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Old 01-09-2017, 09:03 PM
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Default Pistol owner history?

Is there any way of finding out the owner history of a registered firearm? Or is that protected. Thanks
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Old 01-09-2017, 09:08 PM
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"Registered?" Not sure where you live, but in most places in the U.S. there isn't any registration, thank God.

And generally, the answer would be no. That info won't be readily available, even in those terrible jurisdictions where registration is required.
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Old 01-09-2017, 09:32 PM
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"Registered?" Not sure where you live, but in most places in the U.S. there isn't any registration, thank God.

And generally, the answer would be no. That info won't be readily available, even in those terrible jurisdictions where registration is required.
I thought when you buy a pistol from a dealer the serial number is what identified who the owner was. Maybe I used the wrong word.
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Old 01-09-2017, 09:38 PM
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Very few areas of the country have a gun registration law. I would imagine even in those areas the average citizen cannot access those records. Besides lots of guns are sold without the buyer going through background checks happens every day here in the great state of Tennessee. So there could be gaps even if you could check.
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Old 01-09-2017, 09:59 PM
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Maybe if you're in law enforcement you could get some information. Don't know how far back you could go. I'm sure the detectives on Law and Order would be able to trace it back to the factory, no problem.


You can get a letter from the S&W Historical Society that will tell you when it left the factory and where it shipped to. I think it costs $75 now, so you may not be interested enough to spend that much unless it is a rare or expensive revolver. Here is the link to the factory letter form:
Factory Letter Request Form
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Old 01-09-2017, 10:07 PM
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By far, the most common way to find the original owner of a gun is to buy it from him/her, or the family. Rarely, a specially engraved gun or something similar will have a clear history as well. Very rarely, the history letter referenced just above will document shipment to an individual...a member of the Wesson family, a firearms company executive, or a famous gun writer like Elmer Keith or Ed McGivern.
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Old 01-09-2017, 10:35 PM
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I thought when you buy a pistol from a dealer the serial number is what identified who the owner was. Maybe I used the wrong word.
While a dealer running a regular gun business based on an FFL in any state will have a record to whom he sold a specific gun, no dealer in his right mind would make that information available to anyone but ATF or law enforcement, and likely not without a warrant, just for basic reasons of liability.

I've actually seen this question come up on gun forums in the past. People will letter a more modern gun, a Colt or S&W, and it will letter to some police equipment business, let's say Jovino in NY, known for selling to NYPD officers. So they'll call Jovino hoping to be told which hot-shot detective purchased their gun, and then complain on the forum when (inevitably) the dealer's response is some more or less polite version of "Hell no. What are you smoking?"
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Old 01-09-2017, 10:54 PM
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I know there is no gun "registration" in most areas of the U. S., I have pointed out the fact to others before.
But in reality, in all legal F F L transactions, a firearm serial number and a loose description of the gun, is "registered" to your name with details.

By registered, I'll copy Merriam-Webster: Registration is the act or process of entering information about something in a book or system of public records,and/or, the act or process of entering names on an official list.

While "public records" does not describe the FFL system, we all refer to a vehicle in our name as being "registered to us"; and D M V records are not public either.

If registration is not what we have in our gun laws, then it is a very fine line, and the tag line of our member Jack Flash fits well: splittin' hairs ain't ya boss.

Interestingly, I was listening to a talk show with a former police commissioner of Boston, Edward Davis or the present one, William Evans, giving a talk, (advocating full gun control of course), about how wonderful crime solving could be if all guns and ammo were registered.

Went on to say the owner of a recovered gun involved in a crime in Boston was located in Waco Texas after two weeks of searching. Ahh, but the lady in Texas still had a copy of the police report she made when the gun had been stolen over two years before.
So, if they don't bother to check the records for stolen guns, how much use are further records going to be ?

