ATF NFA Marking Requirements: Get. It. Right.

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The laws and regulations surrounding the National Firearms Act (NFA) can be confusing at best and downright daunting at their worst. In the Part 2 of the Beginner’s Guide to Suppressors we covered the proper completion of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATFE) Form 4 – Application to Transfer and Register a Firearm. What we haven’t covered (yet) is anything having to do with the BATFE Form 1 – the Application to Make and Register a Firearm, and the subsequent requirements to properly make an NFA item.

NFA firearms that begin their life at a licensed manufacturer are engraved with all of the markings required by law to be included in the registry. These markings are similar to those found on all of your Title 1 (non-NFA) guns: Manufacturer, Serial Number and location of manufacture. However, there are some small, yet very important differences in the engraving requirements for firearms that you make into NFA items.

* Standard disclaimer: I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice. You are responsible for marking your NFA Firearm in accordance with the law. 

1) Do I have to engrave my NFA firearm?

First, and most importantly, YES, you have to engrave your Form 1 NFA item to be in proper compliance with the law. Some well established “sources of information” have erroneously reported that engraving is optional unless you plan to later sell your NFA firearm. I’ll repeat it: Every NFA item you make needs to be properly engraved.

2) What needs to be engraved on my NFA firearm?

Name of the individual or entity that made/registered the NFA firearm.

Location (City and State) where the NFA item was made.

Caliber of the registered NFA firearm.

Serial Number of the registered NFA firearm.

Model Number of the registered NFA firearm.*

* See below 

EXAMPLE 1: A current firearm to be registered as an NFA firearm:

Let’s say you have just received your approved BATFE Form 1 to register your Colt 6920 as a Short Barreled Rifle (SBR) and it is time to mark your firearm.

Here are the current manufacturer markings (already on the gun and what you used to fill out the information on the Form 1):

COLT

LAW ENFORCEMENT CARBINE

CAL: 5.56MM

SN: 0000001

HARTFORD, CT

What now needs to be engraved by you, as the maker, to be in compliance with the NFA laws:

JOHN SMITH

OR

JOHN SMITH LIVING TRUST

If the item is registered to an entity.

ANYTOWN, CO

The location (City and State) where you actually made the firearm into an an NFA registered item.

Because the manufacturer (remember, you are the maker) already engraved the serial number, model and caliber, you are not required to re-engrave this information.

EXAMPLE 2: You are starting from scratch on a firearm that will be registered as an NFA firearm:

Let’s say you are building a 9mm suppressor, but it also could be an 80% lower, etc.

What now needs to be engraved by you, as the maker, to be in compliance with the NFA laws:

JOHN SMITH

OR

JOHN SMITH LIVING TRUST

If the item is registered to an entity.

ANYTOWN, CO

The location (City and State) where you actually made the firearm into an an NFA registered item.

SN: 007

The Serial number you created on your Form 1.

CAL: 9MM

Must match your Form 1

MODEL: TFB SILENCER

*A model is not required, but if you included a model on your Form 1, it needs to be engraved.

3) Where on the firearm does this information need to be engraved?

You have some choices: the frame, receiver, barrel, or pistol slide (if applicable) are all acceptable under the law. For practicality purposes, especially with AR-15 type firearms, engraving the lower receiver is usually the best option. As such, you will be able to swap upper receivers without needing to re-engrave the firearm.

4) Other important information:

If the manufacturer engraved the caliber marking as ‘MULTI’ or a similar variant, the maker is required to engrave the the caliber of the NFA firearm as entered on the Form 1. Because most barrels are marked with caliber, these markings will satisfy the requirement as long as they are “conspicuous”. What is conspicuous under the law? It’s a little vague, but as long as someone can see the caliber markings without removing a hand guard, heat shield, shroud, etc, it should be acceptable.

The engraving or stamping (impressing) of the serial number must be to a minimum depth of .003 inch and in a print size no smaller than 1/16 inch. This is important when you are selecting an engraver for your NFA markings – many decorative engravers will not meet the BATFE depth requirement.

