Question of the Day: Where Do Old Guns Go to Die?

Photo Sep 30, 5 04 26 PM

Reader David B. writes:

The common number put on the amount of guns in America is 300 million, but I don’t think that is a good or reliable number. Many of the guns are old, cheap, broken, or otherwise unfit for shooting. Many of those guns are old shotguns or bolt action rifles whose hunting days have long passed. Many are in calibers for which ammunition is no longer made. I surmise that the true number of usable firearms is much, much lower. So . . .

What happens to old guns? Some are taken to stasi-run gun “buybacks.” A few are turned into jewelry. And a few go to consignment sales where they linger and die long, slow deaths.

Here is an example of an upcoming gun consignment auction that wouldn’t strike fear in the heart of any Democrat. In all seriousness, would anybody want any of these in their collection?


  1. avatar JR_in_NC says:

    Many of the guns are old, cheap, broken, or otherwise unfit for shooting. Many of those guns are old shotguns or bolt action rifles whose hunting days have long passed. Many are in calibers for which ammunition is no longer made. I surmise that the true number of usable firearms is much, much lower.”

    Citation Needed. Weasel Words are not data.

    Seriously. What you “surmise” is not of much interest. If you have some actual data showing the number is “usable” firearms is “much much lower,” let’s see it, please.

    Otherwise, the context of this post is akin to pearl clutching.

    1. avatar BLAMMO says:

      Your criticism is ridiculous. How many? Very many. Are you kidding me?

      Okay, no, we don’t have an exact count because what you’re asking is impossible. But we’ve all come across dozens, … hundreds, … thousands of old guns that aren’t worth a shit. No collector value, not worth cleaning, not worth shooting even if they can be fired safely and not worth fixing if they can’t.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        Are those rustiques even included in the 300 million figure? Does the group doing the counting have a cut off date or do they include estimates of guns made starting in 1776?

        We’ve all seen junk guns. But we’ve all seen a run on new guns ever since the clintons.

    2. avatar mark s. says:

      Where do they get those numbers ? When did they start counting ? What are they counting ? Who is counting ?
      I think the 300 million would be only about half the actual amount if they counted all the ones you are guessing they are counting . I have some old stuff that I know no one could have counted and it may be old and weathered but still will put a hole in it’s intended target . These numbers are whack

    3. avatar Cliff H says:

      “Many of the guns are old, cheap, broken, or otherwise unfit for shooting.”

      This may or may not be true, although the exact number is irrelevant. Even these guns, in that they continue to inflate the 300 million plus statistic and scare the crap out of anti-2A folks and politicians, continues to do their job in fighting tyranny, even if they never will or never could fire a shot again.

    4. avatar neiowa says:

      I say, based on 1st person testimony and observation, that there are MANY MANY bringbacks from WWII, Korea, Vietnam in homes across the US. Uncounted anywhere. Add those in your 300million.

      Anyone thinks all (or many of) the souvenir MG42, MP38, M1917, M1928 etc etc etc from WWII were turned in or registered during the various illegal roundups of recent history your certifiable. I’s bet that at least 1/2 of the vets coming back from Europe after WWII had at least one trophy that would go bang. I only wish I had ancestors that were there and were as wise.

      1. avatar Matt in TX says:

        I grew up knowing of a machine gun owned by a friends Dad. It was a military souvenir. Not registered by the federal .gov.

  2. avatar Will says:

    I though that’s why we have the Gun Buy Back things, as a service to gun owners trying to dispose of unwanted junk at taxpayer expense.

  3. avatar Chrispy says:

    Just give your old crappy guns to me, I’ll figure out what to do with them from there

  4. avatar mike oregon says:

    My hunting shotgun is a 16ga. Made in1902 I recently got it back from it 10 year check up, it needed a few new springs and is good to go, hopefully my grand children will learn how to hunt grouse with it.

    1. avatar mark s. says:

      Good going , that’s how I roll too . I like making old stuff last as long as possible and if it’s made before the 1930’s it’s worth fixing . I refurbish lots of old stuff , it’s a hobby of mine and when someone brings me some old tool I can’t identify , I go to one of those Sears and Roebuck , Macgomery Ward reproduction catalogs , pre 1900 , 1,500 pages of drooling memorabilia . It usually takes a little rust eater , some pentatrating oil , some elbow grease , a spring here and there , some sharpening when necessary with some TLC and you’re back in business .

    2. avatar Sixpack70 says:

      I hunted grouse with my great grandmother’s Ithaca 16ga in Oregon. It was made around 1908. It worked well, but safe ammo is not as easy to acquire. I think it needs some new springs as the safety likes to slide off. I think my dad retired it from action in favor of my NEF .410 single shot.

  5. avatar bontai Joe says:

    The guns offered in that auction would ALL look good in my collection, with the one possible exception being the Phoenix pistol. There is certainly nothing wrong with a Remington model 700 rifle, or a Savage .380 semi-auto pistol. I have my great-great-grand-father’s 12 ga hanging on my wall right now. Yeah. to some it’s old and decrepit, but my family ate what that gun shot for 4 generations. And I have every confidence that it would still shoot game of defend my home if needed.

    1. avatar Stinkeye says:

      Yeah, I don’t see too much “junk” in that auction catalog. A few pieces are, but most of it looks like perfectly serviceable firearms (assuming they’re in good condition) to me. Most won’t fetch top dollar, and yeah, a single-shot .410 isn’t a riot gun, but it was never intended to be. Guns are built for different purposes, and not every one has to be viewed through the lens of the latest and greatest military hardware. I own several that I keep around just because they’re fun to shoot.

  6. avatar BLAMMO says:

    Your criticism is ridiculous. How many? Very many. Are you kidding me?

