Nevada Laws for "Altering or Removing Gun Serial Numbers" (NRS 202.277)
Explained by Las Vegas Criminal Defense Attorneys

Every gun has its own serial number. Nevada firearm laws make it a felony either to:

  • purposely change a gun's serial number, or
  • purposely possess a gun with a changed serial number

Defenses

The two most typical defenses to Nevada charges regarding gun serial numbers include:

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Removing a gun's serial number is a felony in Nevada.
  1. The defendant did not intentionally change the gun's serial number or knowingly possess a gun with a changed serial number, or
  2. The police violated Nevada's search and seizure laws in finding the gun, which means the gun may be suppressed as evidence in Nevada.

Penalties

Intentionally changing a firearm's serial numbers is a category C felony in Nevada, carrying:

  • 1 to 5 years in Nevada State Prison, and
  • loss of gun rights, and
  • maybe up to $10,000 in fines

Knowingly possessing a firearm with an altered serial number is a category D felony in Nevada, carrying:

  • 1 to 4 years in Nevada State Prison, and
  • loss of gun rights, and
  • maybe up to $5,000 in fines

Note that gun rights can be restored only through a Nevada pardon.

In this article our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys explain the Nevada crime of changing gun serial numbers and possessing guns with changed serial numbers. Scroll down to learn how the law works, how to defend against charges, and how courts punish this offense. 

Definition

Every legally-manufactured gun has its own serial number. The serial number is typically located on the gun's handle, slide, or inside the gun. In Nevada, it is unlawful for anyone either to:

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Knowingly owning a gun with a botched serial number is illegal in Nevada.
  • intentionally change, alter, remove or obliterate the serial number upon any firearm, or
  • knowingly possess a firearm on which the serial number has been intentionally changed, altered, removed or obliterated

These cases often involve people who intend to use the guns for illegal purposes such as Nevada theft crimes or the Nevada crime of drug trafficking.  Henderson criminal defense attorney Michael Becker provides an illustration.

Example: Theo is part of a drug ring and purchases a handgun for personal protection. Once the gun sale goes through, Theo takes an engraving tool and chisels out the serial number. Later during a drug sale gone bad, Theo runs away from the scene but drops the gun in the process. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police shows up and takes custody of the gun, but they are unable to trace the owner becaues of the obliterated serial number.

Destroying gun serial numbers make it difficult for law enforcement to find suspects. But if the police in the above example ever do track down Theo, he could be booked at the Clark County Detention Center not only for selling drugs but also for obliterating the gun's serial number.1

Defenses

The most effective defense strategies to fighting charges of violating NRS 202.277 depend on the unique facts of the case. But the two most common defenses include the following:

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Lack of intent or knowledge is the main defense strategy to NRS 202.277 charges.
  1. Lack of intent or knowledge. NRS 202.277 is meant to punish only people who deliberately change gun's serial numbers or possess guns with changed serial numbers. People who honestly did not realize they altered or obliterated their gun's serial number committed no crime. The same holds true for people who genuinely do not realize their guns are missing a true serial number. As long as the prosecutor cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant's actions were intentional and knowing, the charges should be dismissed.
  2. Illegal search. Even if the defendant did unlawfully alter the gun's serial number, it still could be possible to escape a conviction. If the police performed an illegal search or seizure in order to find the gun, the defense attorney can ask the judge to throw out the gun as evidence. And if the judge agrees that law enforcement overstepped its unconstitutional bounds and excludes the gun from the case, the D.A. may be left with insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Henderson criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse gives an example:

Example: A  North Las Vegas Police Department officer gets a tip that Janet illegally sells guns. He then barges into her house without her consent and finds several guns with their serial numbers removed. He books Janet at the North Las Vegas Detention Center for various crimes including knowingly possessing guns without a serial number.

In the above example, the cop may very well have overstepped his bounds by performing a warrantless search and seizure of the gun. The circumstances suggest that the cop had plenty of time to secure a valid search warrant from a judge, and there was no valid reason why he had to execute a warrantless search. If the judge decides that the cop violated the Fourth Amendment in procuring the guns, then the firearms may be exluded from the case as evidence. And depending on what other evidence the state may have, the prosecutor may opt to dismiss the charges for want of proof.

Penalties

Intentionally changing a gun's serial number is a category C felony in Nevada. The penalty includes:

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Five years in Nevada State Prison is the maximum penalty for intentionally changing a gun's serial number.
  • 1 to 5 years in Nevada State Prison, and
  • maybe up to $10,000 in fines

Meanwhile, knowingly possessing a gun with an altered or removed serial number is slightly less serious and is punished as a category D felony in Nevada. The punishment carries:

  • 1 to 4 years in Nevada State Prison, and
  • maybe up to $5,000 in fines

In addition, defendants convicted of violating NRS 202.277 also lose their rights to own and possess firearms. Convicted felons may not regain their gun rights unless granted an official Nevada Governor's Pardon.

Arrested? Call an attorney for help...

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Call us at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673).

Have you been charged with "changing a gun's serial number" in Nevada? For a FREE consultation, call our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). We may be able to get the charge lessened or dropped without the time or expense of a trial.

For information about California gun laws, see our article on California gun laws.

Legal References:

1 NRS 202.277  Changing, altering, removing or obliterating serial number of firearm prohibited; possession of firearm with serial number changed, altered, removed or obliterated prohibited; penalties.

      1.  A person shall not intentionally change, alter, remove or obliterate the serial number upon any firearm. Any person who violates the provisions of this subsection is guilty of a category C felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130.

      2.  A person shall not knowingly possess a firearm on which the serial number has been intentionally changed, altered, removed or obliterated. Any person who violates the provisions of this subsection is guilty of a category D felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130.

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