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Old October 11, 2012, 03:10 AM   #1
SeattleJared
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1911 with scratched serial number? Restoration suggestions?

I inherited my grandfather's M1911a Marine Corps issue Colt from 1939. It was originally military issue, and at some point, someone tried to eradicate the serial number (no doubt because they were afraid the government would come after them for taking it from the military.

I can nearly make out the serial (there are two large scratches through it, but it hasn't been completely filed away). Is there a way to have the serial raised and make this a legal gun? It's an heirloom, so I am hesitant to throw it out, or contact the government if they're going to make me do the same. I'd like nothing more than to make this gun legal, but I am hesitant to start a process that could result in losing the only thing my grandfather left me. Any suggestions?
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Old October 11, 2012, 03:25 AM   #2
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Acid can be used to raise the serial number. I would cruise the web for methods. Nital is a nitric acid based solution that is sometimes used, magnafluxing is another possible method. There is quite a bit of info on the web.

Legally, I'm not sure where you stand. You didn't deface it so that's something.
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Old October 11, 2012, 06:53 AM   #3
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Restoration called for.

Law enforcement has ways of raising the serial number. Although defaced, if it's still readable, then perhaps it's still legal. Remember that it is a felony to remove a serial number from a firearm. Don't know about mere possession.

The BATF recently issued a serial number to a defaced firearm once carried by Bonnie Parker of Bonnie and Clyde.
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Old October 11, 2012, 07:00 AM   #4
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if you can read it then there is not much of a beef people can make with it, and remember many GI guns got so beat on that when they were arsenal rebuilt they had to re-stamp serials as they were refinished so many times.

Frankly if I were you I would simply not worry about it. This topic comes up over and over again with GI guns and there are always those who insist on the panic button response of toss the thing in the lake, or spend years in the can however I have yet to find some instance or hear of an instance where someone had an old GI gun with a serial number issue --- be it removed, never there to begin with (lunch box gun) or some weird demo or exp serial number.
Were I an FFL would I want to buy / sell / trade such a gun? No, not at all. Any gun with this issue is going to have near zero value. However as an inherited family heirloom I would not go crazy trying to get rid of it or lose sleep over it.

As to restoration, the only person who I can think of who might do a respectable job of it would be turnball restorations but the cost would be very high.

Last edited by RsqVet; October 11, 2012 at 07:07 AM.
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Old October 11, 2012, 10:13 AM   #5
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FWIW:

http://www.atf.gov/publications/down...f-p-5300-4.pdf

THE GUN CONTROL ACT OF 1968
TITLE 27 CFR CHAPTER II
PART 478—COMMERCE IN FIREARMS AND AMMUNITION

Subpart C – Administrative and Miscellaneous Provisions

§ 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.


IOW, if said firearm was not involved in interstate or international commerce, the Feds aren't interested.

IMO, and it's ONLY my opinion (worth exactly what you pay for it), a GI-issued firearm, personally handed down to family members over the years, doesn't qualify as commercially transportated/transferred.


.

Last edited by PetahW; October 11, 2012 at 10:19 AM.
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Old October 11, 2012, 11:46 AM   #6
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wether the feds are concerned or not, it would be a hairy situation if it ever came up. I'd go with the methods above for raising a serial number.

http://forensics4fiction.com/2011/09...n-on-firearms/
http://www.ehow.com/how_7894761_rest...al-number.html
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/1...sa347/abstract

I know it's frowned upon by a number of members, but have you thought of contacting your local ATF office, and explaining the situation to them, and seeing if they can guide you towards making your pistol legal? I know they're made out to be the badguys alot of times, but I'd figure they'd have bigger fish to fry than ganking up some law abiding citizen's heirloom when they ask for help.
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Old October 11, 2012, 11:52 AM   #7
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Someone here once took in a two shot superposed derringer that had the serial number removed. This employee was pretty stupid and is no longer here.

After informing LLE and ATF about the snafu we were told to hold onto it while it could be checked out.

