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.

Who’s Selling?

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.

Completing the Sale

If you’re buying from a private seller, negotiate before you meet. Write up a bill of sale and ask the seller to sign it, explaining it’s only for your records. You want to do this to record the date you took possession of the gun. (I probably don’t have to explain why this is important.) If the seller balks, don’t be afraid to cancel the sale. (If you’re at a gun show and you buy from a guy or gal walking the floor, you may not be able to do this, but obviously use your judgment and always be ready to walk away. No bargain is worth a trip to the police station.)

On Gunbroker, once the auction is over, you’re on your own. You have to get in touch with the seller and work out how to pay and take delivery. You’ll be required to pay before you get your gun. Many sellers require guaranteed funds of some sort – a certified check or money order, usually. Some merchants will take a credit card, and individuals may choose to use “discreet PayPal” because PayPal (drumroll, please) doesn’t like guns.

Establishing good communication with the other party goes a long way toward a pleasant sale. I recently sold a rifle on Gunbroker to a first-timer. He was nervous about sending payment first, and suggested I send the rifle before he sent a check. As if! I suggested he use a credit card with buyer protection, and if he covered the PayPal fee, I would accept payment that way. After all that, he went ahead and sent a check, but I think my willingness to deal put him at ease.

If anything about the sale feels wrong — for any reason — don’t send payment. You may get dinged on feedback, but it’s better than losing a few sawbucks into the great unknown.

As mentioned before, you’ll need to find a local FFL to take delivery of your gun. Keep in mind that unless you’re buying an antique or rare gun, this dealer is essentially helping you buy from their competitor. Be considerate and patronize his or her establishment when you can. Sometimes you can find a pawn shop or gunsmith with an FFL. You may feel a little less guilty having your purchases shipped to them. Of course, some gun sellers don’t mind collecting the fee for doing almost nothing. Those that do will let you know by either refusing to take a transfer or charging you the price of a Hi-Point to do it.

Any other tips?

Read the description carefully. I almost bid on a gun before realizing the Walther PPK was chambered in “9mm Police” instead of “9mm Kurz.” That would have smarted, as 9mm Police (also called 9mm Ultra) is a readily available cartridge…so long as you’re a West German police officer in 1972. Sometimes the description covers a flaw in the gun. Maybe the magazine is missing. Ask questions and be informed.

Ugly guns can make great bargains. Collectors hate blemishes, scratches and importer stamps. Bargain hunters love ’em. Learn which “problems” affect the performance of the gun you want and which do not, then shop accordingly. I’ve observed collectible guns go for cheap because they had the dreaded CAI import mark on the frame. Finish loss, muzzle damage, dark bores and cracks in the metal can be real problems, but a chipped handguard can be easily repaired and probably won’t affect your shooting in the mean time.

Consider the manufacturer and model. A Kel-Tec with 5,000 rounds through it is not equal to a SIG with 5,000 rounds through it. And a SIG P250 with 5,000 rounds on the odometer is not equal to a SIG P226 with the same mileage. Plus, a used Kel-Tec PF9 on Gunbroker will rarely go for much less than a new one, whereas I recently purchased a SIG P229R for $400 ($460 when you factor in shipping and FFL fee). That’s almost half of what a new P229 with a rail will run you. (As with cars, resale value is a consideration should you decide to sell your gun.)

What about law enforcement (LE) trade-ins? If you want a duty-class pistol, carbine or shotgun, LE trade-ins are great deals. Currently, the auctions and surplus dealers are lousy with Glock 23s and Beretta PX4s in .40 S&W. A few years ago, every police agency was trading in their Ruger Mini-14s for ARs. You will likely get a gun that’s been “shot little and carried a lot” and maintained by an armorer. If you don’t mind “BIG CITY PD” etched on your gun, you can make out like a bandit.