Notably,in this speech the commissioner had no recomendations on preventing crime in the first place.
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Old 01-10-2017, 02:26 AM
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I think the practice in most cases in most states is that the buyer fills out Form 4473. And the dealer keeps that. And there it stops unless the gun is used in a crime. LE can go back to the manufacturer to find out where the gun was first shipped, then they can go to the dealer who first sold it, and he can produce the 4473. But in the meantime, that gun could have passed through numerous hands and the trail could go cold very quickly. Even if you knew who the dealer was, no way he would divulge that information to you as a private citizen. And of course, there are enormous numbers of guns having no 4473. As an individual, you will be SOL in trying to find an ownership history that way in virtually all cases. About the only exception would be if you bought a gun from the original owner. And also, in the case of a stolen gun, if the person from which the gun was stolen reported it, the national stolen gun registry could be checked. But unless you are a cop or know one well, that won't work either for you as a private citizen.

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Old 01-10-2017, 02:49 AM
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It's funny when watching cop shows they know someone had a gun registered to them. All I know of what a LEO can do is run a serial number to see if it has ever been reported stolen. Probably the only reason they would know who a gun belonged to was if the gun was reported stolen or lost.
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Old 01-10-2017, 09:30 AM
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Ok thanks everyone, I guess using the word registered was the wrong choice. I just thought of when a gun was purchased and it went through a FFl that created a ownership path. I also thought it was a good idea if you sold the pistol it was a good idea to do it with an FFl, that way it would remove you from any problems if the gun was used in a crime. I know a lot of guns are sold and traded without doing this.
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Old 01-10-2017, 10:04 AM
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Here in Michigan we have had registration since the 1920s. LE can access those records but only with a valid incident number, meaning there is a case involving that gun.
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Old 01-10-2017, 10:08 AM
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I just thought of when a gun was purchased and it went through a FFl that created a ownership path. I also thought it was a good idea if you sold the pistol it was a good idea to do it with an FFl, that way it would remove you from any problems if the gun was used in a crime. I know a lot of guns are sold and traded without doing this.
It does. But the "ownership path" ends with the first buyer at retail. Authorized Personnel can trace the gun from factory to distributor to dealer to retail buyer. But if he sells it, even if to or through a FFL again, the original sale record and the resale record are not connected. The gun is "registered," it is just not CENTRALLY registered.

Many of our Political Leaders would like to require all guns to change hands at a FFL. Many of us feel this is a prequel to central registration and further repression.
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Old 01-15-2017, 11:14 AM
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What happens to the 4473's when the gun store goes out of business?
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Old 01-15-2017, 11:55 AM
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There was a story a couple of years ago about a few government clerks trying to computerize millions of old 4473's from gun dealers that went out of business. There are warehouses full. I know of a dealer that went out of business years ago and he held onto his forms thinking someone would come after them. After 5 or 10 years he destroyed them.


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What happens to the 4473's when the gun store goes out of business?
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Old 01-15-2017, 12:02 PM
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The best luck I have had so far is this forum. I bought a Model 13-2 on this forum last Sept and now know I am the fourth owner and I know who the second and third owner was. Assuming the second owner knows the first owner (which he does) I now have a pretty good ideal of the history and number of rounds through the weapon.

A letter from Mr. Jinks would be a good starting point; at least you would know where and when it was shipped (if a Smith&Wesson).
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Old 01-15-2017, 12:02 PM
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What happens to the 4473's when the gun store goes out of business?
By law, the dealer going out of business has to ship all his required records, including the 4473's, to the ATF.

https://www.atf.gov/firearms/docs/at...er-14/download

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Old 01-15-2017, 01:17 PM
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Indeed, any dealer going out of business is required to turn in his 4473s to BATFE. How many do not is unknown, and I don't know how BATFE finds when a dealer ceases operations so they know if the dealer has submitted the forms or not. What BATFE does with those old forms is also an interesting question. I'd guess there are millions of them stored away somewhere in a warehouse which no one looks at, unless the SN of some gun used in a crime is referred to BATFE for a check.
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Old 01-15-2017, 02:04 PM
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Here in Michigan we have had registration since the 1920s. LE can access those records but only with a valid incident number, meaning there is a case involving that gun.

