How To Identify A Gun Model [Complete Guide]

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As gun enthusiasts, most of us know how to identify our gun models and what sets each model apart from one another. However, novice gun users are not as experienced as everyone else.

Identifying a gun model and telling whether a particular gun is stolen or illegal is not always straightforward. So, how do we identify a gun model?

One way to identify a gun model is by its serial number. However, only guns manufactured after 2002 would have serial numbers on them. Other ways to identify a gun model are:

  • Manufacturer’s name
  • Country of origin
  • Gun model designation
  • Identifying importer information, such as city or state

In this post, I will explore each of these ways to identify a gun model and recommend other methods.

How To Identify A Gun Model

What Is The Model Of My Gun?

Your firearms make, model numbers, or model names are stamped or engraved onto the slide or the gun’s barrel. The model is sometimes represented as a prefix or part of the gun’s serial number in some instances. A typical example of a gun model is Glock 17 Gen 4, or Glock 19.

Your gun serial number is unique to your gun model and should not appear on any other gun manufactured by the same manufacturer.

Identifying Your Gun Model By Its Serial Number

All guns manufactured after 2002 will have the serial number imprinted on the body of the firearm. Unless you have a vintage gun manufactured before serial numbers were used, your firearm must have a serial number.

If you have a firearm where the serial number is indistinguishable or has been visibly filed off, you are dealing with an illegal or stolen firearm. Weapons that have had their serial numbers filed off have most likely been used for criminal activities, and these firearms need to be reported to the law enforcement authorities.

Your gun’s serial number is generally stamped onto the slide, receiver, handle or trigger guard. The guns documentation will also contain the serial number.

A licensed firearms retailer will be able to assist you with locating the serial number on your weapon if you are unable to see it yourself.

Identifying Your Gun Model By The Manufacturer

The manufacturer’s markings will indicate the organization’s name that manufactured the weapon. Various countries have unique weapons manufacturers requirements; however, all US manufacturers must have a type 07 manufacturing federal firearm license (FFL).

It is conventional practice to see logos or names stamped onto the gun’s body. These markings are just the manufacturer’s branding and should not be mistaken for the model’s name.

Many large gun manufacturers will have several brands; however, the manufacturer’s name must be printed onto the firearm as a distinguishing property. The manufacturer’s markings must appear on either the left or right side of the gun.

The manufacturers’ markings are generally engraved on the barrel of rifles and shotguns. Handguns have their markings stamped onto the slide. A few gun manufacturers also include some safety information on their firearms.

Identifying Your Gun By Its Country Of Origin

The country of origin of a gun will generally be spelled out in full. However, it is also common to see an abbreviation of the country name imprinted onto the gun.

There are about 193 countries with an abbreviation representing each country. If you are unsure about the country’s abbreviation, an online search will help you identify the country of origin.

Identifying Your Gun By Importer City And State

If your firearm is imported, then the city and state of the importer are also engraved onto the gun. This can be misleading for some people, as they might mistake the importer’s country for manufacturing the firearm. If the gun were manufactured in the US, the importers’ mark would not be necessary.

How To Identify A Gun By The Serial Number

How To Identify A Gun By The Serial Number

As stated above, it is possible to identify a gun model by its serial number. Every gun manufacturer has its unique standard of serial numbers. A Browning serial number, for example, ranges between eight to ten characters in length. A Glock’s serial number is only five characters in length.

The gun’s serial number is stamped in metal, so it doesn’t easily wear off. To identify the model of your gun via the serial number, you can visit the manufacturer’s website and search for the gun model using your firearm’s serial number.

Your gun manufacturer online search tool will provide you with the manufactured date and the specific gun model information. Some online publications like the Blue Book of Gun Values and the National Rifle Association (NRA) also provide you with an online searchable database of gun serial numbers.

It is worth noting that a serial number check isn’t always 100% accurate and sometimes might not produce the desired outcome. Several manufacturers only use numbers, which makes the search term for a serial number very broad, yielding results from other manufacturers.

In addition, some antique firearms might have the same serial number as other models. As a result, a serial number lookup will produce an extensive list of potential matches. For more accurate search results, you should take all matches you found from your search and do a further Google search.

Your Google search results will include an image to identify your gun’s make and model. Once you find the matching model and make for your firearm, make a note of it, and store it away for future reference. These details will come in handy when you need to buy accessories or replacement parts for your weapon.

What To Do When Buying A Second-Hand Gun

If you have purchased a second-hand firearm, you need to check the gun with your local police department. A police officer at your local police department will run the serial number through an online database that records stolen and illegal guns. The serial number will show up if the gun was stolen or used in criminal activities.

Before buying a second-hand gun, you should ask the gun seller to provide you with the serial number so that you can do an online search on HotGunz. This website is a database of firearms from gun owners who have reported their weapons stolen.

You can supply your serial number onto the website and run a search to check whether your firearm has been listed as stolen. Sometimes a gun might have been stolen, but it would not be registered with this site. Not many people are aware of online databases like these and hence do not use them for reporting their stolen firearms.

