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What to know before buying police handgun trade-ins or used law enforcement pistols.

Sam Hoober writes [via]:

A police trade-in gun can be a way to get your hands on a serious handgun for not a whole lot in terms of cash expenditure – depending on whom you buy it from – and put a gun in the safe or in the home for defense, or in a gun holster for daily carry.

However, there is a certain amount of due diligence, a certain number of things to know and things to look for before plunking down the cash on a police trade-in.

Police Handgun Trade-Ins – Just Like Any Other Used Gun

There really isn’t anything about a police trade-in that’s any different from buying any other used gun. A gun isn’t nearly as complicated as, say, a police cruiser (stick to highway patrol cars; highway miles and fewer hours idling) so really a used law enforcement gun is a used gun. Basically, you want to look for the same things.

Inspect the frame. Look for any cracks (most police these days have some sort of poly striker gun) in the frame, especially anywhere near the firing mechanism itself. Likewise inspect the frame and see if there’s any obvious damage. Also check for any rust, especially anywhere in or around the firing mechanism and/or the barrel.

Have a look at the magazines. Does the spring seem worn? Are there any cracks in the magazine follower, the magazine itself or the floorplate? Is there any rust visible? Granted, you may want to replace the magazines anyway – more on that later.

Pay attention to how the slide cycles. Does it offer sufficient resistance and does it return to battery as it should? Granted, this is actually the least of your worries; recoil springs are easily replaced and, as it happens, exceedingly cheap.

That all said, what can you expect from a police trade-in?

What To Expect From A  Police Handgun Trade-Ins

First, expect that most of the models are going to be familiar enough, as there are only a few common service pistols. Common service pistols in police service include the Glock 17, Glock 22 (.40 S&W), Beretta 92, Sig Sauer P226, Smith and Wesson M&P9 and M&P40.

You’ll also get the odd S&W DA/SA pistol like the 5906 and so on, but these are getting rarer and rarer. The odd Ruger GP-100 or S&W Model 19 might be around as well.

Cosmetic damage is all but assured. Holster wear is going to be evident, and expect some nicks, scrapes and scratches in the finish. These guns are carried for hours, bump into things and so on.

So if you’re expecting a show-room finish…it’s just not going to happen. You may need to do a bit of cleaning and lubricating, but it will be a working gun.

What about hours on the clock? How much shooting will have been done with these pistols? Actually, not much. Police rarely use their pistols in the line of duty (few officers will be involved in more than a few shootings in their careers, though there are certainly exceptions) and a lot of them actually do less shooting than a good number of civilian carriers.

GLOCK 21 Police Handgun Trade-In Pistols Used Law Enforcement Pistols

A police pistol will often enough only go through a few boxes of ammo per month. Some are only fired a few times per year for qualification shoots. It really comes down to the officer who had the gun previously.

What you don’t know, of course, is how fastidiously it was maintained by the armory. It may have been stored with the action locked back and magazine(s) fully loaded at almost all times. As a result, you may consider replacing the recoil spring and the magazine springs (if not the magazines) as a matter of course.

One thing to look at, however, is the trigger. A number of departments only issue DAO pistols, which have a tougher trigger than you like. Granted, this can often be cured with a trigger spring kit, which – again – are cheap.

As one final bonus, finding a concealed carry holster shouldn’t be a problem for all police handgun trade-ins.So, overall, you can actually get a lot of gun for the money. Usually, you’ll get a magazine or two and night sights are incredibly common. You may also get an accessory light in the bargain, which isn’t unheard of. Police trade-ins routinely go for less than $400, which is not a bad deal in the least. At most, you may want to throw in a few springs…but those are cheap, and you get a solid handgun in the bargain.


About Sam Hoober

Sam Hoober is a contributing editor at Alien Gear Holsters, as well as for Bigfoot Gun Belts. He also writes weekly columns for Daily Caller and USA Carry.

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  1. My model 10 S&W was a cops gun. It looks rough on the outside. Years of riding in a holster and getting banged around. But it locks up tight, has a smooth action and shoots better than I can.

    My big regret was passing on a batch of S&W model 15’s that were a group trade in from a security company. Those guns had less milage on them than the cop trade ins.

  2. I have a bunch of police trade-in handguns. Some have the seatbelt holster wear, like my polymer-framed USP40, which has most of the right-side grip factory stippling worn off, but they all run perfectly. The handguns bought by police have to work, so they buy good guns. The kind of guns that last forever. I’ve seen no functional wear, but a few mags were pretty worn, although fully functional. If you don’t care about it being superficially worn, they’re a great way to buy a top-tier handgun for a good price.

  3. Some years back I owned a Smith and Wesson Model 39 -first generation single stack 9mm with Dallas PD markings. I could see where an old style leather thumb break holster had rubbed most of the finish from the slide and hammer. It was a very pleasant pistol to shoot and was quite accurate. I sold it at a very reasonable price (actually less than I paid for it) to a friend’s son who was making his start as a mechanic and lived in pretty rough neighborhood. I kind of wish that I still had the pistol. It wasn’t anything fancy and the “experts” never had much good to say about those early Smith’s. Even so I liked the grip and the idea of shooting one of those old pistols.

