Saving Big Bucks: A Used Gun Buyer’s Guide
(TheTruthAboutGuns.com) Posted on October 2, 2012 by Dan Zimmerman- By Rokurota: One TTAG commenter recently wrote: “For those short on cash for a new 1911 or Sig, TTAG should complete an article on buying used guns. Being a veteran college student living off a government stipend, I could offer some real-world tips.” Being perpetually short of cash myself (at least when it comes to buying a new SIG or 1911), I can identify. I am not living off a government stipend, but if the feds can get people free phones, maybe they should give out vouchers for guns…okay, now that you’ve stopped laughing, let’s talk about used guns . . .
There are plenty of ways to get quality firearms at bargain prices, and they don’t differ much from bargain hunting for any other product. If you have to have a new-in-the-box gun, one trick is to look for display models or old stock. I bought my Gen3 Glock 19 after the Gen4s had just come out. Gun shows to be okay for snagging bargains, but they’re hit-and-miss.
Online gun stores (Bud’s Gun Shop and Hyatt’s to name a couple of popular ones) offer deep discounts, but they also have drawbacks. One major minus is having to pay a local FFL dealer to receive the gun and run you through state and federal background checks. They charge a fee for the service – as low as $25 and as much as $75 or more – so you have to take that cost into account. Sometimes the discount you snared from the online store is eaten up by the shipping and FFL fees. On the plus side, you don’t have to pay sales tax if you buy from an out-of-state merchant (yet).
The most obvious strategy to getting an affordable gun, though, is to buy used. If a good piece isn’t abused, it will serve you just as well as a new gun. Of the dozen guns I own, fully half were bought used. Here are a few tips I’ve accumulated during my short life as a used gun buyer:
Where do I find used guns?
Pawn shops, gun stores, gun shows — even chains like Gander Mountain and Cabela’s carry used guns. Online, there’s J&G Sales, Summit Gunbroker, AIM Surplus, CDNN Investments and the auction sites GunsAmerica.com and the big daddy of them all, Gunbroker.com. The auction sites work a lot like eBay. You’ll find some fixed price sales, some “true auctions” (where there’s no reserve price) and a lot of reserve auctions where nobody gets the gun if the bids don’t cover a pre-determined minimum.
Some states allow sales between private individuals. In my great Commonwealth (Virginia), I can and have dealt face to face several times, exploiting the dreaded “gun show loophole.” How do you find private sellers in your state? Try Armslist.com or the Equipment Exchange on AR15.com. Many of the gun boards have classifieds as well. No, don’t look on Craigslist. They hate guns (yes, that’s their official policy).
What do I look for?
Well, what do you want? If you want a SIG, search for a SIG. If you want a 1911, search for that. Just be aware that on Gunbroker not every seller is a marketing expert, and some of them put very little thought into listing their gun. If you want a great deal on a Browning Hi-Power, make sure your search includes “Hi Power,” “High Power,” “P35” and even “FN 9mm.” I’ve seen Marlin Camp Carbines listed as “Marlin Camper 9,” “Marlin 9mm Carbine, “Marlen Camp Rifle” – you get the picture.
Condition is all-important, especially for a gun that may stand between you and death at the hands of a predator. Look at the pictures. Pay special attention to the bore and muzzle condition. A rusted, pitted exterior says something about how the current or previous owner(s) maintained the gun. A few scratches and scuffs, on the other hand, usually don’t affect operation. In fact, they help drive the price down.
How much of a gambler are you? Because I’ll be straight with you – not everyone likes Gunbroker. In fact, some people absolutely despise it. I suspect the problems are mainly with individual sellers or buyers (My dealings with Gunbroker have all been positive). That’s why it’s important to examine a seller’s feedback and rating. A seller with lots of positive feedback, especially one who’s obviously a dealer, is probably a safer bet than an individual with no rating. On the other hand, sales by newbies sometimes don’t get bid up as much. So if you’re willing to chance it, you might land a better deal buying from a less experienced seller.
My rule is to not bid on an auction with no pictures and a cursory description. If someone can’t be bothered to type anything more than “Springfield .45,” will they bother to send me the gun once they receive my payment?
What Should I Pay?
What you pay depends on what you’re buying and whom you’re buying from. You may not get much traction haggling for that new Smith & Wesson Shield at Sportsman’s Warehouse. But a used or consignment sale at your local gun shop or at a gun show? Give it a try. The worst that can happen (short of them laughing at you) is they say no.
The big surplus and discount dealers occasionally run some monster sales. A month ago, J&G Sales was selling VZ2008s (Czech-made AK-style rifles) for $399. The price is now back up to $499. Once again, he who hesitates is lost.
What about the auctions? Well, auctions are insidious. They suck you in with the glowing hope of paying $350 for a Les Baer Custom 1911, only to see the price skyrocket in the final minutes. The next thing you know, you’re bidding a C-note more than you originally intended – or worse. Just as with eBay, fix your limit, be willing to wiggle a little, then know when to stop.
Some auctions on Gunbroker are listed with a “Buy It Now” feature. I advise scoping out all “Buy It Now” fixed-price sales, because you never know what you’ll find. Jump on a deal — quickly — if it’s good.
Many buyers don’t look at Reserve Price auctions because, frankly, they’re a pain – you watch a gun, bid what you think is a decent price, then the auction ends because you didn’t bid high enough. It’s a bummer. However, I have a Smith & Wesson 640-1 in my collection I got for $300 – because that was the reserve price and no one else was watching the auction but me.