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How to Legally Dispose of a Firearm


By James England via

Modern pistols and revolvers are pretty resilient. You can push upwards of tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition through them before mechanical parts start to degrade. With proper maintenance, it’s possible for a revolver or pistol to last a lifetime. But what if you’re sick of that pistol? After the barrel is worn down, the grips smooth, the striker pin bowed, you just want to be rid of it and move on to another firearm? There are a couple legal processes you can do to legally dispose of a firearm . . .

Pre-flight Check
Before attempting to dispose of one of your firearms, always do the following:

  • Unload and visually inspect the barrel to ensure no live ammunition remains.
  • Record the serial number of the barrel and take pictures for your records.
  • Check with your local state to see if they have any programs or restrictions.
  • A clean, old gun sells/trades better than a dirty one.

Route 1: Trade-In For Bigger And Better!
Most gun shops accept used firearms for trade-in towards the purchase of a new one. “New”, in this case, means “new to you” more than “brand spanking new”. Most gun stores don’t care if you trade-in for a new or used handgun so long as they’re getting a good deal.

And they will. Gun stores have a catalogue of recommended costs based upon the estimated percentage of the weapon’s condition. That cost is then parred against how the owner is feeling and whether he believes he can resell it.

All said and done, for most firearms you can expect to get less than half of what you bought it for as a trade-in value towards your next purchase.

PROS:  Easy, convenient, legal, and you get a new firearm!

CONS:  None, really.

Route 1b: Just Offload It At The Gun Store
Most owners DON’T want the majority of your used or busted firearms.  They’ll happily take them as trade-ins for a decent value but if you’re looking to straight up sell it for cash – you’re going to take a massive hit.

PROS:  The one advantage to this is straight convenience.  No hunting around for private party buyers or dealing with online brokerages.

CONS:  If sold for cash, return on investment will likely be minimal.  Gun shop owners may outright refuse to buy your old gun if it’s in rickety or compromised condition.

Route 2:  Online Gun Brokerages
There are a number of gun auction websites where you can attempt to offload your old firearm.  Success varies depending on the quality of the pictures.  If you don’t have an FFL, you’ll need to operate through an FFL to send it.  Conversely, the buyer has to have an FFL on his end to pick it up.

PROS:  Will certainly get more money at face value than selling at a gun store.

CONS:  Need to ensure that it’s legal to sell to the other party through verifying FFL certificate, state restrictions, etc.  Fees will certainly apply.


  1. avatar JWM says:

    If you have a gun like that pictured then you take it to a “buy back” …….

    1. avatar Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

      Yes, that picture led me to believe this would be about disposing of a worthless firearm.

    2. avatar JasonM says:

      Is that a gun? I think it’s a fruitcake shaped like a gun.

      1. avatar Mark says:

        Just don’t take the fruitcake to school!

        1. avatar SD3 says:


        2. avatar sagebrushracer says:

          no, not rasis. just lookup poptart gun. If you haven’t read about it yet, it will make you laugh, cry, then sit and ponder the stupidity of Govt Officials.

    3. avatar Anonymous says:

      Haha. Definitely a gun buy back item.

    4. avatar borg says:

      The gun pictured looks like scrap metal to me.

      1. avatar borg says:

        It probably would not be wise to send a functional gun to a scrap yard but if it is unusable and looks like 100% solid rust it may be better to scrap it than to have to worry needing a tetanus well trying to sell it to an FFL

    5. avatar borg says:

      The gun pictured looks like scrap metal to me.

  2. avatar Dustin says:

    Yeah, take it to a government buy back… I’m still not sure how the government can buy “back” something it never had to begin with… Every word, propaganda, trying to make it look like they’re the center of the universe, from which all things flow…

    1. avatar GuyFromV says:

      Thermite and cinder blocks, the Michael Westen way.

      1. avatar Jon in CO says:

        One of the best shows (IMHO) that they shouldn’t have canceled.

    2. avatar Indiana Tom says:

      Buy back would be fitting for a gun such as that.

  3. avatar JasonM says:

    If you don’t have an FFL, you’ll need to operate through an FFL to send it.

    Not true.
    A private party can legally send a firearm to an FFL holder through UPS and FedEx (list it as “machine parts”–not illegal, and saves you from their next day air only policy on handguns).
    And if the shipper and receiver are in the same state, federal law does not require the firearm go through an FFL (although state laws might).

    1. avatar Bob says:

      FYI – FedEx and UPS won’t honor the insurance if you send it any way but priority overnight. Can you get away with it? Probably. But they get really testy about it if they find the gun.

      1. avatar sigp42 says:

        Also not true, at least for UPS.

