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POLICE OFFICER’S GUIDE to Recovered Firearms

April 26, 2011
  • Treat every firearm as if it is loaded (even if you think it is not).
  • Keep fingers off trigger.
  • Always keep firearms pointed in a safe direction.
  • No evidence is worth losing a life over.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is a principal law enforcement agency within the United States Department of Justice dedicated to preventing terrorism, reducing violent crime, and protecting our Nation. The men and women of ATF perform the dual responsibilities of enforcing Federal criminal laws and regulating the firearms and explosives industries. We are committed to working directly, and through partnerships, to investigate and reduce crime involving firearms and explosives, acts of arson, and illegal trafficking of alcohol and tobacco products.

CONTACT ATF: For more information or assistance, contact your local ATF office or call 1-800-ATF-GUNS.

POLICE OFFICER’S GUIDE to Recovered Firearms (Revised December 2009) 


  • Query firearm serial number in NCIC.
  • Use caution in identifying letters and numbers.  For example, be careful distinguishing between “5” and “S,” “Z” and “2,” etc.
  • Following a “hit,” be sure to compare serial number, model, caliber, and miscellaneous field.
  • The “Make” (MAK) field may contain Make, Brand, Model, or Trademark.
  • Be aware, the serial number match is important.  Discrepancies with MAK and/or MOD do not rule out a match if the serial numbers are the same.


A Firearms Trace Report can reveal:

  • The original firearm PURCHASER, including the address and identification they used at place of purchase;
  • The original FIREARM RETAILER, including their city and state;
  • The TIME PERIOD between the original purchase and the recovery by law enforcement;PATTERNS in purchase locations, purchasers, recovery locations, and other information that may be vital to an investigation or prosecution; and,
  • OTHER LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES that have purchasers, possessors, firearms retailers and/or firearm recovery locations in common with yours. Firearms trace request forms can be obtained at the ATF website You can also request access to ATF’s web-based electronic firearms tracing program – eTrace.  Through eTrace you can electronically submit traces, receive results, and analyze your agency’s aggregate firearms trace data.Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives 10 ATF Publication 3312.12.


  • Persons convicted of a crime punishable by more than one year in prison;
  • Fugitives from justice;
  • Users of illegal drugs or persons addicted to illegal drugs;
  • Persons adjudicated mentally ill or incompetent and persons committed to a mental institution;
  • Persons dishonorably discharged from military;
  • Illegal aliens and non-immigrant aliens;
  • Persons who have renounced US citizenship;
  • Persons under a qualifying order of protection; and,
  • Persons convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.



  1. About their specific crime and their role in it.
  2. About drug use past and present.
  3. When and where did they get the gun?
  4. How much did they pay for the gun?
  5. Did they load the gun themselves?
  6. Is there more ammunition, not with the gun?
  7. Who else knows they have a gun(s)?
  8. Do they have other guns?
  9. Can they get more guns?  From what source?
  10. Is that source violent and armed?
  11. Who else gets guns from that source?
  12. Did they, or does their source try to remove markings from guns?
  13. Which markings and how?
  14. If stolen, when and where was the gun stolen?
  15. Have they stolen firearms from other locations?

Revised December 2009, U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. ATF Publication 3312.12


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