The Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency or ATF is the federal agency enforces most federal gun regulations, though state laws may apply depending on where you live. That’s why ATF engraving requirements are the ones you need to know, whether you have a basic pistol or are modifying your gun.
What Are the Most Basic ATF Engraving Requirements?
The most basic ATF engraving requirements are the manufacturer’s name, the manufacturer’s city and state, the gun serial number. In some cases, a model number and caliber / gauge must be included. For example, a frame may not list a caliber if it is sold as a frame. Once you add the receiver and other components, then that information must be added.
The serial number must be unique to that gun, so that its history and usage can be tracked. It is similar to a vehicle identification number or VIN number for cars. The serial number can be in combination with the model number and thus include it, but every one of the guns of that particular model must have their own unique serial or ID number. However, you have flexibility in assigning the serial number. And if you make the gun yourself, you can decide what it will be.
The serial number must be located on the frame or the receiver of the firearm. ATF engraving requirements make it such that the serial number must be somewhere that you cannot remove the serial number without destroying or damaging the firearm. This means you can’t have the serial number on a pistol grip that could be changed out. This is why most serial numbers are located on the barrel of the gun frame. In the case of Glock firearms, the serial number may be on the barrel while the rest of the information is on the plastic frame.
The model number to be engraved on the gun is the one listed in box 4D on form ATF 5320.1 or screen five of the ATF eForm. The caliber will be the one listed on 4C of form 5320.1. The serial number will be the one listed in box 4G of ATF form 5320.1.
ATF Engraving Rules
The ATF rules state that the serial numbers must be at least one sixteenth of an inch high or 1.5875 mm. You can make the letters and numbers larger than this. The engraving depth must be at least three thousandths of an inch or 0.0762 mm. Again, you can have the engraved characters deeper than this, since the ATF rules are the minimum requirement. For example, you could engrave the serial number 0.08 mm or 0.1 mm and not run into trouble.
If you as an individual are classified as the gun’s manufacturer, then you’ll need to put the same name listed on box 3B of ATF form 5320.1 or the eForm you filled out. The location will be the city and state where it was made. That information will be in box 3B, too. You can abbreviate the state to the official two letter designation. For example, you can engrave the gun with AL instead of spelling out Alabama.
If an item must be registered under the National Firearms Act or NFA, it must be identified by a serial number and several other markings. For example, it must have the manufacturer’s ID, serial number, caliber and model number. Note that if you make an NFA firearm from various components, you are the manufacturer and you have to register it. For example, if you build your own silencer, you’ll need to get a number from the NFA. And you are considered the manufacturer, not the gun maker, if you’re shortening the barrel of a sixteen inch shotgun to something that falls under the NFA.
These markings can be stamped or engraved on the gun. Engraving this information into the handle ensures that you can never be in violation of the law, since you can be hit with a massive fine if the stamp rubs off.
You can have a gun owned by an NFA trust. That makes it easier to transfer ownership of the firearm to family members listed as recipients of the trust property. Putting the NFA trust number on the gun ensures that it is always registered with the trust and prevents issues if the current holder doesn’t have paperwork. If you have an NFA weapon, you must put the trust name and the city and state on it. Under 26 U.S.C. 5871, the penalties could be a fine of up to 10,000 dollars and/or a prison sentence of up to ten years.
What should you do if you’re applying for the ATF registration through a trust? The manufacturer will be the trust in box 3B on ATF form 5320.1. The location will be the city and state where the NFA firearm is made. The model number will be the one you created and listed in box 4D of ATF form 5320.1. You must include the caliber on the gun, and this will be listed in box 4G of the registration form. The serial number you must engrave on the gun must be the one you supply on box 4G of form 5320.1. This will be on screen 5 if you’re filling out the ATF eForm. On the other hand, if you’re modifying an existing firearm to make an NFA weapon (like the sawed off shotgun), you should use the existing serial number if it is already serialized. In this case, use the original manufacturer’s serial number on the paperwork, and don’t modify the one engraved on the gun. If you aren’t changing the caliber of the weapon, that value won’t have to be changed, either.
If you build your own gun, you could end up being forced to engrave the make, model and serial number on the lower receiver as the “ATF tax stamp”. The ATF tax stamp information includes the barrel length, total length of the adjustable stock fully extended or short barrel rifle (SBR), and the caliber or gauge of the gun. You only have to use either the caliber or the gauge. And when you’re making the gun, your name or the name of the gun trust you set up must be marked on the gun. Engraving is generally the best way to do this, since the average person can’t have the ID number they chose cast into the gun metal.
