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View Poll Results: What should I do if he refuses to have the gun examined before the sale?
Refuse to by the weapon, and report him to his local LE 3 10.00%
Refuse to by the weapon, but make no report to LE 20 66.67%
Buy the weapon, but only for a reduced price 0 0%
Buy the weapon, and don't ask any more questions 7 23.33%
Voters: 30. You may not vote on this poll

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Old June 6, 2012, 12:41 AM   #1
JimmyR
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Delicate issue- legal/moral advice

OK, so I am planning on buying a used firearm from an individual. Its a Smith and Wesson 1955 Chief Special chambered in 38 special. Now, the guy gave me the serial number, and I called my local police department. The officer I spoke to ran the serial, and said that because of the way S&W does its serials, I will need to bring the weapon to a police officer so that it can be examined. There are apparently some at least partial matches to the one I am looking at.

My intended solution is to meet the seller at a police department half-way between where we live, and have them check it out before we make any exchange. I figure this way, I am not out $325 for a firearm I have to return to the police. I am offering the gentleman an extra $25 for the extra hassle of meeting with an officer.

My concern is if the seller chooses not to do the deal because of having the gun checked. Do I have a legal/moral obligation to alert local police that this man may posses a stolen firearm? I have no proof nor any reason to suspect this man stole the weapon, but he got it in a trade, and I don't know what he did to verify its legitimacy. His price is already lower than most, but if he refuses, should I lower my price due to its potential compromised ownership? I live in Indiana, which does not register firearms.
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Old June 6, 2012, 01:11 AM   #2
Tom Servo
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Quote:
Do I have a legal/moral obligation to alert local police that this man may posses a stolen firearm? I have no proof nor any reason to suspect this man stole the weapon, but he got it in a trade, and I don't know what he did to verify its legitimacy.
Just because the seller doesn't want to engage in a terribly inconvenient and insulting process doesn't mean he's up to no good.

You have no "moral" or legal obligation to call the cops on him for refusing the transaction, and it seems odd that you'd be willing to set those concerns aside for a lower price.
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Old June 6, 2012, 01:26 AM   #3
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Absolutely no way I would turn the guy in just because I think that maybe he might know that someone possibly did something wrong. Personally I would simply draw up a bill of sale and ask the guy to sign it when you buy the gun.
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Old June 6, 2012, 02:05 AM   #4
JimmyR
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@Tom- the reason I was asking about the reduced price was because of the increased risk I would be taking in purchasing a gun that might be stolen. If I were to have it checked, and it turns out that it is stolen, the seller has no obligation to refund my money. I say this especially since, when I called in the serial number, it did come up with some possible matches. I have no intention of creating a situation requiring police involvement, but when i was in an auto accident in January, the police removed my pistol from my glove box and kept it in evidence. I am certain they ran the serial number to determine if it had been reported stolen, and would have told me had it been so. I'd like to avoid any circumstances that a firearm that I legally purchase is taken from me because of a previous act of theft.

The reason I ask about the legal quandary is i know that, for some offenses, people have a legal expectation, if not obligation, to make a report (i.e. child abuse). I wasn't sure if this fell into that category. The moral question is more just interesting debate for me.
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Old June 6, 2012, 02:26 AM   #5
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I'd say the moral question is of at least equal importance.

I'd also say that, if you actually suspect the guy is dealing in a stolen gun, it's reprehensible that you'd just view that as an acceptable risk if you could knock the price down.

On the other hand, if you would actually use the possibility simply as an opportunity to haggle on price, that's pretty reprehensible, too.

I wonder how long it will be before the mods lock this one...
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Old June 6, 2012, 02:48 AM   #6
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@MLeake: Perhaps I should have been more clear, since a lot of people are really getting the wrong idea. If this guy is selling a stolen weapon, I don't think he knows it is stolen. he got it in a trade, and with it being as old as it is, there is no way for me to know its history. I am asking this to determine my level of risk. Further, I think you got it backwards- if I ask for a lower price, it is because I would be the one bringing it to the police to have it checked out. I would be incurring the additional risk of having the gun confiscated after paying for it.

