they do not have a state level handgun registration system many readers will go, "How could he check that? We don't have handgun registration in (state name)."

I discussed the impossibility of the PI being able to do a national level ATF trace of the serial number earlier.

I still like the idea of the PI finding the original owner's Soc Sec number inscribed under the grips. He would then run the number through some database, get a name, and after doing some research find out that person is in prison.

(But, that's just personal preference. Your way will work if there is a state level registration system for the PI to access or get info from a police friend).

Jim K
August 30, 2011, 01:09 PM
Hi, jpod,

Since TV PI's routinely have their pet "computer geek" tap a couple of keys and get the name, address, age, sexual preference and beer choice of the killer, I see no reason to worry about authenticity. Just from curiosity, how many real PI's do you know? I suggest you talk to one (free if possible) and see how quite unexciting the life usually is. Also read the laws and regulations governing PI behavior in the appropriate state.

As for a PI getting into a criminal investigation, he better not; if he does, it's goodbye license. And hacking into official data bases will buy lots of trouble. The cops don't like people treading on their toes.


August 30, 2011, 04:52 PM
On the Colt series 1908 pistols, the serial number is on the frame, and on the underside of the slide, before the firing pin area.


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