You finally find a great deal on a handgun you’ve been eyeing for months. Fast forward a couple of years—you walk out to your car one morning and find that your window has been smashed and things inside your car are strewn about.

Is My Gun Stolen?

The unfortunate reality is this is one of the most common incidents we see: stolen guns. Here are the three critical mistakes we see folks make when it comes to stolen guns:

Report a Lost or Stolen Gun

The first big mistake is not keeping records of your firearms. If your firearm is stolen, you’re going to need to know the make, model, and serial number to report it stolen to the police. It’s common for people to buy a gun and never write down this information until it’s too late.

The next critical mistake we see is people not reporting the gun as stolen at the time the incident occurs. When you realize that your firearm has been stolen, the first thing to do is call the police and report it. Once it’s reported, the police will enter the firearm as stolen into a gun serial number database used by law enforcement.

How to Report a Stolen Gun Without the Serial Number

If you don’t have the serial number of your stolen firearm available, you can contact the FFL where you purchased the weapon. They’re required to maintain records of sales and, with some minor information from you, they can recover the serial number of your missing gun.

If the FFL or dealer you purchased your gun from is no longer in business, don’t worry. You can still report your firearm stolen! Local law enforcement may be able to request a records search from the National Tracing Center. However, this request can usually only be made in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation surrounding the lost or stolen firearm.

Following Up on Your Stolen Gun Report

The last mistake is not following up with law enforcement. Sometimes the firearm’s info is not properly entered or, when it’s recovered by police, you’re not notified. Many police departments will periodically trace a gun by serial number and follow-up with you to make sure it’s still missing. But if they don’t, it’s smart to follow up with law enforcement every year or so to check on the status of your lost or stolen gun.

Run a Gun Serial Number

Are you buying a gun from a private seller and want to know how to see who it’s registered to, to make sure it wasn’t stolen? You can look up a gun by serial number before you buy, by calling either your local police department or a local FFL you trust to run a gun serial number check for you. The FFL may charge you a small fee but they can easily see who the gun is registered to, while law enforcement will only be able to see guns that have been reported lost or stolen.

To review, the best way to ensure you either recover a stolen firearm or are not associated with any crimes committed with your lost or stolen gun, it’s important to keep the proper documentation. Report the firearm as stolen to the police at the time it’s stolen and follow up with law enforcement on the status of the gun, periodically.

The steps that I’ve just described are the same if your firearm happens to get lost, instead of stolen. Except when you notify law enforcement, let them know that the gun is lost and not stolen.

Note: These are important tips and steps that you can take to deal with lost or stolen firearms. Some jurisdictions have additional legal requirements above and beyond those described in this presentation. When you report a gun lost or stolen to your local law enforcement, it’s recommended that you ask them about any additional requirements, immediately call U.S. LawShield, and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.