from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Texas
SMITH, WIENER, and ELROD, Circuit Judges.
Wiener, Circuit Judge.
Richard Deshawn Jones was arrested in March 2017 while in
possession of a firearm. The metal serial-number plate had
been removed from the frame of the handgun, but it had a
legible serial number on its slide. The number on the slide
was used to trace the firearm.
Facts and Proceedings
pleaded guilty to being a Felon in Possession of a Firearm.
The presentence report (PSR) calculated Jones's offense
level. It recommended a four-level enhancement for possession
of a firearm with an altered or obliterated serial number.
Jones timely objected to the enhancement, but at sentencing,
the district court overruled his objection. Jones appeals the
application of that four-level enhancement.
review the district court's application of the sentencing
guidelines de novo and its factual findings for
clear error. Guideline § 2K2.1(b)(4) applies a
four-level enhancement to a defendant's base offense
level "[i]f any firearm . . . had an altered or
obliterated serial number." In United States v.
Perez, we addressed the meaning of "altered or
obliterated" and adopted the Ninth Circuit's holding
in United States v. Carter that "a
firearm's serial number is 'altered or
obliterated' when it is materially changed in a way that
makes accurate information less
accessible." We held in Perez that an attempt
to scratch the serial number off of a firearm made accurate
information less accessible, even though the serial number
was "actually readable." In so doing, we relied on
the reasoning in Carter that the purpose of the
guideline─to discourage the use of untraceable
weaponry─was advanced by punishing the use of guns that
were merely more difficult to trace.
Ninth Circuit further reasoned in Carter that
"nothing in [the guidelines] suggests that the
alteration [or obliteration] must make tracing impossible or
extraordinarily difficult." That court concluded that
Guideline § 2K2.1(b)(4) is properly applied to a
defendant who possessed a traceable firearm with a defaced
not previously addressed the specific facts of Jones's
case, viz., a metal serial-number plate having been removed
from the gun's frame but the serial number on the slide
remaining unaltered. In United States v.
Serrano-Mercado, the First Circuit held that Guideline
§ 2K2.1(b)(4) applies when a serial number on the frame
of a firearm is obliterated, even if serial numbers on other
components of the firearm remain unaltered. There,
"Serrano's pistol had an obliterated serial number
on the frame and an unaltered serial number on the
slide." The First Circuit noted that the
guideline requires "only 'an altered or
obliterated serial number'" and reasoned that
[a]pplying an enhancement for firearms that have a single
totally obscured serial number may serve as a deterrent to
tampering, even when incomplete. And, relatedly, the
single-obliteration rule could facilitate tracking each
component that bears a serial number, given that various
parts of firearms may be severable.
Serrano-Mercado is directly on point. Jones
possessed a handgun (1) from which a plate bearing a serial
number had been removed from the frame, but (2) with an
unaltered serial number remaining on the slide. We join the
First, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits in holding that the
applicable guideline "requires only that one serial
number be altered or obliterated, even if others are clearly
counters that the guideline is not applicable here because
the serial number itself was not altered or
obliterated; rather, the firearm was altered by the
removal of the serial-number plate. We disagree with this
flawed semantic distinction because the efficacy of the
serial-number plate is negated by its removal from the
firearm. A serial number removed from its product is
effectively obliterated because it no longer serves its
purpose of identifying that item. Perez and
Carter support the conclusion that the serial number
in this case was altered because its location was changed in
a way that makes accurate information less accessible.
finally argues that removal of a serial number is not an
alteration or obliteration because the guideline does not
include the word "remove." In Carter, the
Ninth Circuit discussed the meanings of the words
"altered." That court observed that
"'obliterate' is defined by Black's Law
Dictionary as '[t]o remove from existence'" and