Buying a gun can be a significant expenditure. Along with the cost of a good, reliable gun, there is the cost of ammunition, holsters, cleaning kits, and training. All told it can add up to hundreds and even thousands of dollars. If you’re on a budget, you may have to settle for a less expensive gun that falls short of the gun you wanted.
Fortunately, there is another avenue you can go to get more gun for your money. You can buy a used gun. A used gun, you say? Sure, why not? People buy used cars all the time; it’s not all that different. The secret is to buy a used gun as carefully as you buy a used car. There are numerous sources for used guns, and each has its own set of pros and cons.
Pros of Buying a Used Gun:
- You can often get a good used gun at half the cost of the same gun brand new.
- Many used guns have very little actual shooting wear.
- Guns are broken in when you buy them, and potential problems have often been rectified.
- Guns are tough and have a long functional lifespan.
Cons of Busing a Used Gun:
- It is not a shiny new gun.
- Most used guns are sold as-is. No returns.
- When buying directly from the previous owner with no background check (if legal in your state), you do not know the gun’s history or legal status.
- Some gun manufacturers’ warranties only apply to the original owner.
- You may not know what modifications may have been made to a used gun.
- You may be buying someone else’s problem gun.
If it looks like there are more cons than pros, that’s because there are. But again, you could substitute the word “car” for “gun,” and the list would look similar. Some of the negatives, such as being sold as-is and potentially not under warranty, apply to all of them. Others, like not knowing the gun’s legal status, only apply to some. I will go through each option.
Sources for Used Guns
Along with the obvious option of buying a used gun in a pawn shop, there are multiple other sources. These include both online and in-person. All share some of the same advantages and potential drawbacks in buying a used gun.
Pawn Shops and Local Guns Shops
Pawn Shops are great sources for used guns. They generally have a good selection, and the prices are reasonable. Since they are an FFL, you can rest assured that the gun’s serial number has been checked to ensure it is not stolen. Although most pawn shops do not test-fire used guns, they usually check them over carefully to ensure they are in decent condition. You can see and hold the gun before you buy it, so you can give it at least a good visual and physical inspection before buying.
Local gun shops have the same benefits as pawn shops. Unlike pawn shops, they will have a larger proportion of their stock being new guns rather than used, but they will usually still have some used guns in the display case.
On the downside, used guns in both are generally sold as-is, so if there is a problem with it, you will have to contact the manufacturer yourself for repairs. Since you usually can’t shoot it before buying, you don’t know how well it works or if it had any problems when it was brought in. Sometimes, they will also not include the original box or accessories that came with them when initially purchased.
There are hundreds of online gun dealers on the internet, and many of them sell used guns. When searching for guns in their inventory, “Used” is usually one of the filter options. Many will annotate the listing with the condition of the gun, such as “good,” “very good,” and so on.
Shopping online is convenient and has the advantage of giving you a good selection without having to drive all over town. Simply find the gun you want, place your order, and have it sent to your local FFL for the transfer. The downside is that you are buying a used gun based on a short description and a photograph on a website. You don’t get an opportunity to work the action or even hold it in your hand before buying it.
An excellent source of used guns is police trade-ins. Many online gun dealers offer police trade-ins. Police departments generally buy quality handguns as opposed to inexpensive brands and models. Glock, S&W, and Sig are frequently available as trade-ins. Since police carry their guns daily, but most officers seldom shoot them or even draw them in the line of duty, most wear is purely cosmetic holster wear.
On the downside, when you buy a police trade-in online, you generally do not even get to see a photo of the actual gun you are buying. Online dealers usually buy police trade-ins in lots and simply use a picture of one gun to represent all the guns in the lot. Having said that, I have purchased several police trade-ins online and never had a problem with any of them.
Gun shows are fun to attend and always have tables and tables of guns for sale. Finding a good used gun is just a matter of walking around and looking at everything until you find the one you want. Along with new guns and collector’s items, there are usually plenty of used guns to choose from.
Many gun shows require the actions on guns offered for sale to be wire-tied open, so it won’t always be possible to work the action. But you can hold them and give them a quick inspection before buying. Vendors at gun shows are often open to dickering on the price as well.
The downsides are the same as for buying any used gun. You don’t know the gun’s history and whether it’s ever been prone to problems. As with most used guns, they will generally be offered as-is, and since vendors often move around from show to show, it could be difficult to contact them if you have a problem with the gun. Finally, gun show prices may be higher than prices at a gun shop, pawn shop, or online dealer.
Gun classifieds, either online or in a gun club bulletin, are full of used guns. They could be big national listings like GunBroker or Armslist or smaller ones associated with a forum or a local classified site. These are usually the places to get the best price on a used gun. I have bought and sold several guns on classified sites and have never had an issue of any kind.
That’s not to say that there isn’t the potential for a problem. As with any other online purchase, you are relying on a short description and some photos to ensure the gun you buy is reliable and will meet your needs. Some of the larger gun classified sites provide buyer protection services to help prevent buyers from being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous seller. Still, most guns purchased this way are sold as-is.
Buying from a local classified that makes it possible to buy the gun in person provides an opportunity to see and hold the gun before buying it. In some cases, you might even be able to try it out first.
Laws regarding private sales vary from state to state. Some states allow private sales with no regulation or interference by the state. Others are more restrictive, requiring that all gun sales go through an FFL for a background check. I’m personally not a fan of universal background checks, but there is the potential problem with buying from a private individual of not knowing the gun’s history. If you live in a state that allows private gun sales without a background check, you could conceivably be buying a gun that has been stolen. However, the chances of this are pretty slim.
Things to Look For When Buying a Used Gun
No matter where you buy a used gun, there are some things you should look for. Just as when buying a used car, looks are important, but what’s beneath the surface counts. If you are buying the gun from a store, gun show, or directly from a private seller, check these things before you buy. If you’re buying it online, you will have to wait until after you receive the gun but before you shoot it to check them.
- Does the slide move smoothly?
- Does it lock back with the slide lock? With an empty magazine inserted?
- With the slide locked back, turn the gun over and look at the underside of the slide. Are there signs of uneven wear?
- Does the slide lock work?
- Does the safety work?
- If there is a grip safety, does it work properly?
- Does the magazine release work smoothly?
- Check the bore. Are there signs of pitting or corrosion in the barrel?
- Check for damage or wear on the feed ramp.
- How does the trigger feel? Is it smooth, or does it stick?
- Does the magazine drop smoothly when released?
- Can you seat the magazine without having to slam it in with your hand?
- Are the sights damaged in any way?
- Is the front sight loose?
- Is the rear sight off-center?
- Is the cylinder tight, or does it rattle when you shake the gun with it closed?
- Does the cylinder release work smoothly?
- Does it rotate smoothly?
- Does it align properly with the barrel?
Trigger and Hammer
- Is the trigger smooth and does it rotate the cylinder on double action?
- Does the hammer lock back on single action?
- Are they damaged in any way?
- Is the front blade loose?
- Is the rear sight off-center?
Buying a used gun is a good way to get a higher-end gun at a lower-end price. Just because a gun is being sold by its owner doesn’t mean there is something wrong with it. People sell guns for lots of reasons. Sometimes, they need some extra cash, or they sell one gun to pay for another one if they want more. Sometimes, they just need to make some room in the safe. If you approach buying a used gun the same way you buy a used car, the chances are excellent that you will end up happy about the purchase.