Do your research. Many great deals aren’t so great once you look into them. When I see something attractive on Gunbroker, the first place I look is…Gunbroker. What are similar guns going for? Are there any bids? What about the no-name manufacturer of that AR-15? Are they still in business? Can you get service or parts? Before you plunk down your green, know your machine.

You can always re-sell. I like buying guns. My wife and bank account hate it, but everyone’s cool because I’ve yet to lose money buying and selling guns, even considering FFL and shipping costs. Services like Gunbroker and Guns America exist because people change their minds, outgrow guns, want to trade up, need to liquidate or just want to stay happily married. As mentioned before, some guns hold their value better than others.

Bargain gun hunting isn’t much different from shopping for bargains on clothes or shoes. You just have to know where to look and take the occasional chance. If you’re new to the game, seek out a venue where you can examine, handle and possibly even fire the gun before you buy. This would be a gun store (especially one attached to a range), a pawn shop or a gun show. Don’t discount friends and relatives, either. If you’re more adventurous, give the auctions a try. And good luck. Everyone deserves the opportunity to exercise the right to keep and bear arms. That’s what the free market is for.

47 Responses to Saving Big Bucks: A Used Gun Buyer’s Guide

  1. Mas Ayoob put out a good companion guide to this that gave you everything to look for in terms of functional quality for revolvers and semis (with appropriate variation for striker, DA/SA, and SAO). Pages 14-20 in the Gun Digest Book of Combat Handgunnery, readily available for free viewing on Google Books.

    The only downside is I’ve been to several places that have a “you field strip it, you buy it” policy. I can understand why they have it, but it still seems sh*tty to me.

  2. Gunlistings.org is also a fantastic resource if you live in a state that has plenty of activity. I’ve sold two guns there and it was very quick, easy and painless.

  3. I’ve never bought new. My strategy is to not buy new. Local classifieds, good LGS, friends/network, gunshows keep an eye out for trades. I bought 1st gun at a gunshow. Bought 2nd gun used at Cabelas. Got a sweet deal on a used mini14 at my LGS that I traded for a new “assault weapon” and used shotty at another show. Picked up a beautiful SKS off of gunbroker for a sweet deal.

    If you keep your eyes open, and have cash on hand, deals will pop up.

  4. wow. just realized that only 1 of my 14 guns that i currently own was purchased brand new.

    a lot of people buy stuff, shoot 500 rounds, let them sit for years, and then trade them in. Good pickins for the discerning eye, and good on the wallet.

  5. Keep an ear out where you work, kids school, church group, etc. etc. I’ve gotten a couple of good deals talking around when guys mentioned they were being pressured by their wives to get rid of their guns. I obtained my M1 for $150 from a co-worker who mentioned he was going to turn in an old gun at a police buy-back at his wife’s insistence.

  6. Another way to save money is to walk into a gun store with a screen capture from GunBroker or an online store (Bud’s for example) for the gun you want. When the store tells you what price they want for the gun, say “You’ll have to do better than that. I can get the same gun for $— here.”, and lay the printout on the counter. You will be amazed how much the price at the gun store will come down! I got a new Sig P220 for $150 below list price, using this bargaining ploy.

  7. You do have to pay sales tax. It is called a “use tax” if a sales tax is not collected directly by the seller. It is on your state income tax form where they ask for the sum total of goods purchased from out of state and derive a total tax owed or they derive a total based upon proprietary models using income as a factor. In either event, the government always gets their cut. Now whether an individual chooses to report this on their taxes is another story. However, many states are now going after internet retailers and credit card companies to get a list of your purchases to seek if suspected persons are skirting the law and not reporting their purchases (the use tax originally was aimed at out of state car purchasers). Mainly they have gone after people for avoiding high tobacco taxes. One “trick” a friend told me was to report something (like $50-200) because everyone buys something online, esp for middle to upper incomes. Arguably, you avoid the penalties and interest if you ever get audited. Now, this does not consitutue tax or legal advice and the reader is advised to speak with their tax or legal professional . . . . . . .