        I’ve sold at least 5 firearms through online brokers, rifle, shotgun, collectable revolvers, pistols. So long as the receiving FFL will accept shipments from an individual (some are stubborn), you can ship handguns UPD 2-Day, fully insured for whatever price you ask for, and long guns UPS ground, again, insured for whatever you like.

        Talk to the receiving FFL first, read the shipper’s policies.

        Thanks TTAG for more bad info. This site has gone so far downhill (read: agendas). I’m out.

        1. avatar Bob says:

          Bad info? Not from me…. You base your opinion on shipping 5 guns? I base my opinion on shipping 500-1000 handguns over many years.

          From the UPS website:

          Handguns, as defined by 18 U.S.C. § 921, will be accepted for transportation only via UPS Next Day Air Services, specifically, UPS Next Day Air® Early A.M.®, UPS Next Day Air®, and UPS Next Day Air Saver®. (Note: UPS Express Critical™ Service is not available for firearms).

          Packages containing handguns must be separated from other packages tendered to UPS for delivery.

          When you are shipping a package that contains a handgun, you must verbally notify the UPS driver or UPS Customer Center clerk.

        2. avatar Sian says:

          Won’t send any guns or ammo through UPS. They’ve got sticky fingers.

  4. avatar Bob says:

    In the old days, after being used, many handguns were simply dropped down the old outhouse to rust away in peace. Lots of interesting “dugups” have been recovered from such places – some still loaded….. Not many outhouses around these days.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      “Not many outhouses around these days except for Congress.”


      1. avatar paul says:

        Ralph, what does FIFY mean? took me six months to decipher YMMV, and my old brain can’t tackle another challenge this soon.

        1. avatar shrimpmoney says:

          Fixed It For You

        2. avatar Ralph says:

          “Fixed It For You” 🙂

        3. avatar Marcus (Aurelius) Payne says:

          imho it means fixed it for youI.

        4. avatar Former Water Walker says:

          Paul-just type in the abbreviation in google…I’m old and don’t know all this stupid stuff-YMMV from an OFWG…and take yer junk gun to a buyback!

        5. avatar Sian says:

          Stopped me for a sec, as I’m used to FTFY (fixed that for you) in preference.

  5. avatar Marcus (Aurelius) Payne says:

    Man. I wish I’d thought of this before I stupidly took then all on my boat. Such a tragic accident.

    1. avatar Removed_californian says:


    2. avatar Tom W. says:

      Yup. If it comes to disposal of a worn out pistol, with little sentimental or cash value, and as rifles deserve a place over the mantle instead, a fitting tribute offshore, or deep lake/River will suffice, with a few words, and a moment of silence is all that is needed.

      1. avatar JWM says:

        I did throw a .22 jennings in the Ohio river decades ago. There was no moment of silence and the words I said I would not want to repeat to my mother.

        1. avatar Gunr says:

          Christ! I’ll bet that’s the one I caught with my deep diving bass plug last month, Cleaned it up and sold it to my ex wife for three hundred smackeroos!

  6. avatar Ralph says:

    A lot of people seem to bring their unwanted guns to Chicago, where they have no trouble being adopted into a loving new home.

  7. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    You could follow this advice.

    Or you could call up one of the several gun parts companies out there (Numrich, Bob’s Gun Shop, Jack First, etc), get a bit for your gun and have the parts that are usable end up in other guns.

    For some guns, some of their components are worth more than the assembled gun will fetch in the used market. I’ve had to hunt down parts for some economy-grade shotguns that were worth 50 to 70% of what a whole example of the gun was fetching on gunbroker or other online auctions. You could even part out your gun on FleaBay, except for the receiver or frame.

    All of the above listed parts houses have FFL’s.

  8. avatar CHLChris says:

    Seriously? Your answer to the question posed here is to merely sell it? Duh… Your photo, followed by this article makes it appear as if burying a gun is illegal. Don’t we all just lose our guns in boating accidents?

    1. avatar Art out West says:

      Exactly! Not much of an article.

  9. avatar Henry says:

    If you look closely at the gun in the photo, you can see the Virgin Mary holding a slice of pizza.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      No, you ninny. That’s Betty Crocker holding a cake knife.

    2. avatar Anonymous says:

      Both of you are wrong. In the handle – there is an older lady wearing a dress holding a loaf of bread.

      1. avatar Ralph says:

        Like I said. Betty Crocker.

      2. avatar JWM says:

        Ann this is why we can’t have nice things. 🙂

    3. avatar Gatha58 says:

      I thought I saw Jesus !

