Yes, that’s a photo of my own Surefire FA556AR silencer and the serial number is P01239. No, I’m not particularly concerned about posting it.
There are a lot of odd and mistaken beliefs that get repeated in gun circles. Like the idea that racking a shotgun will scare intruders away. Or that using a scary gun will get you locked up for an otherwise justified shooting. It happens in any subculture: someone says a thing and another person repeats it with little or no critical thinking. Next thing you know, people are repeating as fact nonsense like “knockdown power”.
When we published the ATF affidavit for the recent theft at SHOT 2019, a well-meaning reader admonished us for failing to redact the serial numbers from the list. His comment stems from the belief that one should closely guard serial numbers on guns and NFA devices as closely as one guards a social security number or ATM PIN.
In this case, the reader was particularly concerned that there were serial numbers for Title II devices on the list. It is true that numerous silencer and machine gun serial numbers were published. But what of it? What bad things could an “unscrupulous individual” actually do with the information? What could they do with the serial number from my own silencer in the photo at the beginning of this article? Or with the serial number from my homemade silencer in this photo:
Could a bad guy report it stolen? Perhaps, but that means a police report. Then what? The person filing this false report won’t have a Form 1, Form 4, 4473, sales receipt, photos, or any other evidence that they owned this thing. Of course, that doesn’t mean the cops will just tell him to pound sand, but they would likely contact the BATFE and the BATFE will say that device is not registered to the person who reported it stolen. So while the false report might cause you minor inconvenience, it will land the other guy in jail. Do not pass GO.
Well, what if it was just a regular firearm that the unscrupulous individual reported stolen? Some of the same things, but it may be more difficult to trace if it was purchased second hand and police are unlikely to ask the BATFE for a trace. So maybe nothing happens at all until you try to sell it or the serial number otherwise comes to the attention of the police.
There has been some debate about whether running a serial number constitutes a search. But let’s say a cop does run your serial number during a traffic stop and it comes back stolen.
It’s not like they will just give it to the person who reported it stolen. They will do the police thing and, you know, investigate. They’ll look at the 4473 on file with the dealer and they’ll look at your receipt. And they’ll note that you have photos of the gun. And that you bought a holster for it with a credit card three years before it was supposedly stolen. And the complete lack of any evidence whatsoever that the other guy ever had the gun. Then they’ll lock him up for filing a false report. Do not pass GO.
So what else could someone do with the serial number? Use the serial number from one of those silencers to register it to themselves? Let’s walk through that scenario: So bad guy pays $200 and fills out a pile of paperwork and fingerprints, all to register a silencer that he doesn’t actually have. And the NFA Branch is just going to sign that stamp the Form 4 like everything is cool, right? Don’t get me wrong, F-Troop has screwed up before. But it seems unlikely that they would approve the stamp. Even if they did, what is the next step in this guy’s master plan? How does he actually take possession of the device?
So, sure, somebody could conceivably cause some hassle over it, but the only way it could result in even minor hassle to the actual owner is if it resulted in jail for the person filing the report. Not much of a master plan if you have to go to jail in order to inconvenience another person.
And, of course, some of the backwoods types are concerned that posting a serial number means the gubbermint knowed ’bout yer smoke poles. Well, sure, but setting aside the registered NFA devices, the government knows that you have a gun when you post pictures of it with the serial number blurred out. Or when you are active on gun forums, buy gun accessories on Amazon, or regularly read The Firearm Blog.
If some future oppressive government decides to track down people that own guns to confiscate them, they won’t be stymied by technicalities like blurring out serial numbers or stories about boating accidents. You had a gun at some point in time, which will be enough for them to stop by and tear apart the walls in your home looking for more.
But maybe I’m missing something. Is there another way that someone could use a serial number in a nefarious way?