Buying used anything- firearms, houses, cars, whatever- includes a certain degree of risk. I knew this going in. I am, like any responsible consumer, trying to mitigate my risk as much as possible. I don't want to perpetuate a stolen gun going from person to person. If I purchase this weapon without having it checked out first, I am assuming responsibility for it- if it turns out that it was stolen 40 years ago, and has been traded and sold 5 times since, I am still out my money for this firearm. When the officer told me that there was a possibility that the weapon might be stolen, and that only a gun in hand inspection would determine its legitimacy, I became concerned. I am not worried that the seller is a con, but a victim of a con.

I would ask, MLeake, that you be a little more careful in your assertions. If I just wanted to screw a guy or buy a stolen weapon, why would I post on a forum to discuss the legality of it?
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Old June 6, 2012, 02:54 AM   #7
JimmyR
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@MLeake: Also, as to the moral question, I agree that it is equally relevant, but I am less concerned in seeking the moral opinions of others. Morally, at least from my point, the gun should be checked to determine if it is stolen. If I have any control over it, I should work to that end. If the seller is willing to have it checked out, then I owe him the additional compensation for his time and trouble. If he refuses, and I agree to purchase the weapon, then I should take the gun and have it checked out, and accept any consequences. With a bill of sale, which I agree with BarryLee is definitely in the plan, I should be able to avoid any criminal charges, but I would like to make sure that I actually keep a gun I spend $300+ on, if I have the option.
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Old June 6, 2012, 04:08 AM   #8
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Quote:
Just because the seller doesn't want to engage in a terribly inconvenient and insulting process doesn't mean he's up to no good
If I were the seller, I'd be telling you to jump off a cliff. You say you're worried about the "morality" of receiving potentially stolen goods, but you're willing to take the gun anyway for a lower price? Sounds a bit like extortion to me, trying to extract a lower price.
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Old June 6, 2012, 04:35 AM   #9
Pond, James Pond
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Have you explained why you want the gun checked out?

If you do so, the buyer may be more amenable to meeting you half way for a check to be made. If not, you can ask why. If he still refuses to justify his stance, you can go with either "he has something to hide" or "this sale is obviously not that important to him"

By that stage, you can decide for yourself if the gun in question is worth the punt.

As for the guy, well, innocent until proven guilty. Morally speaking, only you can decide if you are comfortable with the present situation.

Quote:
Sounds a bit like extortion to me, trying to extract a lower price.
Extortion is a bit strong. Negotiate is the word I would choose.
If there was an aspect of a purchase that meant I could loose all the money I'd paid, I would certainly try to mitigate.

Rather than extortion, the OP is perhaps being willing to give another person he knows nothing about, the benefit of the doubt, despite failing to get assurances that this purchase is sound....

If very few people actually bother with firearms police checks police, then that might be why many firearm thefts go unresolved and unpunished...
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Last edited by Pond, James Pond; June 6, 2012 at 05:14 AM.
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Old June 6, 2012, 04:49 AM   #10
TMD
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If you have any doubts about a gun just move on. There's plenty of others out there.
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Old June 6, 2012, 04:57 AM   #11
Aguila Blanca
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Just walk away from the deal and find a different pistol to buy. I second what Tom Servo wrote in post #2.

Several years ago I was selling an older Jeep with a plow rig on it. I had a buyer run me all over the planet. First I took it to his mechanic to be checked out. The mechanic said it needed a new gas tank. (It needed a 5-minute repair of a short piece of fuel line.) Then I had to take it to the distributor for that brand of plow to be checked out. They gave it a clean bill of health. After all that, he offered me about 60 percent of my asking price, which I refused outright. Someone else bought it on the spot for the full price. A week later idiot-child called back and asked when he could pick up "his" Jeep. He started swearing at me when I told him it was sold.

And what makes you sure some police station midway between you and the seller will run check the gun for you? And if there's something funky about the serial numbers on that model, how will another cop know whether or not the gun is stolen if the cop you talked to can't tell from the serial number? What's a "partial match" on a serial number? Serial numbers are unique ... either it matches, or it doesn't.

