REMOVING SERIAL NUMBER FROM A FIREARM
Firearms are produced with serial numbers on them so that they can be identified if they are ever used in the commission of a crime. Consequently, removing, changing, or altering the serial number on a gun is a crime because it hinders this process. Convictions for doing so are severe and include jail time and harsh fines.
What is the legal definition of making or removing or changing the serial number on a weapon?
The laws relating to removing or changing the serial number on a weapon are governed by NRS 202.253, and 202.277.
NRS 202.253 – Definitions.
As used in NRS 202.253 to 202.369, inclusive:
- “Explosive of incendiary device” means any explosive or incendiary device material or substance that has been constructed, altered, packaged or arranged in such a manner that its ordinary use would cause destruction or injury to life or property.
- “Firearm” means any device designed to be used as a weapon from which a projectile may be expelled through the barrel by the force of any explosion or other form of combustion.
- “Firearm capable of being concealed upon the person” applies to and includes all firearms having a barrel less than 12 inches in length.
- “Motor vehicle” means every vehicle that is self-propelled.
NRS 202.277 – Changing, altering, removing or obliterating serial number of firearm prohibited; possession of firearm with serial number changed, altered, removed or obliterated prohibited; penalties.
- A person shall not intentionally change, alter, remove or obliterate the serial number upon any firearm. Any person who violates the provisions of this subsection is guilty of a category C felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130.
- A person shall not knowingly possess a firearm on which the serial number has been intentionally changed, altered, removed or obliterated. Any person who violates the provisions of this subsection is guilty of a category D felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130.
Is this what TV shows mean by “filing off” the serial number?
In part, yes. However, NRS 202.277 refers to more than just the removal, or “filing off” of a gun’s serial number.
In Nevada, it is illegal to alter the serial number on a gun in any way, including:
- Changing the number;
- Removing the number;
- Obliterating the number;
- Obscuring any part of the number.
Why does it matter if a gun’s serial number has been altered or removed?
Any gun that is bought, sold, or otherwise transferred through a legal transaction must be registered. The ultimate purpose of this is to allow law enforcement the ability to track down the owner of a gun if that gun is used in the commission of a crime, is stolen, or is found outside the possession of the person it is registered to, law enforcement can track down the owner and attempt to establish a trail of possession.
The exact use of a gun’s serial number depends entirely on the specific circumstances: law enforcement may have found a gun in the possession of a felon and need to trace the gun’s ownership; the gun may have been used in the commission of a crime, but found unattended, and law enforcement may need to find the owner as a possible suspect; or the gun may have been stolen and retrieved, and law enforcement may need to verify that the found gun is the same as the one that was stolen. There are a myriad of ways that a gun’s serial number may be needed by law enforcement, most of which are essentially different versions of needing to be able to trace the gun’s ownership and possession. Altering a gun’s serial number prohibits the ability to trace a gun’s possession and is, therefore, similar to interfering with a police investigation.
Is there anything else I should know?
Yes. NRS 202.277 does not only prohibit the alteration or removal of a gun’s serial number, it also prohibits the knowing possession of a gun with an altered or removed serial number.
This prohibition requires 2 elements to be present:
- The gun’s serial number must have been altered or removed intentionally; and
- The person must have known that the gun’s serial number had been altered or removed.
Without all three elements, there can be no conviction for a violation of NRS 202.277.
What are the possible penalties?
A conviction for intentionally altering or removing a firearm’s serial number is charged as a category C felony in Nevada, which carries with it a possible penalty of:
- Between 1 and 5 years in a Nevada State Prison; and
- Possible fines up to $10,000.
A conviction for knowingly possessing a firearm with an intentionally removed or altered serial number is a category D felony in Nevada, which carries a possible penalty of:
- Between 1 and 4 years in a Nevada State Prison; and
- Possible fines up to $5,000.
Are there any Defenses?
Yes, of course there are. Some of the possible defenses include:
- Unintentional Alteration – It is important to remember that NRS 202.277 requires that the alteration or removal of a gun’s serial number must be intentional. If your attorney can show that the alteration of the serial number was unintentional, or was inadvertent, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
- Alteration Unknown – Violations of NRS 202.277 also require that the charged person is aware of the alteration. As noted above, in order to be convicted of knowingly possessing a gun with an altered or removed serial number, you must have knowledge of the alteration or removal. If your attorney can show that you legally possessed the gun with no knowledge of the serial number’s alteration or removal, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
- Lack of Evidence – As with any crime, the prosecution bears the burden of proving every element of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If there is not enough evidence to uphold this high level of proof, then the charges should be dropped or dismissed.
What should I do if I’ve been charged with Altering or Removing the Serial Number from a Gun?
As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.