If you’re building or modifying guns, you may not know if you need to get an ATF tax stamp or registration. I general, if you have an “Application for Tax Paid Transfer and Registration of Firearm” form, the answer is no. There is no additional engraving requirement. If you have an ATF Form 4, the answer is generally no. If you have an “Application to Make and Register a Firearm”, the answer is yes, you’ll need to mark the gun and engraving it is generally the best way to do so. If you are holding an ATF Form 1, you either count as the maker or the manufacturer of the firearm. You will then need to mark it appropriately. Engraving is one of the allowed options and the most permanent one, making it the ideal solution. If in doubt, talk to an attorney.
ATF Regulations and Your Contact Information
The NFA does not require you to engrave your name and address onto the gun, because that information often changes. For example, the average person moves every few years. And engravings are like tattoos. They can’t be removed, and filling them in is an expensive, time-consuming process. That is why you can engrave a gun with your name and address but this is never mandatory. Even gun manufacturers only have to list a city and state, since the factory or official headquarters’ address may change.
This is the same reason why they don’t order you to put your phone number on the gun. Phone numbers change. Business phone numbers may change because someone gets a new number, or the area code itself may change.
ATF Rules on Certain Accessories
NFA rules can apply to entire classes of weapons like fully automatic weapons (machine guns). They can apply to modified weapons like short-barreled shotguns that were once long guns. These items are known as NFA firearms or Title II weapons. And they can apply to certain accessories like sound suppressors. These are incorrectly called silencers, though they don’t make the gunshot silent. Sound suppressors reduce the sound of a gun by 14 to 43 decibels, depending on the sound suppressor and the operating conditions.
The ATF requires sound suppressors to be registered. Note that the ATF is a federal agency, and states may ban it. There are many states that permit private ownership of sound suppressors. The list includes but is not limited to Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming. Roughly ten states out of the fifty states prohibit them. California is an exception here. It restricts silencer ownership to those with a valid Federal Firearms License or FFL.
A silencer could be purchased and installed on a single gun, or it could be put on any one of a number of guns as long as they have the right threading. This is why gun accessories like silencers can be engraved with serial numbers and the manufacturer’s information, though they are stand-alone pieces. The penalties for obscuring or changing this information are similar to the penalties for anonymizing a gun by removing the serial number.
Rules Regarding Owners of NFA Guns
You do not have to have the gun engraved if you simply buy an NFA gun. Only the manufacturers, importers and makers have to engrave the gun (If it is imported, you’ll list the foreign maker or manufacturer.). If you simply buy it, you don’t have to engrave it with your name or anything else. However, if you have a decorative pattern engraved into the gun, it cannot interfere with the legibility of the manufacturer’s information like where the gun was made or its serial number. This may be your place of business, if you have one, or you literally made the firearm. (This is called out in 27 C.F.R. 479.102(a)(2).) If you transfer the gun to a buyer, you don’t have to engrave anything new into it. It is their choice as to whether or not they will engrave their name or a design into it.
If you have a gun trust, under ATF 41F regulations that went into effect in July, 2016, you’ll need to pay the necessary taxes to transfer the gun to an additional member of the trust. Note that this regulation doesn’t negate the benefits of having a gun trust to make or manage NFA firearms. Changes to the trust itself like adding and deleting co-trustees won’t force you to engrave anything new on the gun, as long as the trust number remains the same. A side benefit of having an NFA trust is that the co-owners of the gun can take possession of it, whereas a private individual can have them confiscated once they are found to be incompetent. This could be due to mental illness, dementia or a coma. Talk to an attorney to understand the complex laws regarding gun trusts. And set one up, if you think it is relevant, before you start modifying a gun and submitting paperwork to the ATF. But not all guns are covered by the NFA.
Title 1 Weapons
Title 1 weapons are those regulated by the Gun Control act of 1968, also known as the GCA. These guns are called non-NFA firearms. They may be called regular firearms. The category of Title I weapons includes regular rifles, pistols, revolvers and shotguns. These guns can be owned by people and built by anyone, assuming they are not a prohibited person by the ATF.
Since ATF rule 2013-3 went into effect, all manufacturers, importers and makers of these guns must legibly identify a firearm. This could be done by engraving, stamping or casting the gun. The labeling of the gun must be done on the frame or receiver where it cannot be removed from the gun without rendering the gun unusable. Note that this means they don’t have to engrave it, but that is arguably the most popular method since it cannot be erased or easily undone.
In this case, the average owner doesn’t legally need to engrave it unless they modify it so that it is a Title 2 or other type of regulated gun such as shortening the barrel of a shotgun. These guns need to be registered under antiquated rules dating back to when concealed firearms were absolutely illegal. The rules requiring them to be registered were intended to make it possible to go after the mob for cutting down shotguns so it could be hidden under their long coats.
While not all guns and gun accessories need to be engraved with certain information by the owner, many do. And all guns must be engraved or otherwise labeled with unique identifiers per federal regulations.