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August 26, 2015

Double-Check Those Firearm Barcodes

When the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed, there were no MacBooks, Surface 3s or iPads. The recordkeeping required by that 1968 law consisted of nothing more than that of pen put to paper by people who held a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Today we have massive computing power in the palms of our hands that can, thanks to things like barcode scanners, make those inventory acquisition entries into your bound book a breeze. But trying to adapt these 21st century tools to meet the requirements of a mid-20th-century law presents us with some challenges.

It is common today for large FFLs (and even some smaller ones) to enter an entire shipment of 100 or more firearms received from a manufacturer or distributor into their Acquisition and Disposition (A&D) records using a barcode scanner that reads the barcode off the firearm box and transfers firearm description data into the A&D records. That process may take only a few minutes — but therein lies an occasionally hidden and often unnoticed problem.

The model numbers and names of the firearms that get entered into the computerized A&D records via these barcode scans often end up being the manufacturer’s stock number, catalog number and sometimes the SKU number. Of course, ATF regulations as presented in 27 CFR 478.125(e) require firearms descriptions that are entered into A&D records to consist of the information that is actually engraved on the firearms themselves. The reason for that requirement is as basic as the law itself: To allow successful tracing of firearms that are potentially related to a crime.

If you are a homicide detective at the scene of a murder and you find a firearm on the scene, you are going to want to trace it. The only information available to you will be what you find engraved on the firearm itself. You will not have stock numbers, catalog numbers or factory SKU numbers, nor will the person in the ATF Tracing Center conducting the trace for you.

As an FFL working to comply with ATF requirements, you need to make sure your records contain the descriptions that are actually engraved on the firearms themselves. This is an easy violation to avoid, but if you’re using one of today’s barcode scanners to make your A&D entries, you must verify the electronic entries against the physical attributes of the firearm. Take that time, because the last thing you want is an ATF industry operations investigator going through your electronic A&D book and finding nothing but line after line of quickly generated model number entries that are really not model numbers at all.

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