The marking regulations apply to all NFA items: SBR’s, Short Barreled Shotguns (SBS), Silencers, Destructive Devices (DD) and Any Other Weapons (AOW).

Some NFA engraving examples:

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SBR made from a Title I Ruger 77/357 Rifle. The caliber is marked on the barrel.

 

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Form 1 Silencer tube.

 

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Form 1 Silencer adapters. Note the lack of the optional model number. Credit: BigWaylon

 

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Form 1 Silencer end caps. Note the lack of the optional model number. Credit: BigWaylon

Sources:

From the BATFE NFA Handbook – Chapter 6:

All NFA firearms must be identified by a serial number and other specified markings. If an existing firearm is being used in the making of the NFA weapon, and that firearm is serialized, the existing serial number should be used (unless it duplicates a serial number already used by the maker on Form 1) and entered in Block 4(g). If the weapon is of new manufacture, the applicant must assign a unique serial number and enter it in Block 4(g). For example, a unique serial number could be composed of at least 4 digits preceded by the initials of the maker. NOTE: alpha characters, e.g., a name, will not be accepted as a serial number. If a name is to be used, there must be at least one numeric character in addition to the alpha characters.

The serial number must be engraved or stamped on the receiver of the firearm and the caliber, model, and identification of the maker must be engraved on the barrel or frame or receiver of the weapon. The marking and identification requirements for a maker are the same as for a manufacturer. Refer to section 7.4 for a detailed discussion of the requirements.


ATF Rul. 2013-3

While ATF Ruling 2013-3 does not create any new requirements, it does a good job of explaining the process, while quoting the existing regulations.

  1. The manufacturer, importer, or maker must legibly and conspicuously place on the
    frame, receiver, barrel, or pistol slide (if applicable) his/her own name (or
    recognized abbreviation) and location (city and State, or recognized abbreviation of
    the State) as specified under his/her Federal firearms license (if a licensee);
  2. The serial number adopted must have been marked in accordance with 27 CFR
    478.92 and 479.102, including that it must not duplicate any serial number adopted
    or placed by the manufacturer, importer, or maker on any other firearm;
  3. The manufacturer, importer, or maker must not remove, obliterate, or alter the
    importer’s or manufacturer’s serial number to be adopted, except that, within 15
    days of the date of release from Customs custody, a licensed importer must add
    letters, numbers, or a hyphen (as described in paragraph 4) to a foreign
    manufacturer’s serial number if the importer receives two or more firearms with the
    same serial number;
  4. The serial number adopted must be comprised of only a combination of Roman
    letters and Arabic numerals, or solely Arabic numerals, and can include a hyphen,
    that were conspicuously placed on the firearm; and
  5. If the caliber or gauge was not identified or designated (e.g., marked “multi”) on
    the firearm, the manufacturer, importer, or maker must legibly and conspicuously mark the frame, receiver, barrel, or pistol slide (if applicable) with the actual
    caliber/gauge once the caliber or gauge is known.

BATFE Form 1 – Page 8 Section j. Description of Firearm and Markings. (7) :

Markings: The maker is required to mark the firearm with his name, city and state. All markings are to be in compliance with 27 CFR 478.92 and 479.102.

Much thanks to BigWaylon for all the guidance on past, present and future NFA nuisances. 



Pete

LE – Science – OSINT.
On a mission to make all of my guns as quiet as possible.
Pete.M@staff.thefirearmblog.com


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  • PK

    Good post. I’ve noticed that a lot of people lately are talking about how you don’t “really need to” mark F1 items “unless you’ll sell them later”. It’s terrible advice, and outside of complying with the law as stated!

    Hopefully this clears up the whole thing for more people.

    • Cymond

      They don’t understand the difference between a home built Title II firearm (suppressors, SBRs) and Title I.

      They think that because they don’t have to mark their 80% AR lower, they don’t have to mark their Form 1 suppressor, either.

      • PK

        That could very well be the origin of the confusion! Title I/Title II is hard to get across, especially when most people say “gun/firearm” or “NFA” as the two categories. Interesting thought, and it may be worthwhile to attempt to clear it up from that angle, as well.