  4. “There really isn’t anything about a police trade-in that’s any different from buying any other used gun.”

    Yeah there is and there’s one really big difference. A PD armorer will not do a bubba trigger job or dremel adjustments. You never know who did what to a used gun that’s in the display case. With a fresh off PD trade in gun, you can be 99.99% sure that you’re getting something with all factory parts that have not been garage adjusted. A PD armorer will have access to all factory parts and if there is the slightest hiccup with a PD gun, the manufacturer will replace it pretty quickly or will send a factory armorer to your department if it’s an issue they haven’t seen before. Both Glock and S&W really cater to the LEO market and agency purchases.

    My duty gun sees no more than 350 rounds a year through it. Even at a 10 year trade in point, that’s still not much of a round count on the gun and there’s 6500 round left before the first spring change interval.

    “It may have been stored with the action locked back and magazine(s) fully loaded at almost all times. As a result, you may consider replacing the recoil spring and the magazine springs (if not the magazines) as a matter of course.”

    Not this again. The physics is not on your side when you say something like this. Springs don’t wear from being under constant tension, they wear out from use. Really man, really?????

    • This. As long as the spring isnt compressed past the metal’s critical fatigue limit it will be just fine barring other factors like rust, extreme temps, etc.

    • Ya know when i read that comment about the springs, I just scratched my head and said , why do these so called gun experts keep said that about springs. Guess they haven’t got 55 + years experience shooting.If they are going to write comments they should be at the least experienced enough not to make dumb statements like that unless they know what they are talking about.

  5. Planning on a GLOCK 22/23leo gun. For home defense…the ones I see in shops have INSANE prices. Internet for me..

    • Glock 22s are pretty common, and should be priced reasonably these days. I bought mine for $320 about a year ago (gen 3, with 3 mags, a case, and night sights). Now that gun sales have slowed, maybe one could be had for around $300. 40 cal seems to be losing some of it’s popularity. I think of the G22 as the quintessential police gun of the last decade or so.

      The 23 seems a little less common on the LE trade in market. I mainly see the model 22 and 21 in my area. The 21 seems too big to carry, but would make a good home defense gun if you don’t mind the large grip size. The 21 also seems to be a little more expensive. The 22 is great for home defense, and could be carried if you wanted to.

      I traded my G21 for a G19, and keep my G22 for home defense.

  6. When I read this:

    “It may have been stored with the action locked back and magazine(s) fully loaded at almost all times. As a result, you may consider replacing the recoil spring and the magazine springs (if not the magazines) as a matter of course.”

    I knew that the author knows not of what he speaks.

    • I disagree with you.

      Although the life of a spring is negligibly affected by fixed compression vs repeated compression or stretching by means of creep or fatigue, It will lose its force eventually by means of keeping it in a compressed state. Through temperature fluctuations and time it will adjust to the new environment. Like a quote from one of the members of the physics forum that I agree with:

      The laws of thermodynamics demand structural decoherence of any solid over time – loads merely accelerate the process. The properties of all materials are altered with the passage of time. Some are more resilient than others, but, none are immune.

      A spring under no load will outlast a spring under load, but both states are considerably better than repetitive working of the spring, as that wears the spring fastest. For most, it is a better trade off to keep their mags loaded under tension, for the sake of readiness, than to keep them unloaded for the sake of spring longevity.

      • Which is fine except if you’re buying a used gun that was carried you’re not going to find one where the magazine was unloaded all the time. Either it was in a compressed state pretty much all the time or someone- perhaps believing it was a good idea for spring longevity- frequently loaded and unloaded the mag, thereby increasing wear.

      • That’s it! I’m not getting old and decrepit. I’m simply suffering from “structural decoherence”.

    • I wasn’t going to bother saying it but it looks like a bunch of folks have made the point. It helps, if you are in the business of writing about guns, to be knowledgeable about guns.

    • I could try to find my old Physics 207 textbook and explain it to you in detail…

  7. Local shop prices can cause a seizure. A local shop here as a PX4 Compact used and wants more for it than a new one from Buds costs! Uh, how about no? I would NEVER buy an X cop gun, not unless I wanted to cut and weld on it and and make art or see how easily and long it would take to melt it down into a puddle. Knowing that could come in handy.

  8. I love my 5906. One of the best triggers I’ve ever felt and built like a tank. Got it for 350 of buds. Almost as good a steal as the 5 dollar safariland lane retention holster I got for it recently.

  9. I got an M&P9 from Bud’s for cheap with 2 extra mags. Was in good condition except that the front night sight insert was missing (was considering new hybrid sights anyways. Really like them and glad I got them) but it was pretty dirty, yet otherwise well maintained. Brother speculates it was an instructor’s gun. Other than the stock M&P trigger, which is no fault of being a used gun, I’m happy with it.

