Home Gun Safe Guide How to Know If a Gun Is Stolen

How to Know If a Gun Is Stolen

by Tom Ginevra

Building up your gun collection is an exciting task that you should enjoy carrying out. Will you look for the latest firearm technology or opt for the classic style? Will you want to buy from a big brand that you trust, or is it more important that it just feels right when you hold it?

There are a lot of decisions to be made in order to buy the perfect gun. Of course, you will want it to be the right size for you to use and also to store in your gun safe.

As well as all of these factors, there is another issue that you need to be aware of too. That is the danger of buying a stolen gun. Incredibly, some 1.2 million firearms were stolen in the US from 2012 to 2015.

What are the chances that you get offered a stolen gun at some point? The chances are pretty high to be honest, which is why you need to understand how to know if a gun is stolen.

Why Does It Matter?

Ok, so there are a lot of stolen guns out there and you might end up being offered one. In fact, given how many are around it seems safe to say that many unsuspecting gun owners are offered stolen firearms on a regular basis. Some of these firearms are stolen for criminal use, but in other cases the thief just wants to make some money by selling them.

Why would this even matter? Isn’t the big deal with stolen firearms only if they are then used for crime? If you are only planning to use it for home security or for hunting what is the problem?

Well, if you buy a stolen gun there is a good chance that nothing ever comes of it. It can sit in your gun safe for years on end without causing you any problems at all. No one will even know that you own it, right? Yet, you might find it difficult if you try and sell it only for the purchaser to run a check on it.

Even worse, what if it was used for illegal purposes before it came into your possession? You could end up in a very tricky situation if you have to explain to the authorities why you have a stolen firearm that has been used in a crime. Can you prove that it wasn’t you who stole it or used it illegally?

how to know if a gun is stolen

Isn’t There a National Gun Database?

Many people simply assume there is some sort of national gun database that has every single transaction registered on it. Isn’t there a system where the details of all the guns in the country and logged and updated when necessary?

Sadly, there isn’t. For most Americans, there is no record anywhere that links them to their firearms in an official way. In fact, The Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986 ensures that the authorities can’t implement this kind of database even if they wanted to.

Therefore, we can’t simply rely on a national register of guns to help us out. This works both ways. It means that you can’t easily confirm if a gun you are buying is stolen. It also means that people can’t easily tell if it is stolen when you sell it on.

The introduction of a database like this would certainly make life easier. However, since it doesn’t exist, we need to look at how else we can get peace of mind.

Be Aware of Suspiciously Low Prices

If we now move on to when you are actually making the purchase, what warning signs should you be aware of? The first one is to do with the price that you are asked to pay for the gun.

While we all love getting a bargain, you should be suspicious if the price seems too good to be true. Is it a sign that the seller just wants to get rid of it at any price and doesn’t know its true value?

Of course, some people may have a genuine reason for selling a firearm for less than it is worth. They might be moving away or they might be desperate for cash for one reason or another. Yet, in most cases the seller will want to make as much money as possible from you.

Bearing this in mind, you should look into the price that you would normally expect to be paying before making any deals. If you have an idea how much the gun should cost then being asked for a much lower amount should set off some alarm bells in your head.

If you are at a gun show or in a store then you can quickly check online to see if the price being quoted is reasonable. Getting a bargain might seem great at the time but is it going to seem worth it if it causes you problems later on?

Is the Person Selling It Trustworthy?

Some gun owners only ever buy new firearms from people or stores that they trust. However, this can be difficult if you are just starting out or simply don’t know any reputable dealers in your area.

It is especially difficult to be sure when you are buying at a gun show. You might meet sellers whom you have never seen before and will never meet again in your life. How can you buy from them with confidence?

A tip many gun owners share is to always ask for ID from the seller. You should also be sure to ask them for a receipt, bill of sale or some other documentation confirming the sale. This can be vital later on in proving who you bought the gun from.

Your gut instinct could serve you well here. Does the other person seem shifty or nervous? Could they be hiding something from you? If something doesn’t seem right then it makes sense to walk away.