  8. One last random thing. It is pretty much impossible to tell if a gun has been shot 10 times, or 10,000 times. You’re pretty much going on someone’s word that the gun has “only 500 rounds” or something similar, because unless someone has shot the heck out of a gun for years, you won’t be able to tell if the bore is worn. So as far as fired condition, which you can use to your advantage, your choices are pretty much:

    1- unfired
    2- shot
    3- shot to hell

    • One last random thing. It is pretty much impossible to tell if a gun has been shot 10 times, or 10,000 times

      You can with a throat erosion gauge if you compare it to a new gun.

      • True. If you or whomever is selling the gun happens to have one AND you happen to have the exact specs of the barrel so you know what you’re measuring, you can get a rough idea how many rounds may have been shot if you also know how many rounds equate to the amount of erosion. So sure you can do it, but if it’s been shot that much that you question the round count, there are probably other tell tale signs besides throat erosion.

  9. The guys on my local Gun Forum use the selling tactic of starting out about 10% over brand new for their used firearm and then dropping the price by 5% or so every few days until the weapon is sold. Takes effort to balance out the patience to wait until you think the price is right and then the quickness to beat everyone else to it.

  10. A dark bore might not always mean minute of pizza box accuracy. My first K98k looked like the inside of a shit pipe but for $200 and after vigorous cleaning, crisp grooves with no pitting were revealed. It’ll shoot 2″ groups at 100 yards all day long and it’s nearly 70 years old. You know what they say about judging books…

  11. PayPal’s policy on not allowing the sale of firearms doesn’t make any sense. The only thing they deal in is the transfer of money. Even if they discovered that the money you sent to an individual for the purposes of exchanging it for a firearm, I don’t see how that would be a violation of the policy.

    • Of course it doesn’t, but they can enforce it by refusing to allow PayPal payment to be built in to any site on which firearms are sold.

      Sounds like a business opportunity to me.

    • Wow, didn’t know paypal had a problem with all that gun stuff. Good thing I never told them what all those transfers were for.
      As for their policy, they can bite me.

  12. There are some guns you have no option but to buy used. I have a Makarov, an sks, Mosin Nagant that are no longer made new and I was actively searching for to buy. I buy new when appropriate and used also. I don’t remember ever getting a true lemon. Even my old Raven .25 worked every shot. Couldn’t hit squat with it but it worked every time I pulled the trigger.

  13. If you live in Virginia, check out http://www.vaguntrader.com/forums/

    Registration is free and there is no commission on sales or purchases. It is by far the best site I have ever been on to buy and sell used guns locally. I have made numerous sales and purchases. Make sure you read the rules before you post. Make offers through PM’s.

  14. The 4 Rules of Used Guns:

    1. If the deal is too good to be true, it is.
    2. 500 rounds means 2,000.
    3. Rust lurks under every handguard or grip.
    4. Sometimes rule one doesn’t apply.

  15. I’ve done three deals thru Gonbroker, all without a hitch. Two were very good deals, and third was a rare black powder replica with little price variability. I’ve found GunsAmerica to be loaded with dealers, most often charging MSRP or better, and for popular pieces, sometimes hundreds more. None of the offers are negotiable. The best deals I’ve seen are on imported European and Israeli used police firearms (big new york dealer)–but unfortunately most are not C&R qualified and thus not saleable in California. Best prices on used CZs I’ve found. Browning Hi-Powers are pricey no matter where you find them, new or used.

  16. My advice would be NEVER buy a used gun unless you get to look at it first. And if you dont know what to look for, bring a friend. Also, I prefer to buy from a good LGS. Keep in mind warranties are no good if its used. Buyer beware!

    • Dr. Dave, I think most firearms come with lifetime transferrable warranty, but that could just be the few I’ve owned.

      • Kel-Tec used to be this way, but they changed their policy about a year ago. I’m pretty sure Dr. Dave is right with it only applying to the origonal owner.