After a year we were given the go ahead to apply our own serial number and resell the pistol, which we did.
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Old October 11, 2012, 02:28 PM   #8
Bill DeShivs
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The number needs to be re-applied.
Using high power magnification can reveal the original number, as can manipulated digital photography. Acid and magnafluxing work for numbers that are totally obliterated.
Once verified, the number can be restamped or recut. The gun is best refinished at the same time.
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Old October 11, 2012, 03:50 PM   #9
insomni
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Quote:
Someone here once took in a two shot superposed derringer that had the serial number removed. This employee was pretty stupid and is no longer here.

After informing LLE and ATF about the snafu we were told to hold onto it while it could be checked out.

After a year we were given the go ahead to apply our own serial number and resell the pistol, which we did.
whelp, that answers my question.

i'd go with what Bill said right above, he's pretty awesome at the whole metalworking thing. if you're curious, check out his website
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Old October 11, 2012, 04:17 PM   #10
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ATF has a program that will re-serial number firearms that have had them defaced after being stolen for instance. It requires that ATF ships the firearm to their lab who then re-inscribe/apply a number. I don't know if they will re install the old number all the cases I have been involved in they just assigned a new number and shipped it back. May cost a few bucks but for a family heir loom I would investigate the option.
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Old October 11, 2012, 07:19 PM   #11
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See post 5. The OP is in possession of a ticket to federal prison. It won't necessarily help for the OP to try to add the serial number himself.

The ATF used to have a program to re-serial number guns. I don't know if they will still do that.

But the continued possession by the OP of the pistol, unless or until the ATF authorizes stamping a new serial number, is a serious federal crime.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RsqVet
...As to restoration, the only person who I can think of who might do a respectable job of it would be turnball restorations but the cost would be very high.
With the serial number defaced/obliterated, I doubt that Doug Turnbull, or any other reputable gun restorer, would touch it.
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Old October 11, 2012, 09:01 PM   #12
Bill DeShivs
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If the original serial number can be discerned, it can be reapplied legally.
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Old October 11, 2012, 09:08 PM   #13
Frank Ettin
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill DeShivs
If the original serial number can be discerned, it can be reapplied legally.
Please provide a citation to proper legal authority for that claim.
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Old October 12, 2012, 02:49 AM   #14
SeattleJared
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I can nearly make out the original serial. There are two big scratches through it (imagine a Dremel tool with a cutting wheel doing two swipes through the serial number).

I have heard about he ATF program to restore serials, and was hoping someone here had experience with that. Since it's an heirloom, I'm hesitant to call the ATF and have them take it away. I didn't deface the serial. I inherited the gun. And, I would like it to be legal. Just hoping someone here had experience with the ATF process.
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Old October 12, 2012, 04:58 AM   #15
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Don't worry about the ATF. It's also a felony in most if not all States to be in possession of a firearm with a defaced or altered serial #. Your much more likely to be charged and prosecuted under State law. I hope you find a way to fix the problem. Maybe manufacturer could fix it.
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Old October 12, 2012, 05:34 AM   #16
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i pm'd the op with a seattle area forum, lots of good folks on there that might help with issue.
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Old October 12, 2012, 10:20 AM   #17
Frank Ettin
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank Ettin
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill DeShivs
If the original serial number can be discerned, it can be reapplied legally.
Please provide a citation to proper legal authority for that claim.
Since Bill DeShivs hasn't bothered to respond to my request that he back-up his comment in post 13, I'll jump in and explain why his advice should not be relied on.

Post 5 quoted the ATF regulation. But the actual law (as enacted by Congress) is found in 18 USC 922(k), which reads as follows (emphasis added):
Quote:
....(k) It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to 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 to 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....
The statute specifically refers to the "manufacturer's serial number", and absent a controlling court decision by a federal court to the contrary, a judge could find that to mean the actual number stamped by the manufacturer. A judge could also conclude that a number stamped by anyone else would not be the manufacturer's number and would be an alteration.

Under 18 USC 924, the penalty for possession of a gun on which the manufacturer's serial number has been removed, obliterated or altered is up to five years in federal prison and/or a fine. Also, since that is a felony, a conviction would mean a lifetime loss of gun rights.