        • Pete M

          I think that is exact right. The confusion between title I and title II. Title I home builds don’t need to be marked unless they will be sold. Title II always needs to be marked.

          • PK

            Absolutely, and try telling the average gun owner that. Then you’ll have to backtrack and explain what Title I/Title II refer to, what the NFA is, and so on.

            The nuances of Federal firearms law in the US end up driving me to frustration on a regular basis.

  • Schnee

    I see conflicting opinions on the following. Say I register my Colt lower as a 9mm SBR and mark it as such. Is any further communication / notification required if I want to slap a 10.5″ 300 blk upper on it?

    • Pete M

      Most likely your new barrel will be marked .300BLK. As long as it’s “conspicuous” you are good to go.

      If not, get the barrel or upper receiver marked.

      And you don’t need to notify the ATF.

      • AR-PRO

        I was told, by ATF, that if you have a registered SBR and would like to “temporarily” change the upper to a different caliber it is perfectly legal and nothing has to be done as long as its a temporary change. It is listed in the ATF regulations, I don’t have the book in front of me. One of my customers was concerned about using a different caliber upper on his SBR and a relative told him he would get in trouble if ATF were to catch him.
        Also, I think the false info about not engraving NFA items comes from people manufacturing “home built” non NFA firearms that are only required to serialize them if they sell them per department of commerce regulations. I would bet somewhere down the line someone confused the two.

        • Pete M

          You are correct on the “temporary” change.

    • thedonn007

      I need to check my AR barrels to see if they are engraved with the caliber.

      • Pete M

        Most are.

        • Twilight sparkle

          Is there a rule on how deep the engraving is? I’ve seen what I believe to be laser engraving from psa lately that didn’t even scratch the surface.

          • Pete M

            From above:

            “The engraving or stamping (impressing) of the serial number must be to a minimum depth of .003 inch and in a print size no smaller than 1/16 inch. This is important when you are selecting an engraver for your NFA markings – many decorative engravers will not meet the BATFE depth requirement.”

          • Twilight sparkle

            I guess I should finish reading the article before looking at the comments…

          • Pete M

            No worries.

          • datimes

            The company in Sarasota FL I employed to engrave my MPX was well versed and possessed an SOT. I would encourage anyone to employ only firearm knowledgeable engravers.

  • thedonn007

    Why mark the endcaps of the form 1 suppressor instead of the tube?

    • Pete M

      Preference and aesthetics mostly.

      However, the prevailing thinking is that if you engrave the cap and have disaster happen to the tube, a licensed manufacturer can repair (replace) the tube since it isn’t the serialized part.

      • glasswolf

        Most endcaps/pistons are interchangeable to change caliber, so the tube or sleeve is marked instead in that case. That’s how we did it with the suppressors we made, anyway. To be fair, I saw more damaged endcaps than tubes, since people had poorly-done barrel threadings, which resulted in a misaligned suppressor, and caused the first round fired to blow off the end cap and shred the core of the can. Most tube damage was just scratched up cerakote/anodizing.

        • Pete M

          Good call

  • Anomanom

    I assume that it’s legal to have someone else do the engraving? It seems like it should be, but logic rarely applies in law so…

    And if it is legal, how do you find someone to do the engraving?

    • Pete M

      Yes, if it is already a silencer or SBR, etc. you can send it to an FFL like you would any other firearm.

      You can take it to a non licensed engraver as long as you wait with it and maintain official care/custody/control.

      There are a bunch of quality engravers out there. I have a ‘build your own silencer’ series coming up where I will list them. But I can also update this post.

      • Stephen Shallberg

        If it is already an SBR manufactured with an approved Form 1, and it’s not engraved then it’s an illegal firearm. The rule of thumb for engraving is to have it done before you submit the Form 1 to BATF. Mainly because if there are any errors in the engraving, they can be corrected. If you get the gun engraved after you submit the Form 1 and there is an error – they misspell your name, for instance – and the Form 1 comes back approved, then you have an illegal firearm.
        If you google “nfa engraving” the two top outfits will appear on the first page of results – both know what they’re doing and have good reputations.

