Possession and Sale of Firearms With Altered or Obliterated Serial Numbers
Pursuant to the Gun Control Act of 1968, licensed manufacturers and importers of firearms must ensure that each firearm imported into, or manufactured in the United States is identifiable by a serial number and other information on the firearm itself. See 18 U.S.C. § 923(i). Specifically, the manufacturer or importer must engrave, cast, or stamp an individualized serial number onto the frame, receiver or barrel of the firearm, as well as the model, caliber, place of origin and manufacturer's name. See 27 CFR § 478.92(a)(1); 479.102(a). Removing the serial number from a firearm, or indeed, selling or merely possessing a firearm with a removed, altered or obliterated serial number is a serious federal offense, punishable by a lengthy period of incarceration. And even if this crime is not charged, if an individual is convicted of another crime involving the unlawful receipt, transfer, or possession of a firearm, and the weapon at issue had an obliterated serial number, the defendant's sentencing guidelines may be enhanced by over ten years under certain circumstances. See U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b).
Specifically, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 922(k), it is unlawful for any person to knowingly transport, ship or receive in interstate or foreign commerce any firearm which has had the importer's or manufacturer's serial number altered, obliterated or removed. This statute also proscribes the possession of a firearm with an altered, obliterated or removed serial number if such firearm has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce at any time since its production, e.g., it was made in one state and moved to another. See United States v. Bastian, 112 F.Supp.2d 378, 382 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) ("Section 922(k) .... makes it unlawful for any person to knowingly possess a firearm which has had its serial number defaced"). A conviction for any violation of § 922(k) may result in a large fine and a maximum term of imprisonment of five years.
Further, pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 5861, it is unlawful for any person to obliterate, remove, change, or alter the serial number or other identifying information of a firearm; receive or possess a firearm having the serial number or other identifying information obliterated, removed, changed, or altered; or to receive or possess a firearm which is not identified by a serial number. See 26 U.S.C. § 5861(g)-(i). A conviction for any of the aforementioned conduct may result in a large fine and a maximum term of imprisonment of ten years.
Finally, if a defendant is convicted of another crime involving the unlawful receipt, possession, or transportation of a firearm (see 18 U.S.C. § 922(a)), or another prohibited transaction involving firearms (e.g. §§ 922(g), 924(a)), and any of the firearms at issue had an altered or obliterated serial number, the defendant may be subject to a four level sentencing enhancement. See U.S.S.G. § 2K2.1(b). At the upper end of the Sentencing Guidelines, this enhancement may equate to more than an additional ten years imprisonment, and notably, the court need not find that the defendant knew that the firearm's serial number had been obliterated for this enhancement to apply. See United States v. Williams, 49 F.3d 92, 93 (2d Cir. 1995).
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