I've lived in Michigan for 66 years. They used to disguise their registration process by calling it a Safety Inspection. You would have to bring your gun to the PD, and they would go through the motions of checking to make sure it was functioning properly. But we knew better, as to what they were really doing.

It became more evident, when the so-called inspections were being performed by inexperienced clerks, who would simply look at it, measure it, and write down the manufacture, model, serial number, etc. They never opened the cylinder, or slide, or checked the trigger, or safety. Then some PD's, demanded the weapon be handed to them, with the action open, and they would never close it. Some would disable it with a ty rap. I always asked how they can perform a Safety Check, when the weapon is disabled in that way. I never got an answer.

Now they admit they register it.

Only the state is authorized to register pistols/revolvers. However, they don't allow you to send the paper work directly to the state. Instead, you have to take it to your local PD, and they it to the state. But, before they do, the locals record all the registration info into their computers, effectively performing an illegal registration at their level as well!

The system is a total quagmire. When I inquired with the Macomb County Sheriff, as to what weapons they showed currently registered to me, they printed out a list of 125, just for the year of 2015! Why so many? Because they never update their records once the handgun is sold, and re-registered by someone else. I hesitate to think how many are listed as registered to me at the state level, in my lifetime! They'd probably dispatch DHS to water-board me!
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Old 01-15-2017, 02:11 PM
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Don't forget that in addition to the 4473, the FFL also keeps a bound book recording all in and out transactions . . .
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Old 01-15-2017, 03:20 PM
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Don't forget that in addition to the 4473, the FFL also keeps a bound book recording all in and out transactions . . .
Interesting discussion here, and a little timely. I had occassion just a week or so ago, to talk with an ATF agent in relation to a local case involving a FFL who had scammed a number of people for firearms. Agreeing to have them coated or taking the guns on consignment for sale. The guns just disappeared, a few showing up in a couple pawn shops, the rest just gone!

So, I asked the agent just what has been asked and answered here; what happens to FFL records?

The answer the agent gave me was that as long as a dealer is in business, he maintains possession of his records. The records are subject to occassional ATF inspection and audit.

The agent goes on to tell me that the procedure is that if a dealer goes out of business they are required to send those records to ATF, "out of business records", all A&D books, all 4473's.

The agent added that the records sent to their "out of business records" are warehoused and none are scanned or digitized and that requesting something from stored business records usually takes a long time because somebody, somewhere is going to be sifting through a bunch of paper to find whatever has been requested.

In the case at hand you ask? The dealer, when asked for his records by that agent, had conveniently mailed everything he had to the out of business records section. Just a day or so before the agent showed up to ask for them.
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Old 01-15-2017, 03:56 PM
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Interesting discussion here, and a little timely. I had occassion just a week or so ago, to talk with an ATF agent in relation to a local case involving a FFL who had scammed a number of people for firearms. Agreeing to have them coated or taking the guns on consignment for sale. The guns just disappeared, a few showing up in a couple pawn shops, the rest just gone!

So, I asked the agent just what has been asked and answered here; what happens to FFL records?

The answer the agent gave me was that as long as a dealer is in business, he maintains possession of his records. The records are subject to occassional ATF inspection and audit.

The agent goes on to tell me that the procedure is that if a dealer goes out of business they are required to send those records to ATF, "out of business records", all A&D books, all 4473's.

The agent added that the records sent to their "out of business records" are warehoused and none are scanned or digitized and that requesting something from stored business records usually takes a long time because somebody, somewhere is going to be sifting through a bunch of paper to find whatever has been requested.

In the case at hand you ask? The dealer, when asked for his records by that agent, had conveniently mailed everything he had to the out of business records section. Just a day or so before the agent showed up to ask for them.
Just remember what happened after Indiana Jones found the Ark of the Covenant.