        • Pete M

          I’ll clarify. Form 1 approved, but no barrel or upper.

          Remember, without a barrel that’s less than 16″, there is no SBR. even if it has been one for years prior.

          • Stephen Shallberg

            Agreed, if you dispossess yourself of any parts that will render the registered lower into an SBR then it can treated as a Title 1 firearm.

          • Pete M

            Or you have another registered SBR or pistol AR.

        • Mystick

          The big question would be is it “illegal” while pending approval… after all, at that point, it would be “complete”, yet not registered… They don’t exactly give you a receipt for the application…

        • Geoffry K

          So I checked out the #1 engraver and looked at the non-AR form (suppressor) and they apparently charge extra for the serial number!
          Engraving Information
          Name/Trust
          City and State
          *Additional Information
          *(Additional Charges May Apply)

          The serial number is REQUIRED INFORMATION.

          • Pete M

            90% of NFA Engraving is just two lines: name and city, state.

            Their pricing is probably based on two lines of engraving.

            You only need a serial number if you are starting from scratch, like an 80% lower or DIY suppressor.

      • Anomanom

        So have it engraved first, then file paperwork. That makes sense. Hokay.

        • Pete M

          Get it engraved while you wait for approval. You will have plenty of time.

      • EVLaser

        If you take it to a non FFL engraver and wait for it to be engrave is legal? I am a laser engraver and the ATF told me I need a FFL to engrave NFA items even if the owner is standing next to me. Any comments?

        • Pete M

          That doesn’t make sense. I can go to a machine shop and have them make silencer parts for my Form 1 build, why couldn’t you engrave?

  • Ramsey

    If you are building an AR-15 lower with a drop in trigger pack, can you engrave the trigger group with a serial number instead of the lower?

    I think there are modular pistol systems where the fire control group is the FFL transferable component. I am wondering if something similar can be done for rifles.

    I don’t know what benefit it would have, just curious.

    • hking

      No that would not be allowed, it has to be visible. On a DIAS or HK sear it is a separate registered NFA item aside from the actual gun.

      • Pete M

        Correctamundo

  • 27 CFR 478.92 does not apply to non licensed makers, aka F1 Trust and individuals, at least from what I read. 479.102. does apply to non licensed entities and I notice that it does not specify the size of the engraving for the “name/trust” and “city, state”. I did not realize the above until I just read the two CFR listed above. So the question for your legal types, with the abilities of lasers these days you could micro print the information to the proper depth that would look just like a line to the naked eye. I obviously do not recommend any one doing this w/o checking with legal council but it is interesting to me that it seems they may have made an oversight error in the law, would not be the first time.

    • PK

      $1 says that would be seen as not conspicuously visible. Still, an interesting point you’ve made!

    • Pete M

      You are correct, but for the sake of caution, I only included the measurements we know to be true. Any competent legal counsel will suggest following what is written in the CFR for other engravings/markings.

  • datimes

    An example of unacceptable engraving.

  • ExMachina1

    Good post. Nice to have this info all in one place.

    I’m skeptical however that having the caliber on the barrel is enough, at least in a weapon where the barrel is easily swapped. for example, if I register an AR15 SBR as a 5.56 and then swap out the upper to 300BLK, then the 300BLK SBR doesn’t show “5.56” anywhere on it (iif I’m only relying on barrel markings)

    • Pete M

      Legally it’s enough, but obviously you can engrave the upper as well.

      • ExMachina1

        You mean engrave the lower? Mine is marked “Multi” but my form says “5.56”.

        • Pete M

          The rules state receiver, frame, barrel or slide. Since it doesn’t specify upper or lower, technically you are good.

          But your barrel isn’t marked?

          • ExMachina1

            My 5.56 barrel is marked and is what the SBR is registered as being. But if I go to the range w/ my 300BLK upper and leave the 5.56 @ home, theoretically an ATF agent could challenge the correctness of my SBR since the lower’s markings (“Multi”) don’t corresponf to my Form 1 (5.56mm). It seems that in the case of guns like ARs, the best advice is to engrave the caliber into the lower, no?