The bottom line is that the OP's continued possession of the pistol puts him in serious, personal jeopardy. He needs the services of a qualified lawyer who is familiar with these matters.
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Old October 12, 2012, 02:57 PM   #18
Bill DeShivs
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Many years ago I had an encounter with ATF about this on a gun that I refinished. They were not at all concerned that the number was removed and reapplied, as this is permissable in refinishing. They were concerned that it was not the original serial number. The gun was purchased from a local police auction. The S/N was removed, and the PD assigned it their own ATF-approved number. Once I supplied them with this information, they were fine with it.
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Old October 12, 2012, 04:20 PM   #19
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Since the value is pretty much shot because its boogered up already, I'd "reveal" the number by whatever method worked (acid, magnuflux, etc) then re-stamp it as it should be and refinish/restore it from there.
A trustworthy smith could probably help you get the number back on it?

If the number is re-stamped, then bead-blasted, then refinished it should look reasonably legit.

Then shoot and enjoy it.

Do you have a photo of it? It would be interesting to see how messed up it really is.

Heck, even messing with a high resolution quality photo of it in Photoshop might reveal what the number really is.
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Old October 12, 2012, 04:26 PM   #20
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Quote:
The bottom line is that the OP's continued possession of the pistol puts him in serious, personal jeopardy. He needs the services of a qualified lawyer who is familiar with these matters.
Frank, while you may be right to the fine print, it seems absurd for any court or agency to persue a criminal case on a law-abiding ordinary Joe who simply inherited such a pistol, unless he was doing something illegal with it or had a few others just like it.

Consider how many years his Gramps owned the very same pistol with nary an issue.
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Old October 12, 2012, 06:17 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Frank Ettin
See post 5. The OP is in possession of a ticket to federal prison. It won't necessarily help for the OP to try to add the serial number himself.

The ATF used to have a program to re-serial number guns. I don't know if they will still do that.
I know an LEO who is also a certified armorer who has, in the past, assisted people in dealing with the BATFE to get replacement serial numbers issued for collectable firearms that had "lost" their original serial numbers. He told me probably a year or more ago that the BATFE (at least the office he deals with) had shut down that process.

Quote:
Quote:
Originally Posted by RsqVet
...As to restoration, the only person who I can think of who might do a respectable job of it would be turnball restorations but the cost would be very high.
With the serial number defaced/obliterated, I doubt that Doug Turnbull, or any other reputable gun restorer, would touch it.
Actually, it is my understanding that Turnbull is one of a very few restoration gunsmiths that the BATFE trusts to raise and restore "lost" serial numbers. Supposedly it is a service he offers (albeit probably as part of a restoration, perhaps not as a freestanding service). It wouldn't hurt to call him and ask.
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Old October 12, 2012, 06:39 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill DeShivs
Many years ago I had an encounter with ATF about this on a gun that I refinished....
An interesting anecdote, but merely an anecdote nonetheless. Certainly your story has no legal significance and won't help the OP if he gets himself into trouble for possession of that gun with the obliterated serial number.

Among other things:
  • It was many years ago. Has ATF policy changed? And whoever you dealt with at ATF is probably no longer around to give the OP a pass.

  • Someone with an FFL refinishing a gun with an ATF authorized replacement serial number is different enough from the OP's situation.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dashunde
...I'd "reveal" the number by whatever method worked (acid, magnuflux, etc) then re-stamp it as it should be and refinish/restore it from there...
And exactly what makes you think that would be legal?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dashunde
...If the number is re-stamped, then bead-blasted, then refinished it should look reasonably legit....
Looking "legit" is not, however, the legal test.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dashunde
...It would be interesting to see how messed up it really is.

Heck, even messing with a high resolution quality photo of it in Photoshop might reveal what the number really is....
On the other hand, see U.S. v. Horey, 36 F.3d 1106 (C.A.10 (Okl.), 1993):
Quote:
...We turn to defendant's argument that his conviction for violating 18 U.S.C. 922(k) was also based on insufficient evidence. Defendant argues the government failed to sufficiently show that the revolver's serial number was removed, obliterated, or altered. He asserts the statute does not reach serial numbers that are still readable.