      1. avatar Gunr says:

        I KNOW I saw Jesus!

        1. avatar Kapeltam says:

          Nah, it was Che you saw!

  10. avatar John D. says:

    BATFE has a series of rulings on their website’s publication page which illustrate acceptable methods of destroying machineguns for importation as parts kits. These methods should be legally satisfactory for other firearms’ destruction.

    1. avatar Tom says:

      Yep. It is the same method used to destroy a firearm by a manufacturer here in the states. Basically if you are making a firearm and for what ever reason it is no longer needed (say a manufacturing prototype that just doesn’t work out) you follow the same steps as demiling it for import. Then it can be sold off as scrap metal or chucked in the garbage.

  11. avatar Stinkeye says:

    Does TTAG pay by the word? Because this article could have been more economically worded as:

    “Sell it.”

    1. avatar Gatha58 says:

      Probably ways to sell it that are legal and some that may not be. Depends on the laws where you live. After the recent passage of the “Gun Show Law” in WA State I think every sale “theoretically” has to go through an FFL. I could be wrong but that was my understanding of the law. It was supposed to prevent “private sales”. But, like many laws, it seems so convoluted that I am not really sure what it means, exactly. Probably have to hire an attorney to figure it out. Which seems to be the point of many of these laws. Made by attorneys for attorneys.

      1. avatar Stinkeye says:

        Very true. And this article could have touched on some of those things, or offered alternate ways to dispose of a broken or unusable firearm (which is what I thought the lead photo was getting at), but it basically gave two options that anyone with the brainpower of a house cat could have figured out: sell it to a gun store, or sell it to a private party. Hence my two word summary, since that’s essentially all that the article said.

        1. avatar Geoff PR says:

          A five pound sledge and a concrete patio…

  12. avatar Brian says:

    “Record the serial number of the barrel ”

    I had a lot of guns (before the boating incident) and not a single one had the serial number on the barrel. Or am I looking in the right place? Mostly handguns.

    1. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      You’re likely looking in the right place. There is no legal requirement for a serial number on a barrel.

      The BATF regs require a serial number on the part that holds the fire control group, aka “trigger.” This is commonly known as the “frame” or “receiver.”

      Some gun makers put a set of numbers on every component in the gun (except pins and screws), but most guns have a serial # on only the frame. And some guns don’t even have that. Before the GCA ’68, there were plenty of cheaper shotguns and .22 rifles that had no serial number at all – on anything. When these come into my shop, I have to record them as “NSN” (No Serial Number) in the bound book.

  13. avatar Ragerbait says:

    We had a lower receiver with unknown providence in the parts bin. When we bought a bunch of $50 aero’s, we added 1 to replace it.

    Then took it out to see how well it could catch 308 hpbt.

    Ar15 serial #s ar hard to hit.

  14. avatar John in Ohio says:

    Ohio here… You could just sell it face to face; even wear a shirt, button, or hat that says gun for sale. You could just give it away. AFAIK, unless you had reason to believe the person was a “prohibited person”, you could hand it to a stranger in the street.

    FWIW: I’ve never asked to see identification when selling, or loaning a used firearm. I didn’t have reason to suspect that they were a “prohibited person.”

  15. avatar Aaron says:

    I just threw a broken-frame Tomcat in the trash. Not going to spend 1 penny to discard a gun that already wasted my money.

  16. avatar Jordan says:

    Great guide here. Though I definitely wouldn’t try to bring the gun in the picture to a buy back anytime soon! Thanks for sharing this. It’s really important that people know how to dispose of firearms that could still potentially be used.

  17. avatar Don from CT says:

    I had an American Double Action revolver that I had acquired along the way. It presented possibly more risk to the person behind it than the person in front of it. I own framing hammers that are more finely crafted than this gun.

    So I brought it to a gun “buy back” for $100. They refused, telling me that It was broken. So I told them I wanted it back. They told me that it had already been transferred. I pulled out my phone and called the NICS check number in my state. They relented and gave me back the non-functional gun.

    We took it to our local sand pit and tried to shoot it from 200 yards away. On the second shot, my .308 found its mark right at the gap between the cylinder and the frame, shattering the pot metal piece of garbage.

    Selling was not an option because I could not in clear conscience ever put that gun in a situation where it might be shot.


  18. avatar Fred Frendly says:

    Taurus, meet lake.

  19. avatar Roymond says:

    One of my uncles once ‘lost’ an unsafe revolver in a blast furnace.

    And my best buddy, shortly after moving to Indiana, demonstrated that a cheap .22 semiauto that was more semi than auto could be turned into a decorative oil lamp holder in a blacksmith shop.

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