Your expectations are unrealistic. If I were the seller I'd already have told you to take a long walk off a short pier.
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Old June 6, 2012, 04:59 AM   #12
JimmyR
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@Sparks: As I have said MULTIPLE times in this thread, the reason I ASKED IF I SHOULD lower the price without the verification is because I feel I have an obligation to find out if the gun is stolen, and if I am taking that risk, should I pay the same as a firearm that I know is legal for me to purchase.

@James: I am glad someone understands what I have been trying to communicate- I am pretty sleep deprived, so I guess I am not being as clear as I should be., I left the seller a voicemail, and have not heard back yet. He is a retired gent I found on Armslist, and we would be meeting halfway anyways. I suggested we meet at the police dept in the city we were planning on meeting in anyways. I do not think this guy has knowingly done anything wrong, but I want to make sure I do not commit any errors of omission by failing to determine the legal status of this weapon.
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Old June 6, 2012, 05:04 AM   #13
JimmyR
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@Aguila- I got my information from a Jeffersonville (IN) police officer, when I asked her to run the serial numbers. It might be a good idea, however, to call ahead and ask if they would be willing to do that, thanks. From what she told me, serial numbers, especially on older smith and wessons, are unique only within the model, and so can sometimes lead to false positives.

While I can see some connection between your story and mine, I think you are comparing apples and oranges. I'm gambling that the gun works as advertised- I just want to make sure I can legally buy it. I am sure you did the same when you sold it- you had to have the vehicle titled in his name. Further, in case you missed it, I am offering MORE MONEY if he goes with me to have it checked out. I know I asking him to jump through a hoop, and I hate asking him to do it. I just want to follow the law.

@TMD- The thought has crossed my mind a few times, but if the gent is willing to do this, then I would love the gun, and have offered to give him more than his asking price. If not, I will probably give him his asking price and hope. The idea of asking for less has thus far been universally panned.

Last edited by JimmyR; June 6, 2012 at 05:25 AM.
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Old June 6, 2012, 05:22 AM   #14
Aguila Blanca
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Okay, JimmyR, now look at this from the seller's perspective. Let's assume that he has done nothing wrong, but might be in possession of a firearm that might have been stolen before it came into his possession. You want to limit your potential losses. What's in your proposal for the seller?

Suppose you meet him at a police station, the police run the serial number, and the gun turns out to be stolen. The police confiscate the gun on the spot. You do your little happy dance because you were saved from buying a "hot" firearm. Meanwhile, the seller is standing there without his firearm AND without any compensation for it. Are you willing to pay him half the asking price in order to compensate him for sharing the risk of having the serial number run? THAT would be the fair and ethical thing to do, IMHO, if you are concerned that the gun might be stolen. Why should the seller assume ALL the risk of protecting you?

In the insurance business this is called "risk allocation." You are being selfish and asking the seller to assume all the risk of protecting you from what you perceive as a risk. That's not reasonable.
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Old June 6, 2012, 05:27 AM   #15
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Quote:
There are apparently some at least partial matches to the one I am looking at.
What exactly is a "Partial Match", and why would the police need to see anything other than the serial number?

Are they somehow able to simply look at a gun and divine if it is stolen???
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Old June 6, 2012, 05:37 AM   #16
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@Aguila- I definitely see your point, and agree to some extent. First off, however, if he decided to accept a firearm without knowing its history, then that was a risk he accepted, in my opinion. I was hoping to be able to resolve this without putting him at risk, but based on what the officer told me, I don't have any other way of finding out. I don't see any obligation to give him half of the price if HE accepted a stolen gun. With him driving an hour to meet me, I would probably at least offer him some money to pay for the drive down, say $50, but I should not be obligated to finance his gamble.