Police officers testified that the serial number was obliterated. In addition, an expert in firearms and tool mark examination testified the revolver's serial number was partially obscured or obliterated. The examiner also noted that it was possible one or two additional serial numbers were completely obliterated. Based on the clear language of 922(k), we reject defendant's argument that the statute does not reach the firearm recovered by the police in this case. The evidence is sufficient to sustain the conviction, and we AFFIRM the jury's verdict....
See also U.S. v. Adams, 305 F.3d 30 (Fed. 1st Cir., 2002)(emphasis added):
Quote:
...As for the evidence, that was clearly sufficient once it is understood that any alteration that works against legibility is enough; ...The pistol was presented to the jury. The case agent testified at trial that he could read the six digits of the serial number but with difficulty. At oral argument, Adams's counsel asked that this court examine the original pistol, and we now report the results.

...

Of course, judgment as to the degree of impairment was for the jury. But a reasonable jury could easily conclude that this pistol had been altered so as to make it appreciably more difficult to read the serial number. Indeed, a reasonable jury could hardly reach any other conclusion...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dashunde
...Frank, while you may be right to the fine print, it seems absurd for any court or agency to persue a criminal case on a law-abiding ordinary Joe who simply inherited such a pistol,...
Whether it seems absurd to you is beside the point and will be no help to the OP if it doesn't seem absurd to the United States Attorney. Remember, mere possession is the crime (and it seems to be stretching a point to call someone law-abiding who is knowingly in possession of gun on which the manufacturer's serial number has been removed, obliterated or altered, when such possession is a federal felony).

And the OP is risking five years in federal prison (plus the lifetime loss of gun rights). Do you really think he should risk that on what you think is absurd?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Aguila Blanca
...Actually, it is my understanding that Turnbull is one of a very few restoration gunsmiths that the BATFE trusts to raise and restore "lost" serial numbers...
I wasn't aware of that. If Turnbull would/could take it on, that would solve the OP's problems. It would be expensive, but Turnbull's work is absolutely first class.

And whatever Turnbull is likely to charge for the restoration of both the gun and the serial number will certainly be less than it would cost the OP to deal with a charge of violating 18 USC 922(k).
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Old October 12, 2012, 07:17 PM   #23
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Quote:
The statute specifically refers to the "manufacturer's serial number", and absent a controlling court decision by a federal court to the contrary, a judge could find that to mean the actual number stamped by the manufacturer. A judge could also conclude that a number stamped by anyone else would not be the manufacturer's number and would be an alteration.
Is it the same number?

If the manufacturer stamped it "123", and you refinish it and restamp it "123", the gun has the manufacturer's serial number -- even if you move it to a different place.

Don't go looking for more problems.
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Old October 12, 2012, 07:27 PM   #24
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^^^^ what he said.

Case in point: Custom 1960's era .45 built by Austin Behlert. Chopped to be what today would be considered an officers model. Narrowed by thinning the entire slide and frame to remove weght. Original serial number along with all other markings are GONE via this process. Same number re-applied by Behlert in the original location. Nobody is going to challenge this.

The manufacturers number is the one assigned to the gun by the manufacturer. If they meant "manufacturers applied serial number" I bet they would have written that. Could they have stormed into his shop at the exact moment that he had the thing on the belt sander... maybe. Know what" They didn't and it's old history. In fact... I bought it from a secret service agent. Go figure.

Personally... if you can read it... read it and forget it. Don't rob banks.


Frank will differ. He's an attorney. I'm a pilot. He's an expert. I am not. But sometimes the difference between theory and practice is that in theory they are the same, and in practice they are sometimes different.


"I know it's frowned upon by a number of members, but have you thought of contacting your local ATF office, and explaining the situation to them, and seeing if they can guide you towards making your pistol legal?"


Might be good advice.. perhaps ask to have it placed on the Curio and Relic list as a collectable curio?




Willie


.

Last edited by Willie Sutton; October 12, 2012 at 07:43 PM.
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Old October 12, 2012, 07:33 PM   #25
Frank Ettin
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zxcvbob
...If the manufacturer stamped it "123", and you refinish it and restamp it "123", the gun has the manufacturer's serial number -- even if you move it to a different place...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Willie Sutton
...The manufacturers number is the one assigned to the gun by the manufacturer. If they meant "manufacturers applied serial number" I bet they would have written that.

Personally... if you can read it... read it and forget it....
And you know this how?

For me as a lawyer, I can not make those sorts of assumptions. When the downside is five years in a federal slammer (and the associated lifetime loss of gun rights) the only thing that really means anything is a clear and applicable opinion of a federal court of appeal.
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