In an unusual move for the federal agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) has issued a special new serial number for a handgun belonging to a notorious 1930s-era gangster.
The action, taken last week by the Manchester, NH, BATFE Field Office, made the .38-caliber Colt Detective Special—found taped to Bonnie Parker's thigh after she and Clyde Barrow were killed by law enforcement officers—compliant with federal regulations, so it may legally be sold at auction.
The deaths of Parker and Barrow in a hail of gunfire in Bienville Parish, LA, the morning of May 23, 1934, ended a depression-era crime spree that spread across the Central U.S., and included armed robberies of more than a dozen banks and scores of small businesses. The Barrow gang was believed responsible for the deaths of at least nine police officers and several civilians.
Texas Ranger Capt. Frank Hamer recovered the revolver from Parker's body.
RR Auction of Amherst, NH, contacted BATFE for assistance after it received the gun from a private collector and noticed the serial numbers were obliterated. BATFE agents contacted the agency's Firearms Technology Branch, the technical authority for firearms and their determination under federal laws. The Firearms Technology Branch determined the Parker revolver was originally manufactured with serial numbers, thereby making the revolver non-compliant under federal law.
As a result, federal agents subsequently obtained a BATFE-issued serial number—ATF7620091—for the auction house, which was later stamped onto the revolver's receiver, making it legal for auction and transfer.
The revolver is expected to fetch up to $200,000 at the Sept. 30 auction.
"ATF understands the importance of this historically significant firearm," Guy Thomas, special agent in charge of the BATFE's Boston field division, said in a news release. "We are pleased we were able to work in partnership with RR Auction to make the gun legally compliant."
The Gun Control Act of 1968 requires firearm manufacturers to place serial numbers on firearms and makes firearms with removed, obliterated or altered serial numbers illegal to possess.
The gun is being auctioned as part of RR Auction's "American Gangsters, Outlaws and Lawmen" live auction. Also featured is a signed deposition by Al Capone dated Jan. 24, 1925, and a vintage press ID card autographed by legendary lawman Eliot Ness in the 1930s.
RR Auction is donating the proceeds of a September 28 open house to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.