It is always good to buy a gun from a licensed firearms dealer to avoid buying a stolen gun. In doing so, you avert the risk of buying a firearm that has been used for criminal activities.

If you buy a firearm from a private individual, always ask for a notarized bill of sale that documents the gun’s serial number, make, model, and date of purchase. If your gun is ever identified as being involved in a crime, these documents will prove the date of your purchase.

How Will You Identify Your Rifle?

Rifle collectors and enthusiasts will not have any problems identifying their weapons by design and construction. However, for novice rifle owners, that is not common knowledge. Recognizing a rifle’s model is essential to identifying the features for your rifle or getting replacement parts, and finding other accessories.

Every rifle model is unique, and locating the model number for your rifle is accomplished easily. Most semi-automatic rifles will have the model number opposite the manufacturer’s logo stamped on the upper receiver.

In addition, bolt-action and lever-action rifle model numbers are stamped to the side of the metallic plating of the rifle.

Other rifle manufacturers might engrave or stamp their model number and logo to the butt-stock or butt-plate. On the magazine well of semi-automatic rifles, manufacturers will have a logo, serial number, or model number printed onto the outside. The M16A2 rifles used by the US military utilize the same marking method on the magazine wells.

How Can You Tell When A Gun Was Manufactured?

It isn’t always easy to tell how old your weapon is if you own a vintage gun. And sometimes, most of those vintage gun manufacturers would have gone out of business and closed up shop. So, how do you tell when your gun was manufactured?

For cases like these, you can always do it the old-fashioned way and look through books like Gun Owners Digest or Shooters Bible. Most of these books will have an index of gun models, the year it was manufactured and who the manufacturer was.

If you do not get much luck searching through books, a Google search can also yield some helpful information. Try using the manufacturer name with the serial number to see if it produces results.

Proof House is another valuable resource for looking up serial numbers on Browning’s, Colts, and Winchesters. They also have resources for World War II German ordnance markings and US military small arms inspection markings.

If you have an older gun that bears the Sears or J.C. Penny brand, then Proof House has a house-name conversion section that will tell you the gun maker for those and other stores.

For your Smith and Wesson firearm, another great book by Jim Supica and Richard Nahas, titled “Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson,” provides a breakdown of serial numbers by year manufactured, which dates back to the nineteenth century.

Suppose you are fortunate enough to own a vintage gun where the manufacturer is still in operation. In that case, they can provide you with a letter describing your gun, the date manufactured, and the company it was shipped to. Letters like these provide you with the authenticity information that you need.

Online gun discussion forums are also helpful in finding relevant information on your gun. Members on these discussion forums will always be keen to answer any questions you might have concerning your gun make and model.

How Are Gun Models Named?

Most older weapons like an M1911 use a simple and intuitive naming system. These naming systems simply add the year the firearm was manufactured and prefixed with the word ‘Model.’

For example, a Mosin Nagant rifle was made in 1891, and the model is therefore named Model 1891. The prefix “Model” was later replaced with the letter “M,” so a Model 1891 would be referred to as an M1891.

There is another unique convention of naming firearms that was common in Japan. Between 1929 to 1943, the Japanese government named their firearms according to the number of years the Japanese imperial dynasty was in power. This is how some older model firearms were named.

For example, the Type 99 Rifle, produced in 1939 and the 2599th year of the imperial dynasty, became known as the Type 99. By the year 1940, the Japanese imperial dynasty was in power for 2600 years, which meant that any firearm produced during that period would be named Type 0.

However, the Japanese army chose to call these rifles Type 100 instead. From 1941 onward, the army eventually threw out their conventional naming system, calling their new weapons Type 1. China also utilized the “Type” naming convention, but they opted to use the last two digits of the manufactured year preceding the word “Type.”

For example, the Type-56 rifle was produced in 1956. Russia also used a similar naming convention when they chose to name the AK47 after its chief designer Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov in 1947.

The MP40 produced in 1940 was classified as a Machine Pistol, which was later abbreviated to be known as the MP40. America’s most well-known rifle, the AR15, was named after its manufacturer, Armalite.

Many people mistakenly assume the AR stands for Assault Rifle instead; it refers to the company, Armalite, that manufactured those rifles. The number 15 that appears after the AR does not refer to the year these rifles were produced; instead, it is the 15th model Armalite made.

Like the Taurus Judge, a few other manufacturers opted to give their firearms a unique name that does not provide much information to the user. These naming systems are far more complex than we can ever imagine, and they have evolved and continue to evolve over the years.


For most newer gun models these days, you can always find identifying information imprinted or stamped on the top of the firearm’s barrel or either side of the firearm. As in the case of some military weapons, the model information can also be found on the magazine well.

The gun’s markings will tell you the model, make, manufacturer, year manufactured, and the weapon’s serial number. There are also a few websites to find the model, make, and manufacturer info using the serial number.

If you cannot find any specific information on the gun, then your local gun dealer can probably assist you with finding your gun’s model and make.

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