    Initially regretful the purchase when Trump won (but don’t regret Trump winning) a seeing the 2.0 come out. Then I actually held a 2.0. Nicer trigger, but damn that grip hurts to hold. Would have held off on getting 2 new condition mags and save myself a 20 if I had known about Trump though (In related bit, wonder if the Shield rebate thing is clearing out stock before a Shield 2.0)

  10. Bought a LEO P7M8 almost 20 years ago. Worn/ ugly…check. Sweet price $700….check.
    My EDC ever since.

    • I got a great condition p7 German police trade in gun for $500, wish they were still available, wish I’d have bought 10 of them even more.

      Great carry guns, it disappears in a VMII, fast, accurate, and one of, if not the safest pistol ever designed.

  11. I have had tons of police trade in guns, and would have no issue buying them when I see them. The trade in market is definitely favoring 40 cal guns right now, I’ve bought several trade in G22’s, G23’s, P226’s and P229’s, and M&P40’s.

    My definite favorite though has been my ex Australian trade in Model 10. Round butt, 4 inch heavy barrel. It was rough when I got it, but Ive had it cerakoted and I carry it regularly IWB in an alien gear holster with Hogue Bantaam grips. I dont shoot it as much as I used to, but I can still easily shoot touching groups at 7 yards in double action, and I’ve taken defensive handgun classes with it. Sadly the used revolvers seems to have dried up mostly, the only ones I see lately are some badly roached model 15’s that Gander Mt wants $500 for.

  12. I have a nice former police gun collection. All of them from AIM surplus except for my CZ 70. It’s from Bud’s. I’ve got a CZ-75 (non-B), FN Hi Power, CZ-83, and then the before mentioned 70. The 75 was the filthiest gun I’ve ever cleaned. I detail stripped it and the Hi Power. All of them are great shooting guns after a few minor issues. The CZ needed some material taken off of the mag catch and the Hi Power needed new springs all around.

  13. Former cop guns are alright. Basically like any other gun, although in all but the smallest departments you can at least expect them to function correctly. I wouldn’t pay more for one than any other used gun, though.

    But former cop cars? Hell no.

    • Yep on the cars. Right after I retired I got a job in para transit. We had a fleet of mini vans and former cop crown vics. Our mechanics were busy round the clock keeping those beat up Fords on the road.

      I was carrying folk like More Dead Soldiers from secure facilities to court houses in “cage’ cars. Those cars were so clapped out that I had to call for replacements more than once on the side of the road.

      Overweight. Underpowered(the cars, not me. On second thought….). Rattletraps.

  14. I’ve got a few cop guns from my dad, a retired Lieutenant from the Detroit Police Dept. But my favorite is the S&W Model 19-3 my wife bought from her boss, who obtained it from a retired Sheriff deputy. That gun had a nice trigger job, and with it’s 4 inch barrel, it’s a smooth shooter in 357, and even nicer in 38sp. I know she’ll never part with that gun.

    The other favorite of mine, is my dad’s off duty carry snub. Colt Cobra, aluminum frame, 6 shot, 38sp. Sometimes known as the “Detective Special”, but not to be confused with those made in 25 caliber. This little power house is identical to the gun that Jack Ruby used to assassinate Lea Harvey Oswald. A family heirloom, its also a great carry revolver, and I hope to pass it down for generations to come.

    Dad’s duty revolver, was a S&W (Pre) Model 10, snub 38sp. He apparently purchased it from another supervisor type cop, who must have purchased it from the city upon his retirement. It’s stamped with Detroit Police on its backstrap. Because of that, a Police Memorabilia collector decided he wanted this little “Saturday Night Special” and I sold it to him for $400. I shot that gun a few times, and it worked flawlessly for a 60 year old revolver. However, other than sitting on a mantle display or in my safe, I really had no practical use for it, especially since I had plenty of dad’s other police memorabilia.

    I’m pretty sure dad fired one small box of ammo, cleaned it up nice & pretty, and then holstered it for the rest of his cop career.

    Point being: I agree with the writer that cop guns can often be a nice deal.

  15. My first handgun was a S&W 66 from local constabulary. After a week of “getting the lead out” it was a good shooter. That same year I read a book on “comabt handguns” that said the 66 was junk so I sold it. Wish I still had it. About 20 or so years ago when all the PD’s were switching from wheel guns to wunder 9’s you could buy police revolvers buy the ton. Remember going to a gun show where a big dealer had cop six shooters literally stacked to the ceiling in plain white and brown cardboard boxes they had bought just to store and handle all the trade ins. Me and my buddies bought several Ruger Six Series guns that way. I still have one Security Six 4″ SS that is my bedside table gun. Solid as a rock.

  16. I’ve got a couple of Beretta 92s that were US police trade-ins, and a really great Jericho 941 9mm that was an Israeli police trade-in. All great guns. A little surface wear, but all are reliable and accurate.

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