Following an informal poll of friends, family, and folks at the range, I’d guesstimate that most gun owners have a least a few used pieces in their collections, and a large number of us chiefly buy used firearms. There’s nothing wrong with this in principle—guns are the ultimate durable goods and they’ll stay in working condition for centuries if well cared for.
That having been said, caveat emptor. Used guns don’t often offer any customer service or fall under warranty. Likewise, you’ll have to take the seller’s word as to the history and past usage of the weapon. None of this should put you off buying used firearms, but they add another layer of considerations which should go into any purchase.
So how can you get the most of your used gun budget? We’ve put together some ideas for you to bear in mind:
First, foremost, and always, know and obey all applicable laws. I know there are silly gun regulations on the books in some jurisdictions, but you need to obey them anyway. Flouting the law for any reason can land you in trouble, and potentially gives the anti-Second Amendment crowd more fuel for their fire.
The next step is also research oriented: do your homework as to the particular make and model you’re buying used. They all have their own quirks and issues that may affect your decision to buy. For example, when buying an AR15 second hand you should pop off the hand-guard to check for rust. Likewise used steel-frame pistols should be examined carefully for cracks or repaired cracks in the frame. Know what you’re getting into so that you can get the most for your money.
When the day comes and you’re looking over your potential purchase, go beyond a superficial examination and really dig in. Field strip the weapon and check for any signs of undue wear, secondhand/aftermarket parts, or amateur gunsmithing modifications. Most folks selling guns—or anything else—are honest, however one bad apple can ruin your day.
Toward that end, double check all screws, springs, and pins. These are where you’ll mostly likely see signs of amateur gunsmithing in the form of scratches, screw heads deformed by the wrong size/type of screwdriver, or bent/kinked/otherwise poorly installed springs.
It goes without saying, but you have to examine the bore carefully. An attentive seller will present you with a clean bore so that you can see the lack of rust and the condition of the lands and grooves. A little dirt is fine, but a filthy bore should be cleaned so an examination can be made. As always, rust is an immediate red flag.
If at all possible test fire or at least dry fire the weapon. It may be worth buying or borrowing the appropriate snap-cap in order to do so.
Finally, as with all purchases you should be prepared to walk away. If the price isn’t quite right, or the condition of the gun isn’t what you were promised, or the other person tries to upsell you at the last minute, just walk away. It’s highly unlikely that this is the only used piece of this make and model available, so it may be best to just wait for a better opportunity.
We’ll close with a bit of advice about how to make the deal itself. Unless you know the seller fairly well, I recommend meeting someplace neutral (ie not either of your houses), public, and gun friendly. Gun ranges are good for this, and local hunt clubs might accommodate you as well. Make sure someone knows where you’ll be, and then just follow the law, maintain good situational awareness, and keep an open yet critical mind. Trust your gut—if the situation feels off, just drive on by. While it’s not likely anything bad will happen, I do believe that “better safe than sorry” applies here.