(for novice collectors and/or inexperienced, overzealous or malicious government agents)


Bob Adams
P.O. Box 23010
Albuquerque, NM 87192 USA

I am not a lawyer, so the following is derived from many authoritative sources which I've researched over the past 60 years.

1.  "All guns are sold as collector's items only," Obviously, this has NOTHING to do with a collector's license.  
    This is a common phrase used by firearm dealers all over the world.  It simply means that there is no guarantee of 
    shooting condition.  It doesn't mean they won't shoot.  It means you should have any used firearm checked out 
    by a gunsmith before firing.     See item #1 here:  Terms of Sale

2.  "Curio and Relic".  A special category of older firearms of interest primarily to collectors, as defined by law.  
    These firearms may be sold to any customer, including anyone who holds a Collectors License (03) issued by ATF.
    Some states (such as California) have additional restrictions.  Check with your attorney.

    From the ATF Website:    ATF Curio & Relic Web Page
    "Firearm curios or relics include firearms which have special value to collectors because they 
    possess some qualities not ordinarily associated with firearms intended for sporting use or 
    as offensive or defensive weapons. To be recognized as curios or relics, firearms must fall 
    within one of the following categories:

    a.  Have been manufactured at least 50 years prior to the current date, but not including 
        replicas thereof; or
    b.  Be certified by the curator of a municipal, State, or Federal museum which exhibits firearms 
        to be curios or relics of museum interest; or
    c.  Derive a substantial part of their monetary value from the fact that they are novel, rare, 
        bizarre, or from the fact of their association with some historical figure, period, or event."

3.  "No Import Marks".  This does NOT mean that anyone smuggled it into the United States. 
    This is a common term used throughout the industry.  (A recent internet search showed over 27,000 results) 
    It is simply a means to communicate to customers whether the gun has visible import markings.  Nothing more and nothing less.

    Foreign guns without import markings are not necessarily more valuable.  Some are MORE valuable with import marks.
    (For example:  Stoeger and Abercrombie & Fitch Luger Pistols, etc.) 

    This phrase may indicate:
	a.	A war trophy brought back by any soldier at any time.  These did not require import marks and are completely legal.

	b.	Guns imported (by anyone) in or before 1968 did not require import marks.  The Gun Control Act of 1968 was the 
		first time import marks were required – and the Act only applied to licensed importers.  It is fully legal to own such a gun.

	c.	Any gun imported at any time by anyone other than a licensed importer does not require import marks.  These are 
		completely legal.  Even today, a licensed Dealer or Collector can import a gun and no import marks are required. 
	d.	At times I may be unable to see any import marks - which have been placed in obscure locations by other 
		importers - under the grips, under the slide, under the barrel, inside the firearm or are very tiny.  It’s simply not possible to 
		easily find all such markings.  These markings are completely legal, and the ownership of such a gun is fully legal.

	e.	Someone may have removed the import marks after importation, which ATF verified  to be completely legal.
		 (In fact, ATF says an owner may legally remove ALL markings from a firearm except for the serial)

	f.	Over the years, I have heard some collector guns have come into the United States by diplomatic pouch.  
		However, this is only rumor.   If so, these would have no import marks.

	g.	A person immigrating into the United States, or returning to the United States after living abroad, may bring their firearms 
		into the United States in their household goods.  These would have no import marks. 
	h.	If the import marks were placed on the barrel or slide of an imported firearm, and the barrel or slide is replaced by a gunsmith 
		or the owner, there is no requirement to replace the import marks on the firearm.

	i.	If an owner or gunsmith replaces a barrel or slide with a replacement part which already has an import mark, then the firearm 
		will have a spurious importer mark.

	j.	If a firearm is refinished at any time after importation, the polishing of the surface may remove any import marks.  There is no 
		requirement for replacing import marks on a firearm.

	k.	Occasionally, spurious importer marks may be deliberately (or unintentionally) applied to any firearm for any reason – 
		and have been.  There is no law against this practice.

	l.	In the past, some companies (Interarms, for example) molded their import marks into the plastic grips on pistols 
		(PPK pistols come to mind).  Plastic grips are an easily replaceable part and if replaced, the pistol no longer has import markings.

4.  "Antique Firearm".   In the United States, ANY firearm manufactured prior to 1899 is an antique - 
     as are some made after that date.  For example, ATF has rules that ALL Model 1893 Borchardt auto pistols are antique
     regardless of the date of manufacture.
     Please note:  Machine Guns manufactured before 1899 are still regulated under the National Firearms Act (NFA).
     Under federal law, Antique Firearms may be purchased by anyone without restriction - except convicted felons. 
     However, some states have additional restrictions.  Convicted felons may be allowed to purchase and/or possess
     certain antique firearms - see your attorney.