I wonder what the process will be after the ATF is disbanded?
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Old 01-15-2017, 04:06 PM
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When we retired, the 4473's were sent to some federal depository.
The other records were taken by the NYC PD.
Some 25 years later I was contacted by a Police Department who had traced a revolvers from the manufacturer through to my old shop.
The 'detective' insisted that I had to tell him about the purchaser.
I advised him as tio how lost he was!.
NYC PD records department finally told him the name of the Police Officer who had purchased the weapon from our shop.
But, the trail ended here.
The officer had retired, moved out of NY State and had deceased.]
Of course , the search came back to me again several times.
At long last they believed that I no longer had the books/records
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Old 01-15-2017, 04:09 PM
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When we retired, the 4473's were sent to some federal depository.
The other records were taken by the NYC PD.
Some 25 years later I was contacted by a Police Department who had traced a revolvers from the manufacturer through to my old shop.
The 'detective' insisted that I had to tell him about the purchaser.
I advised him as tio how lost he was!.
NYC PD records department finally told him the name of the Police Officer who had purchased the weapon from our shop.
But, the trail ended here.
The officer had retired, moved out of NY State and had deceased.]
Of course , the search came back to me again several times.
At long last they believed that I no longer had the books/records

I now have a better idea why you are "tired".
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Old 01-15-2017, 04:36 PM
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This may not be current regulation, but a few years ago, an FFL had to keep Form 4473 for a period of not less than twenty years. After that, the forms could be disposed of. The "bound book" or equivalent system of sales is the permanent record that is turned in when a dealer goes out of business (along with 4473s that are less than twenty years old).

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Old 01-15-2017, 04:40 PM
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This may not be current regulation, but a few years ago, an FFL had to keep Form 4473 for a period of not less than twenty years. After that, the forms could be disposed of. The "bound book" or equivalent system of sales is the permanent record that is turned in when a dealer goes out of business (along with 4473s that are less than twenty years old).

Bill
That is still my understanding. My LGS and I were talking about that a couple months ago, as he had just finished with his ATFE audit, and was getting ready to go to the local field office for a couple of hours of "retraining."
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Old 01-15-2017, 04:47 PM
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I have been contacted by the FBI in regards to a revolver I purchased directly from a dealer. They told me that I was the registered owner of said revolver via thier records. They told me that the records end with the first retail purchase and they hoped that I could help them with any information I had concerning who I sold the Colt to. I wanted to know why they were interested and they told me the Colt was recovered following a criminal act in Florida, they traced the serial number back to the dealer who then gave them my information...end of the road as far as recorded information. I had nothing to hide and told them I sold the Colt to an old friend of mine, they wanted to know his name and address, again I had nothing to hide and told them his name but then told them that he was dead, been dead for a couple years.
Florida is about as far away from Spokane as you can get and still be in the contiguous U.S. They asked me if I had anything they could go off of, again I had nothing to hide and wanted to be helpful if I could and told them as far as I knew my friend had one child, a daughter. They wanted to know her name and I was a little hazy about that information but did know that she had married an airman that was stationed at Fairchild, AFB. That turned out being the piece of the puzzle that they were looking for because the airman and my friend's daughter got transferred to an airforce base in Florida and that would explain how it got there. They would not give me any details about how the Colt got into the hands of a criminal, everything just clicked when I told them about the daughter having a husband in the Air Force.
A gun dealer I've known for years told me once that if the Feds ever came looking for his gun sale records he would have a mysterious office fire...I call that tough talk for a one-eyed fatman.
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Old 01-16-2017, 04:28 PM
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One of the less pleasant aspects of a stint as my department's liaison to ATF over 30 years ago was visiting an out of business dealer who had 20-30 years of records in his garage. I would get a call from ATF with the details and he and I would wade through the records, collect the information and notify ATF. Eventually he tired of this game and said if ATF wanted information from his records they could come and get them. They did.
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History of the S&W Model 1913 .35 Automatic pistol PALADIN85020 S&W Hand Ejectors: 1896 to 1961 0 08-07-2013 07:04 PM
History of Schofield Pistol Frank Courtell S&W Antiques 7 04-18-2013 06:29 PM
.455 owner's history - research opportunity RangeRover S&W Hand Ejectors: 1896 to 1961 2 04-10-2010 10:03 PM

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