Of course, things might not always be this simple. The seller might be an excellent actor who has done this kind of thing on numerous occasions. Equally, they might not even know that the gun is stolen if they have bought it from someone else in good faith.

Don’t forget that if you buy from a store then you can go back there to clear up any questions over the purchase. If the authorities look into the matter then you can also tell them exactly where you bought it.

On the other hand, if you buy a gun from someone at a show or a guy you met online that you don’t know then it is going to be a lot more difficult to prove later on who you bought it off.

Has It Been Reported as Stolen?

Not everyone who has a gun stolen from them will report it as stolen. However, a good percentage of them will do so.

It is worth noting that only a few states make it compulsory to report a gun as stolen. Reports suggest that around a third of stolen guns aren’t reported, although it is extremely difficult to know how accurate this figure is. Authorized firearms dealers do have to report any thefts that they suffer, though.

So, even if the gun you buy hasn’t been reported as stolen, there is still a chance that it is stolen property. It might not have been reported but that doesn’t mean that it is definitely clean. It still makes sense to take a look to see if it has been reported as stolen anyway.

There are online databases where you can enter the firearm’s serial number and see whether it has been reported as stolen. Using these sites will let you know right away if you are looking at a stolen weapon.

This is a great help but what if no match is returned? You still can’t say for definite that it hasn’t been stolen so you have to see in what other ways you can check it out.

Don’t risk buying a stolen gun!

Has It Been Registered in Your State?

Some states also make it slightly easier for you to find out more details on the gun you are interested in buying. The following are the different parts of the US where some types of firearm need to be registered.

  • Hawaii and District of Columbia. Here, the local authorities register all of the different kinds of firearms that are owned by residents.
  • New York. Only handguns have to be registered in the Big Apple.
  • California. There is a register of firearms in the Golden State, but it is rather more complicated than you might first think. For a start, there is no registration held for dates before January of 2014. It is also the case that only new residents in California need to register their firearms, so people who have lived there since before 1998 don’t need to do this.
  • Maryland. Again, the legal obligation here is only for new residents to comply with. Anyone who has only lived here since October of 2013 onwards needs to register their weapons. Longer term Maryland residents can choose to register their guns on a purely voluntary basis.
  • California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. These states all have a couple of additional requirements for the following firearms to be registered; assault weapons that were made before September 1994, and 50 caliber rifles.

Use Your Common Sense

As we have seen so far, it is extremely difficult to be completely confident that you are buying a gun that hasn’t been stolen. There are some checks that you can make but in many cases you may still be left with some lingering doubts.

Unless it is a completely new gun that is coming straight from the factory and you are buying from a reputable store it can be almost impossible to be 100% certain about a gun’s history.

This means that it is important to use your common sense at all times. By covering off each of the points we have looked at here you can start to get a feel for how safe a purchase this is.

Does something feel not quite right about the whole thing? Even if you can’t quite put your finger on it, you would be well advised to walk away in this case.

There are plenty more guns for sale that you could buy with more confidence. There is no need to take a risk on buying a firearm that might be stolen and could end up causing you a whole lot of hassle.

How to Know If a Gun Is Stolen: Conclusion

It is clear that it is extremely difficult to know for certain if a gun has been stolen. There are definitely some factors to take into account that can help you to make an informed decision, though.

Given the possible consequences of buying a stolen firearm, it makes sense to be cautious and to look into the matter fully before making any purchase.


Is there a register or database of all guns in the US?

There is no national gun database and no plan at the time of writing to implement one.

Is it illegal to buy a stolen gun?

It isn’t strictly illegal to do this. However, your big problem could be in convincing the authorities that you didn’t know it was stolen. Remember that it may also have been used in a crime.

Does the theft of a gun have to be reported?

For private citizens, this law only applies in California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island. The exact laws vary from start to state. Authorized gun dealers have to report stolen firearms.

Are all guns in the US registered?

No. Several states have registration laws, as noted above in the article.

Is there is a big stolen guns market in the US?

This market is huge, with millions of firearms entering it every single year.

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