     From the ATF website:        ATF Antique Firearm Web Page

     "As defined in 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(16) the term “antique firearm” means —

        any firearm (including any firearm with a matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system) 
            manufactured in or before 1898; or

        any replica of any firearm described in subparagraph (A) if such replica —
              is not designed or redesigned for using rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition, or
              uses rimfire or conventional centerfire fixed ammunition which is no longer manufactured in the United States 
                  and which is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade; or

        any muzzle loading rifle, muzzle loading shotgun, or muzzle loading pistol, which is designed to use black powder, 
            or a black powder substitute, and which cannot use fixed ammunition. For purposes of this subparagraph, 
            the term ‘antique firearm’ shall not include any weapon which incorporates a firearm frame or receiver, 
            any firearm which is converted into a muzzle loading weapon, or any muzzle loading weapon, 
            which can be readily converted to fire fixed ammunition by replacing the barrel, bolt, breechblock, or any combination thereof.

     Importing Antique Firearms:    No Import Permit is required to import any antique firearm, and no Customs duty applies.

     From the CBP website:     CBP Importing Firearms Web Page

     "If the firearm you intend to import is an antique and was manufactured in or before 1898, you or the dealer if you choose to use one 
     does not have to submit the Form 6 to ATF, however you must be able to prove to CBP that it was manufactured during that period. 
     If you ship the antique be sure the package includes the required documention.  CBP will accept a certificate of authenticity or 
     bill of sale with the year the firearm was manufactured as proof of age. If the firearm was manufactured after 1898, the dealer has 
     to submit the Form 6 to ATF for approval to import the firearm.

     If the firearm is at least 100 years old or more and you can provide proof of age, the firearm will be eligible for duty-free treatment 
     under the antique provision in the Harmonized Tariff Schedule."

5.  "No Serial Number".  Many guns before 1968 were legally manufactured without serial numbers. 
     There are hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of such guns.  Other firearms may only have internal serial numbers
     not visible unless the gun is disassembled.  Yet others may have internal assembly numbers, either in addition to a serial
     or with no serial.  Serial numbers were not required by federal law until 1968 for licensed Manufacturers and Importers.  
     If anyone else manufactures a gun, it is not required to have a serial number - or any other markings, unless it is ultimately sold.

     ATF misleads the law enforcement community, including their own agents, by implying a close connection between make 
     and model of firearms and the serial number - particularly in connection with firearms tracing.  While newer firearms have 
     a closer correlation and higher probability to a unique serial number, older firearms can be extremely difficult to trace.
     There is nothing sacred about a firearm serial number.  In fact, serial numbers can be a complex subject to understand,
     and conventional wisdom may not apply.  Originally, serial numbers were never intended to specifically identify one 
     single firearm.  Serial numbers were originally placed on firearms for the manufacturer's convenience in keeping track 
     of what they made - not for ATF convenience to try to track each firearm.  Accordingly, serial numbers are not necessarily 
     unique and the exact same serial number might be found on many different firearms - even on the same make and model.

     ATF openly admits that many firearms were made before 1968 without serial numbers, and many manufacturers duplicated 
     serial numbers - either accidently or deliberately on the same make and model.  Accidental serial number duplications 
     were sometimes handled by the addition of an "A" or other special character to the serial.  Manufacturers might produce identical 
     serial numbers for different contracts - as the buyer directed.  Other makers restarted serial numbers at the beginning 
     of each year, resulting with dozens of duplicate serial number with German military Luger and P.38 pistols, and K98 rifles 
     being obvious examples.
     Consequently, there are thousands of duplicate serial numbers.  This is evident in the reporting of stolen guns (NCIC), 
     when such duplicate serials result in false claims of stolen firearms - to the surprise of some owners.

     Certain firearms will have multiple serial numbers stamped on different parts, which can be the same number or different 
     numbers.  For example, some firearms may have a number on the frame, another on the slide, and yet another on the barrel.
     When all of these numbers are the same number, the firearm is usually said to have "matching numbers".  If one or more
     of the numbers is entirely different, then the firearm is said to be "mismatched".  In some cases, the primary serial number
     could be marked anywhere on the gun and may have 5 or more digits, and the other parts may only be marked with the last 
     three digits.  In at least one case, the frame of the gun is marked with the last three digits, while the full serial number is 
     marked elsewhere.

     Further, numbers other than serial numbers are frequently found on firearms.  Military regimental marks and unit numbers
     may frequently be found along with property marks, registration numbers, contract numbers, assembly numbers, patent numbers,
     accession numbers, model numbers, pattern numbers, dates and rack numbers.  Any of these could be factory applied by roll 
     stamping or handstamped at the factory or much later.  These markings may easily be confused with serial numbers by someone 
     unfamiliar with such guns.  The authorities may not be able to discern the difference and may be indifferent to the legal distinction.  
     These additional markings may also be (legally) obliterated or removed as many have been.  The authorities may not be able to 
     discern the difference between obliterated serials and other obliterated markings, and may not care.
     To further complicate the serial number issue, regardless of the passage of the 1968 Gun Control Act requiring serial numbers, 
     U.S. laws have never applied to any foreign country.  Accordingly, foreign manufacturers continue to manufacture firearms 
     following their own laws, not U.S. laws.  Some, of course, specially produce firearms for the American market and attempt to 
     follow configuration restrictions and serial numbering as required by American law or as requested by ATF.  These manufacturers 
     also continue to produce firearms as they did before - some with no serial numbers, some with duplicate serial number, and even 
     some with complete counterfeit markings and serials.  Examples are being found in Mexico - and these can and do drift north into the 
     United States.  Recently photographed examples include alleged counterfeit AR-15 rifles with full Colt markings.  These may 
     appear to be obvious from the crude markings, but could also be legitimate licensed copies.  Other copies are more exact and
     may be copies which will fool most experts - or may be legitimate licensed copies.  It is well established that any object which 
     has been manufactured, can be manufactured again and no one may be able to detect a difference.  Fakers are well aware of this
     fact as is readily evident in art fakes and firearm fakes.   Obviously, this is a very complex issue.

