Regulated Markings on Firearms

FDO Tunell

Regulated Markings on Firearms – From the Desk of Alexis Tunell

Regulated markings on firearms refer to the information engraved, stamped, or otherwise marked on a firearm indicating the importer(if any), manufacturer, country of origin (if imported), model, caliber or gauge, and serial number.  The ability to properly identify these markings is essential to maintaining accurate and complete bound books and other regulated records.  Did you know that the data recorded for a firearm in a Federal Firearms Licensee’s (FFL) bound book is one of the leading sources of violations cited by ATF during regulatory inspections?.  I believe that this is largely due to some misconceptions about firearms and the sources of this regulated data.

First things first: We’re talking about regulated markings on firearms.  What’s a “firearm”? According to Title 18 United States Code, Chapter 44, § 921(a)(3), the term “firearm” means, in part: (A) Any weapon (including a starter gun) which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosion; and, (B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon.

It is important to understand that information recorded in a Federal Firearms Licensee’s (FFL) bound book must be the information as marked on the firearm for the following data points:

  • Importer (if any)
  • Country of Origin (if imported)
  • Manufacturer
  • Model
  • Caliber or Gauge
  • Serial Number

Why is this relevant?

Because only the information engraved or otherwise marked in the firearm is regulated, in virtually all instances. The markings on packaging and marketing materials are not always the same as the markings on the firearm. The latter must be recorded in your bound book.  For firearms manufactured after January 30, 2002, the information must be marked at a minimum depth of .003 inch and in a print size no smaller than 1/16 inch.

Why Are Firearm Markings Important?

When a firearm- or part of a firearm – is recovered by law enforcement officials, rarely is a box, sales receipt, or official manufacturer’s catalog for that year recovered along with it. Criminals are so inconsiderate!  All law enforcement officials have is the physical item – the metal or polymer firearm – and so begins the hunt to trace the item.  Only information from the firearm itself is typically available for tracing, and thus it is crucial every FFL’s bound book records reflect what is marked on the firearm.  Failure to completely and accurately document the information as marked on the firearm can result in failed trace attempts and hindered law enforcement investigations…which can result in regulatory violations.

What are the Firearm Markings?


Typical Marking Location: Frame, Receiver, Barrel or Slide

This is the name of the organization that holds the Type 08 FFL (Importer FFL) which brought the firearm into the United States.  Even if the firearm is manufactured by a foreign arm of a U.S. organization, the firearm is still imported, and the data point must be recorded in the bound book.

Additionally, because the city and state of the importer must also be marked on the firearm, the name of the Importer often appears in close proximity to a U.S. city and state. Don’t let this fool you into thinking the firearm is manufactured in the U.S.!  If a country name (or two letter abbreviation) appears anywhere on the firearm, the firearm is imported.  The U.S. city and state on the firearm is the location of the Importer (Type 08 FFL).

Country of Origin

Typical Marking Location: Frame, Receiver, Barrel or Slide

Refers to the country where the firearm was created.  Keep in mind, we’re talking about the regulatory definition of a “firearm” – not a finished good.  Although Country of Origin is usually completely spelled out (e.g. Germany, Austria), occasionally the Country of Origin is abbreviated in two letter form.  Do NOT assume that you know/can guess what country those two letters refer – outside the U.S. “Germany” is “Deutschland” and thus, the two letter abbreviation is DE.

For a list of Independent States of the World (Countries) and their two letter (and three letter codes), visit the U.S. Department of State’s website:


Typical Marking Location: Frame, Receiver, Barrel or Slide

The organization that serialized the firearm – again, the regulatory definition of a “firearm” and not a finished good.  For firearms manufactured in the U.S. this is name of the organization which holds the Type 07 (Manufacturing) FFL that created the firearm.

Don’t let branding get confused with regulatory markings!  The regulatory markings recorded in a FFL’s bound book and other official records must reflect data as marked on the firearm.  Not unlike automobile manufacturers, many large firearm manufacturers own several brand names.  And, just like automobiles, the final product may be branded with whatever maker / model they’d like; a Toyota and Lexus may be produced in the same plant.  For firearms, the actual organization that created/serialized the firearm must be marked on the firearm AND reflected in the bound book.

So, that shiny shotgun listed in the catalogue as a Mossberg, referred to by everyone that holds it as Mossberg, may never have the name “Mossberg” appear in your bound book.  Instead, in all regulated records it will likely appear as Manufacturer: Maverick Arms.


Typical Marking Location: Frame, Receiver, Barrel or Slide

This is the make of the particular firearm as designated by the Manufacturer and/or Importer, if designated.  It’s important to understand what “if designated” refers.  This does not mean that this information does not have to be marked on the firearm and thus, for a finished good, it may or may not be there.  During the manufacturing process, many items may start as the same basic frame or receiver – the same “firearm” by 44 U.S.C. 921.  As soon as these firearms are created, they MUST have the required markings.  However, because a particular frame or receiver may become several different finished goods – or models – this information might not yet be marked on the item.

The Model WILL BE designated before the firearm is deemed complete, but – during its in-production time – the Model field in the Manufacturer’s bound book will be blank, listed as “none”, or some similar type description.

Caliber or Gauge

Typical Marking Location: Frame, Receiver, Barrel or Slide

Caliber generally refers to the diameter of rifle and handgun bullets, in either metric (9mm) or English (45) units; Gauge is the measure of the inside diameter or a shotgun barrel.  The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer’s Institute (SAAMI) maintains and publishes virtually all industry standards related to ammunition.

The Gun Control Act (GCA) became effective at the end of 1968 – more than 50 years ago when the average yearly income was $7,850 and gas was $0.34 a gallon.  Things have changed a lot in firearms technology, but the regulations have not.  So what does this mean? FFLs have to record the information as marked on the firearm, period. If the firearm is a Rifle / Shotgun Combination, the bound book records may indicate Caliber or Gauge: 22 LR / 410 GA; Multi, or some similar type designation.  Look at the frame or receiver (the “firearm”) and document what’s engraved or otherwise marked.

Serial Number

Typical Marking Location: Frame or Receiver

Serial Numbers applied by Manufactures must not duplicate any serial number placed by the Manufacturer on any other firearm and, for importers, the Serial Number may not duplicate the Serial Number appearing on any other firearm that the importer has previously imported.

If there are spaces or dashes, rest easy knowing ATF Tracing Center leaves these data points out.  However, properly identifying the number marked on the firearm as the actual Serial Number is key.  Don’t be fooled by various part numbers or other number sets; take a look at the frame or receiver.

Firearm markings may seem confusing, but understanding what, exactly, you’re looking to document and where to look on a firearm to find the information can go a long way in taking the mystery out of markings. Bottom line – don’t assume that invoices, boxes, or catalogues are valid sources for the regulated data. The firearm itself is the single source of truth.

For questions or additional information, contact Orchid Advisors here.

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