Don't Get Burned By A Hot Gun
With an estimated 200 million + guns out there on the market in this country today, eventually you will run across one that is stolen. This may be your own that is stolen, or someone else's that lands in your hands by seemingly innocent means. Either way, you need to protect yourself from being burned.
Protecting your own guns
Your firearm collection may be one of the most valuable items in terms of both money and family heirlooms in your home. It should be locked in a fireproof, burglar proof gun safe that is bolted to the floor and hidden in a basement, attic, or little-used closest of an interior room. This is the ideal.
If you haven't gotten around to getting that awesome safe yet, you should at least store your firearms unloaded and preferably field stripped in different parts of your home. This, of course, does not include your personal home defense firearm that you secure by whatever means you feel are adequate for your own situation.
At a minimum, keep track of your serial numbers and when and where you acquired each of your firearms from for your personal records. This can help with both insurance claims and police reports later.
(A good tip for guns that are not in use is to either field strip them and store the parts locked up in separate locations, or to immobilize them with a locking system. This makes the firearm less attractive to a criminal looking to make a fast buck)
If your gun goes missing
This is where that personal inventory comes in. Should you suffer a loss, immediately call the local police, and provide them with the serial numbers, make, and model of your stolen firearms when you make your report. This is sadly very common, with some 150,000 guns reported stolen in 2008 alone. When you pick up the report in a few days verify the numbers listed for accuracy. If you have the time be on the lookout on Craigslist, Armslist, Facebook, and gunbroker for your missing weapons. It wouldn't hurt to visit local pawnshops that accept guns with a copy of your police report in hand. You can even add it to the free stolen gun database at http://www.hotgunz.com/.
Odds are you may never see these guns again, as 85% are never recovered, but don't give up hope. I can remember doing a search warrant for a house in connection with a gambling ring and I found a .38 snub nosed Smith with five spent rounds in the cylinder under a dirty mattress. After running the numbers, it came up as stolen in a town 200-miles away more than twenty years ago. The next week, the very surprised original owner was able to recover it after the case was cleared. I also had a friend, a USMC CI guy, who lived in Hattiesburg MS and had his Glock 34 stolen from his car in New Orleans, then recovered two years later dropped at a crime scene-- in Hattiesburg!
(Police property rooms are cluttered with recovered items of all types-- including guns. If you dont have your serial numbers recorded, odds are your lost gun could sit in one of these rooms for years until its finally sold at auction or destroyed)
Buying Hot Guns
The only way to be 99.99% sure that you are not buying a someone else's stolen guns is to purchase a new in the box firearm from a recognized dealer with a storefront who only purchases from a distributor. If you make face-to-face deals from individuals, it's a risk you take that you will be burned. Always try to get a bill of sale that you verify against their driver's license/photo id. If they balk at this, odds are its for a reason, and consider walking on the deal, no matter how sweet.
Once you get the gun in your possession, you can run the number against the Hot Gunz.com database. To take that extra step you can visit the local police percent and have them run the serial number through the NICS database. NCIC maintains a permanent national database of stolen firearms entered by serial. The thing is, if it comes up hot, then you have to surrender the gun promptly. While the police can and most likely will follow up with the character on the bill of sale that sold it to you, it is up to you to try to get any money exchanged back from them in small claims (i.e. Municipal or Justice) court.
It sucks for everyone, trust me, but these things happen. So be prepared and don't get burned.