          • Pete M

            Yes, you are right. Probably best to engrave 5.56 on the lower with the rest of your engraving.

    • TheWarriorWorkshop

      You don’t have to mark caliber on YOUR engraving. If you engrave the barrel, and swap barrels to a 300 BLK, the new barrel will be marked. On the form 1 you submit, there is a box for considerations. Back in the day,, the thing to do was to state, “this firearm may be used for different caliber and barrel lengths”. Most of the time when you get your stamp back, that box was corrected and not approved its a note saying you must inform the ATF before making caliber and or barrel length swaps. I have one form they approved that this statement got through. So, no you don’t have to mark caliber if your engraving is on the receiver because the barrel is always marked with the caliber…but yes, you have to let the ATF know if you are swapping barrels or calibers

      • ExMachina1

        “but yes, you have to let the ATF know if you are swapping barrels or calibers”

        That is not my understanding at all. Once the SBR is built, calibers can be swapped w/o notifying the ATF

        • Pete M

          That’s correct. It is suggested that for permanent changes the ATF should be notified to keep the registry updated.

          • Mike F

            I’d only send in the paperwork for permanent change if you don’t have the original barrel or length. It’s more paperwork laying around and when transferring you need the barrel/overall lengths in the registry vs what’s on the form.

        • TheWarriorWorkshop

          I’m not claiming to be an expert on this, and I’ve heard other people say the same thing. I personally called the ATF seeking clarification on this, twice. Both times I was given the same answer. Any changes to what is on the paperwork, according to what I was told by the ATF, requires notification and approval from them. Do things however you want, not trying to be the safety nazi around here, just letting you know what I was told.

      • Pete M

        You only need to notify the ATF of changes if they are permanent. The NFA didn’t understand the concept of pinned lower/upper receivers.

  • Amanofdragons

    Couldn’t a lower be marked multi for caliber?

    • Pete M

      You need an actual caliber to be in compliance. It needs to match your Form 1 where ‘multi’ is not allowed.

      • Mike F

        The paperwork for certain machine gun Sears has N/A on them. I’d send it in with multi and give it a try.

        • Pete M

          Multi will NOT work. The ATF will deny your approval and you will either wait for corrections or wait for a refund.

          • Mike F

            You’ll have 30 days to resubmit, machine guns are being registered as N/A vs multiple caliber so I’ll say your wrong.

          • Pete M

            ‘Multi’ marked guns Are being transferred because they are grandfathered. New registrations as multi will be rejected.

          • Mike F

            I’ll register a crate of 10 with N/A.

          • Pete M

            A crate of what?

  • Mike F

    You may want to check your laser engraving it has to be 1/16in lettering three thousandths deep and most laser engraving won’t cut that deep. I’d recommend you get a set of letter punches it can be initials, city, and state. You use the existing serial/model. In the block for manufacturer you put your name/trust not the receiver manufacturer. You are making the NFA weapon and it will transfer with you as the manufacturer.

  • Mike F

    Most lasers don’t cut 3 thousandths deep. I looked into laser engraving and went with cnc milling or roll marking. Letter punches are a better way to do it. The way I understand it you are the manufacturer if you make the firearm and it should be transferred with you as the Manufacturer.

    • Pete M

      You are the Maker. Not Manufacturer. Big difference in the NFA world.

      • Mike F

        The block is maker, manufacturer on the F4 for transfer.

        • Pete M

          Like for an 80% lower Form 1?

  • Frank K

    It’s been said, when registering the caliber for an SBR some have used .22 cal in place of 5.56 or 223 and it is excepted by the NFA rules.

  • Cymond

    If you’re doing a Form 1, engrave before the approval comes back. After the approval comes back, it’s an NFA firearm, and much more cumbersome to find an engraver.

    Also, I’ll amazed by the number of badly engraved guns I’ve seen over the years. Why engraver an NFA gun with a frickin’ electro pencil? I’m not even sure it complies for depth.