Steve at the Firearm Blog has a brief post here which led us to this: top auction house Rock Island Auctions posted a long and well-argued critique of import markings on collector guns. BLUF, they say they reduce the gun’s value by a large amount — maybe half.
But what Steve, who doesn’t miss much, missed is that Rock Island didn’t fire this salvo as a demonstration alone. It had a target, and that target was other top auctioneer James D. Julia. The reason? Julia has an extremely rare, extremely advanced collection of Lugers to auction, the sort of high-end bauble that he and Rock Island both specialize in. But — and you knew there was a “but”! — this collection is Dr Geoffrey Sturgess’s. And Sturgess was out of the USA… in der Schweiz, in Zurich, to be exact. So the guns, in order to be auctioned here (the single largest market for serviceable non-antique firearms) had to have gruesome ATF-compliant markings engraved on them.
First, Rock Island’s arguments:
It doesn’t take much of a leap to see the correlation of depreciating factors shared by numismatists (coin collectors) and firearms collectors. Neither group wants their treasured items damaged by previous users, cleaned improperly if at all, counterfeited, corroded, stained, damaged, mutilated, bent, or marked after the initial manufacture or minting. In both fields, damage reduces desirability, its ability to be traded, bought, or sold, and in turn the object’s value. It is with this in mind that we discuss the subject of import markings on firearms.…
The majority of collectors love history and even if they don’t they certainly love the financial benefits that an exciting, documented history can provide. All collectors love condition. If import marks can neither imbue a gun with a fascinating history nor enhance its condition, then they are superfluous marrings that are to be avoided. No one sets out to collect the most mediocre examples of their hobby. No one sets out to buy a truly poor specimen that is of little interest to like minded enthusiasts. No one wants to apologetically explain or excuse away the glaring flaws in their collection.
Now, Julia’s rebuttal, as posted in a Luger forum that hasn’t let us register (why not? Borchardt only knows).
Before importing Dr. Sturgess’s collection, we discussed at length, with the Simpsons, how this legal issue could be handled so that the guns appeal would not suffer. Simpsons had traditionally marked imports with a hand engraver which created very small and very acceptable markings. Brad however did some research and discovered a new high-tech laser device that would produce the legal markings required by law but yet do so in an almost imperceptible manner. The results from their new laser device are extraordinary, and I’m sure that almost no collector will have an issue with any of the import markings on the Sturgess guns. We will be acknowledging in our catalog each gun with an import mark. I have also attached here a copy of that acknowledgement page from our catalog explaining our import marks. I hope this explains and also allays any concerns anyone might have regarding import marks.
Bob Simpson actually acquired a $36,000 laser machine to place the importer marks inside the magazine well of the pistol.
This may not comply with the ATF marking regs these days, though (ATF does, however, grant variances to importers, if you can show an alternative means of compliance [AMOC] with their intent of being able to pick up the trace of the gun at the original importer or manufacturer).
Now, we don’t take sides in this dispute. Both Jim Julia and the Rock Island auctioneers are honest tradesmen. We’re just airing the disagreement with, we hope, fair attention to both sides.
Why do they need these ugly-ass marks anyway?
If you ever wondered why modern guns have much more unsightly engraving than the old roll-marks:
For firearms manufactured or imported on and after January 30, 2002, the engraving, casting, or stamping (impressing) of this information must be to a minimum depth of .003 inch. The additional information includes:
(A) The model, if such designation has been made;
(B) The caliber or gauge;
(C) Your name (or recognized abbreviation) and also, when applicable, the name of the foreign manufacturer;
(D) In the case of a domestically made firearm, the city and State (or recognized abbreviation thereof) where you as the manufacturer maintain your place of business; and
(E) In the case of an imported firearm, the name of the country in which it was manufactured and the city and State (or recognized abbreviation thereof) where you as the importer maintain your place of business. For additional requirements relating to imported firearms, see Customs regulations at 19 CFR part 134.
Here’s the last revision to the rule as published in the Federal Register and hosted at ATF (everybody else’s link to this, including ATF’s own, weems to be wrong thanks to one of their regular website redisorganizations). Actually, there’s one more revision, but all it does is fix a typo in the original; they want marks 1/16″ high, not 1 1/16″.
Before everybody tees off on the ATF about this retarded rule, remember that the ATF has to implement the retarded law written by the cretins in Congress. “In Congress, in Congress, we make our laws incongruous!”
And ATF’s justification for the rule is the large number of crime guns recovered by law enforcement with defaced serial numbers — the original Federal Register link above says Baltimore saw 15% of recovered guns hacked like that. Of course, the numbers are still recoverable, and it’s probably worth doing if the crims thought it was worth hiding.
Update and WARNING
There are people out there who say an end user can legally remove an import mark, and even claim to have a letter to that effect from ATF. Here’s a 2007 GunBroker comment thread on that. There is a claim in the thread that the ATF released a letter to one of the posters, saying:
“Thank you for visiting ATF’s Website. As stated on our site, generally, we do not answer technical questions via e-mail, but I contacted our Firearms Technology Branch (FTB) and was advised the following:
“”Section 922(k) of Title 18, U.S.C. does not prohibit removal of markings other than serial number. However, removal of required markings from any weapon subject to the National Firearms Act, such as a machinegun, is prohibited under Title 26, U.S.C. section 5861(g).””
If you have any further questions, please call them on 304-260-1700. Regards,”
And the poster goes on to add:
My understanding from ATF Technical Division is that the import marks (NOT the import serial number) can be removed since the firearm in question is now registered in the U.S by the serial number. It’s in the books as they say. No serial number can be removed just the import marks.
Here’s the actual wording of 922(k) (source, Cornell law library):
(k) It shall be unlawful for any person knowingly to transport, ship, or receive, in interstate or foreign commerce, any firearm which has had the importer’s or manufacturer’s serial number removed, obliterated, or altered or to possess or receive any firearm which has had the importer’s or manufacturer’s serial number removed, obliterated, or altered and has, at any time, been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.
And relying on that ATF email, which ATF itself says several places is not how they communicate “officially,” several people indicate that they’re willing to deface import marks…
Do NOT do this. Again, as we have said before, if you didn’t pay your lawyer for it, it ain’t legal advice, but we would strongly urge all of you never to render a legally-required mark illegible. Even if the ATF wouldn’t land on you with both feet (and they’d rather prosecute you that pursue some gang banger, outlaw bike gang or terrorist, because you’re easy), there’s the fact that many, probably most, collectors would think they had been defrauded. By you.
Contrary to popular opinion, it is very difficult to remove marks made to ATF regs (three-thousandths of an inch deep) so that they are illegible. They may be erased to the naked eye, but there’s a whole industry of tools used by authorities (criminal investigators, technical intelligence guys), archaeologists and restorers to read defaced or degraded marks.
One guy in the thread refinishes the gun (actually the Makarov with the typically amateurish Century mark seen above) with the incidental result that the mark, while still clearly legible, is less prominent. It’s hard to see a legal beef with this — the ATF concern is that the trace on the weapon can be picked up from its original importer, which is still discernible — but of course it’s destructive to collector value, although whether it’s any more destructive than the sort of crude marking used by Century is anybody’s guess.