        • Some manufacturers like Ruger, Smith&Wesson, or even HiPoint (Gasp!) have excellent warranties, doesn’t matter if you’re the original owner or not.

  17. In my limited experience, most sports stores that also sell firearms won’t sell used for much less than new. I bought my pistol new because the used one they had was only $50 cheaper.

  18. Typical gun store math works like this. (prices assume VG-Ex condition, it goes down from there)
    Used gun selling price at retail = 80% of new price That is typically what you will pay at a gun store. Any closer to new and people just buy new.
    Used gun offers from gun store = 80% of new price minus 33% or approximately half of what you paid new. Gun stores are for profit don’t hold the math against them.

    My personal rule is used person to person 60-70% of new price. I need a little give because if there is a problem it is now my problem.

    I usually consign any gun sales through the local shop at 10% which works out to only 4% ( 6% sales tax in PA) if you spend the money in the shop as there is no sales tax on it as it is looked at like a trade. And no hassles.

    I would say I buy 95% of my guns used. I like the challenge of the hunt. I will say this it is getting hard to find a gun shop with a good inventory of high quality merchandise anymore.

    • I think people that have guns are hanging on to them. It’s getting hard to find good used S&W revolvers and when you do find 1 you might just as well buy new the price is that high. I’ve just been buying new unless it’s a piece that’s out of production.

      My 242 smith is an example. I had to buy it used. Then I found out I didn’t like it. My daughter stepped up and took it off my hands. For free of course.

  19. I think gun shows are a huge waste of time. They charge a fortune to get in, they are crowded, and nothing is any cheaper. They even charge for the background check, something my LGS never does. And there are too many weirdos to count.

    Half my guns were private buys. I’ve sold private too. A few I bought new, didn’t feel like spending a lot of time looking around for a used deal.

    Only one gun I bought had issues. I got a Savage 860E in .222 Rem that failed to extract. The seller took it to a smith who replaced an broken extractor spring and it’s been good as new ever since. Even found me a second clip for it and I gladly gave him 25 dollars for that.

    I’ve regretted selling a few guns . My Beretta trap shotgun, a .22 mag Marlin (pre FG) and a Valmet 330 OU I had refinished. My policy now is to never sell any, doesn’t cost anything to keep them after all.

  20. “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.”

    That’s a good tip. A gun listed with poor spelling/description, etc, will remain longer with fewer views. A “Buy it Now” sale may go unnoticed by most buyers. In the case of a no reserve auction, you might be the lone bidder on that “Makoroff” or “Armalight”. Real bargains can be found here.

    • I could write a whole article on this point. I rue the day I passed on that “Ruger 9mm Carbine” for $375. You can’t find a PC-9 for any price now.

  21. I’ve used Gunbroker and Auction Arms to feed my Walther addiction. Never a problem. I always look at the seller’s feedback before committing to bid. I think I’ve done OK on prices compared to LGS.

  22. I picked up a used FNP 45, in the ‘range’ kit (blade tech holster, mag carrier, 3 14 rd mags, yellow practice barrel) AND 3 15 rd mags for about 15% less than the price of a new FNX45. Steal of a deal. Same thing with my somewhat rare Kahr T40. Found it in a pawn shop for $300. It was missing one grip screw. Used is generally the way to go.

  23. I’ve purchased guns and accessories from Summit Gun Broker over the years and every time it’s just a pleasure to deal with Mark. Always willing to answer questions, value is excellent and transactions are smooth. It’s a good site to check out regularly – you never know what neat goody will show up there from time to time.

    • Alyce,
      Check out the Guns for Beginners link at the top of the page. Or visit a gun store and ask questions. Depending on where you live, you may know people who can help — police officers, veterans, or ordinary folks who shoot (many more of us out there than you think!). You can also find your local NRA chapter. By all means, write an email to thetruthaboutguns@gmail.com with your question. If they print it, be prepared for an overabundance of advice!

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