     Firearm manufacture is not rocket science.  Firearms have been (and continue to be) manufactured in small workshops around
     the world - including the United States.  Chinese copies of existing firearms made in the WWII era are well known, as are the 
     famous Kyber Pass copies made with hand tools.  Less known are firearms made in China during that same time frame that 
     show unusual innovations and may be impossible to identify.  More sophisticated copies have been made in China more recently 
     which have included copies of Uzi submachine guns, unmarked selective-fire M14 rifles and many other guns.  These copies can 
     (and have) been made with and without serial numbers - and many were made with the SAME serial number.  It is not a simple 
     task to definitively identify them, nor to understand the serial numbers.

     It gets even more complex.  In many countries (including the United States in earlier times), firearm frames and receivers are 
     considered to be a "spare part".  Accordingly, thousands of firearm frames and receivers were manufactured with no serial 
     numbers and were intended as replacement parts.  One of the most common examples is the Browning HP pistol as 
     manufactured by John Inglis Company of Canada during WWII.  Thousands of spare parts frames made at that time and 
     many were imported as military surplus into the United States years ago, then sold to collectors all over the country.  These 
     legitimately bear no serial number. Many of those frames have been stamped with a spurious serial number by individuals 
     or dealers afraid to possess a firearm without a serial number.  Likewise, many other firearms manufactured without a serial number
     have been stamped with a spurious number which may appear to the inexperienced to be a serial number.

     Currently, licensed U.S. importers are allowed to use the existing factory-applied serial number to record imports in their records.  
     However, since that number "might" duplicate a previous serial on an imported firearm (which is prohibited by ATF), the 
     importer is allowed to place a separate serial number on every firearm.  These firearms are then stamped with TWO serial numbers!  
     Which one can you record on your personal or dealer records?  Either one!

     For years, ATF requested Ruger not to include the "-" (dash) that appears in their serial numbers because of difficulties with ATF's 
     computer system..  In 2011, that changed and ATF now requires Ruger and all dealers who sell Ruger firearms to include the dash 
     when recording the serial number.  Untold thousands of Ruger firearms have been recorded by distributors and dealers without the dash 
     as part of the serial.  Here is the quote from Ruger, "In recent years, there have occasionally been issues with ATF inspectors when 
     they visit federally licensed retailers and independent wholesale distributors to perform inspections of their A&D records.  More specifically, 
     some ATF inspectors have concluded that retailers and distributors recording the Ruger serial numbers without the dash were violating the 
     ATF regulations."

     The bottom line is: 

     Serial numbers on firearms are not some unique sacrosanct entity, but only one characteristic to help attempt to identify it. 

     Those who attempt to say otherwise, simply do not know what they're talking about.

     Regardless of the problems with old serial numbers, in the United States, it is illegal to obliterate an existing serial number, and

     "§ 478.34 Removed, obliterated, or altered serial number.
     No person shall knowingly transport, ship, or receive in interstate or foreign commerce any firearm which 
     has had the importer's or manufacturer's serial number removed, obliterated, or altered, or possess or receive 
     any firearm which has had the importer's or manufacturer's serial number removed, obliterated, or altered 
     and has, at any time, been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce."     

     These laws, of course, have no force or effect in foreign countries.  In those places, if a serial number gets
     damaged, they simply mark out the old number and stamp in a new number.  In the United States, this could
     get you a jail term.

6.  "80%" Receiver".  ATF has ruled that receivers which are only 80% completed are not firearms.
     (This means that additional work must be performed before they become firearms.)
     Until the additional work is performed, they are the same legal status as a paperweight.  
     Anyone may purchase or possess one - without any restriction.

     If you are legally allowed to own firarms, you are specifically allowed to personally make firearms (but not a machine gun).  
     This is completely legal under federal law - and you are not required to mark it in any way.  Of course, ATF recommends
     the homemade firearm be marked in some way to identify it, but you are under no legal obligation to do so.   
     This also applies to completion of 80% receivers, should you choose to finish one.   However, you should be aware that 
     it may be illegal under the state or local laws.  Check with your attorney.  

From an ATF Web Page:    ATF FAQ Web Page 
    "For your information, per provisions of the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968, 18 U.S.C. Chapter 44, 
    an unlicensed individual may make a “firearm” as defined in the GCA for his own personal use, 
    but not for sale or distribution."

7.  "ATF Compliance Inspections".     ATF Compliance Inspections