@Salmoneye- I am a little confused by that as well, but I have seen a lot of similar S&W serials, so I understand why the serial alone wouldn't do it. I assume they would look at descriptions of the stolen weapons, and see if there is a match. I am also assuming that, if I have a 5 digit serial number, their computer is going to pull up any 5+ serial that may include my serial (in case part of the serial is removed, etc).
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Old June 6, 2012, 05:44 AM   #17
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Unless you have some other more solid reason to suspect a problem with the weapon this is really being overblown. If I were the seller I would tell you the gun is not for sale.
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Old June 6, 2012, 05:45 AM   #18
mehavey
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Quote:
Smith & Wesson 1955 Chief Special chambered in 38 special, [Serial # XXXXXX]
Other issues aside, that's about a specific as one can get. "Partial match" raises my eyebrows
as to what the police really want by your physically giving it to them beyond that.
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Old June 6, 2012, 05:54 AM   #19
JimmyR
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@Manson: Why? I have made no ultimatums, but offered to pay EXTRA for the inconvenience of bringing it by the police station. Why would you refuse to sell it to me? Now, if I were going to be a jerk and refuse to do business any other way, then perhaps, but I am trying to get a feel from the community if that would even be necessary.
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Old June 6, 2012, 05:56 AM   #20
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If you are willing to pay the higher price for inconvenience, why not just ask to do the transfer through an FFL?
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Old June 6, 2012, 05:57 AM   #21
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As to the "partial match"- that is what I believe I heard. I may have misunderstood, since I was on my cell phone having this conversation when it happened. One person I talked to off-line said that the larger PDs won't even run the number unless they have the weapon in hand, so that if it is stolen, it can be confiscated. It may be for that reason- I don't know for sure.

@icedogg88- the seller requested a face to face exchange.
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Old June 6, 2012, 06:04 AM   #22
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Well, if you as the buyer feel sketchy about the sale, and he as the seller doesn't want to meet your criteria for the sale, you should probably look for another gun IMO.
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Old June 6, 2012, 06:24 AM   #23
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@Icedog88- that makes sense. Once he calls back, we'll see. I may decide to be bad and not get it checked out, but I just feel like I would rather know for certain than have to wonder. I don't want to come across as too demanding, but I do want to make sure I am operating in the clear, and I want to make sure I am spending my money wisely.

As for turning down the buy, I have to say, as much as I might want to, dad gum its a nice piece. That might just get the best of me.

Thanks to everyone for their suggestions, and a little healthy debate to get me through a 3rd shift with no sleep.
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Old June 6, 2012, 08:28 AM   #24
Don H
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JimmyR, you do realize don't you, that even if a used gun doesn't show up as stolen, it could well be stolen and not reported as such...even if you bought it from a dealer. A subsequent serial # check a few months or years down the road could show you are in possession of a stolen firearm. There are very few guarantees in life.
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Old June 6, 2012, 09:35 AM   #25
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OK here is a perspective from me ( a Texas Police Officer) as to why I have to have the gun in my hand BEFORE I will run a serial number for anyone. Every department I know of has this policy of "don't run the number unless you have the item in front of you, and you are able to seize it if it comes back stolen".

When a serial number is checked, this is what happens. A computer inquiry is routed from that department to the state & to the federal database of stolen items. The federal database is maintained by the FBI. The inquiry is either sent by the officer at a computer or by the dispatcher at a computer at the station. Only specially authorized computers can make this inquiry. The officers NAME and DEPARTMENT are on this inquiry. This activity is ALL recorded by the system.

If the number comes back to a stolen gun, the agency (say somewhere in Arizona) that entered that gun as stolen automatically gets a message (normally an instant computer message) from the national system that officer 'x' at 'xyz' police department (in Texas) just ran that serial number.

Regulations dictate that the two agencies then have "x" number of minutes to make direct contact with each other (either by phone or over the computer teletype). Details of the matter are verified and 'stolen confirmation' is either verified or declined if things don't match up.

If either agency fails to make this contact within 'x' minutes, then automatic flags go off at the state and federal levels and inquires are started by either the state or the feds as to what is going on. When it gets to that point, people can get fired and/or get charges brought on them. These regulations I refer to are the operating rules that all users of the system must agree to before being given access to the system.

The officer that checks the item for stolen is mandated to seize the item once the confirmation has been made that the item is indeed stolen. The only way to absolutely make sure it is possible to seize the item is for the officer to have physical control of it before he starts the inquiry.

The explanation you got of "we need to see it to make sure every other identifier matches up" is a partial truth. The original stolen item report will have other identifiers on it, such as model number, physical description, etc. This helps eliminate the possibilities that numbers got transposed or entered incorrectly. The department to department contact after that first computer 'hit' is the time that this is done.
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