    Okay, no, we don’t have an exact count because what you’re asking is impossible. But we’ve all come across dozens, … hundreds, … thousands of old guns that aren’t worth a shit. No collector value, not worth cleaning, not worth shooting even if they can be fired safely and not worth fixing if they can’t.

  7. avatar TX Gungal says:

    One Dan Wesson .357 model 14 revolver, surface rust, nicks and wear on it bought on ended up in my gun case. Cleaned the rust off and re-blued worn places.
    Shoots well and handsome. Only non-working handgun I have is an all metal Bersa .22 pistol from the 70’s but it is so handsome with dark bluing on frame with no marring anywhere, can’t dispose of it. Some old guns are like a work of art.

  8. avatar Joe R. says:

    They are buried at sea, after a horrific fire.

    I might be heading out to sea, and dread the possibility of another fire, but if you have any old firearms that might need burial, please contact me at . . .

  9. avatar Chadwick P. says:

    And how many firearms are made and never show up on a registery? I know I certainly couldn’t own a few firearms I’ve built from parts… ar 80% lowers, ak receiver flats, various tube guns that van be built with general metal tools, just to name a few.

    1. avatar Geoff PR says:

      “And how many firearms are made and never show up on a registery?”

      Now *that* is a real good question.

      With no hard data for an answer.

      I’ll take a WAG there’s at least 250,000 out there that came from 80 pct. kits.

  10. avatar mike says:

    I like this question. My family had a fairly large (for Utah) gun store in the ’80s and ’90s and I’ve always wondered where all of the cool stuff we sold ended up.

  11. avatar Xanthro says:

    I actually estimate that there are over 400 million usable firearms in the United States, as defined that they are capable of safely firing a bullet using pressure triggered by a primer or percussion cap.
    There were an estimated 294 million firearms in 2007, and it was estimated that there would be 310 million by 2010. But, firearm purchases and production have increased significantly since then.
    If you take the base of 294 million, and you add just 90% of the NICS for a firearm purchase per year, you’ll get the following numbers.
    It’s quite possible than less than 90% of the firearm NICS that passed mean a new firearm into production, but if you take import number, which are relatively well documented, and major company production numbers, you will still pass 400 million sometime in 2015, and more likely than not, we’ve already reached that point.
    Plus, there are literally millions of “firearms” that do not count as official firearms. Black powered firearms regardless of year of manufacture, and any firearm manufactured before 1892. Plus, we have a large number of home built firearms every year, that can’t be recorded.
    Almost any firearm built in the last 150 years can be made serviceable.

    1. avatar Bruce says:

      That returns to the question of where the 294 million number came from. How did they “estimate”?

    2. avatar Mack Bolan says:

      Those numbers also assume that each NICS check represents a single firearm purchase. Some of those checks were multiple firearm purchases which skews the numbers higher.

      I can personally attest to that in years 2011-2014.

    3. avatar PRK543 says:

      Keep in mind that there are also sales that are “Brady Exempt.” My North Carolina carry permit is my background check. I just need to present my ID and permit, fill out the 4473, pay the store money, and walk out with my new or used firearm.

      1. avatar Xanthro says:

        Yes, there are many ways to get a new firearm into civilian hands that aren’t represented by a NIC.
        But, no matter how we look at the data, since 2007 over 100 million new firearms are in civilian hands in the United States.

  12. avatar Xanthro says:

    In all seriousness, would anybody want any of these in their collection?
    I went through the list quickly, there is nothing in that list that I wouldn’t welcome to my collection, and there are many that I would be ecstatic about adding to that collection.
    That’s an exceedingly nice 410 collection.

  13. avatar Ken says:

    I donated 2 very old obsolete military rifles to our local museum.

  14. avatar BDub says:

    ” In all seriousness, would anybody want any of these in their collection?”

    Um, yeah! —->,%205%2011%2047%20PM.jpg

    1. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

      Yeah, I saw that beauty… There was a nice 1100 20lt that caught my eye too

  15. avatar dcj says:

    I’ll take the Ruger Mkll and the Remington 700 for starters…

  16. avatar SD3 says:

    ~2 million are SKSs, and they live at my house!

  17. avatar Another Robert says:

    Well, yeah, I see some potentially interesting stuff there. A Nagant revolver with holster, a Browning 12 gauge, several serviceable-looking pistol-grip pumps, kind of depends on the price and condition, which you can’t see in the photos. And I’ve got no beef with ordinary bolt-actions, I’ve owned a few myself. I personally have seen very few unserviceable firearms in my lifetime–a couple, but not very many. Steel doesn’t biodegrade or melt in the summer heat or get eaten by insects or quickly dissolve in liquids, unless it’s been pretty badly abused it lasts for a good long time. And wood is pretty easily replaceable. I don’t know how they “counted” how many firearms are out there, or if they distinguished the ones that work from the ones that don’t, and this particular article did not do too much to enlighten me.

  18. avatar Chip in Florida says:

    Yes, a lot of the firearms are old, poorly if at all cared for, and are slowly rusting into oblivion.


    I think that modern manufacturing is overcoming that quite nicely.

    The tax-payer funded buy ups can’t amount to more than a single percentage point, maybe two if you want to be generous, of the total inventory. Breakage would be a couple of percentage points. Simple loss (house fires, car crashes, boating accidents) probably wouldn’t be more than a few more percentage points. Have we even made ten possible percent yet?

    Without knowing for sure I would still suggest that there are more guns being made than are being lost in any given year. The three hundred million number that gets used the most often….. I’m going to say close enough and you won’t get much closer unless you start knocking on doors to take an actual count.

    1. avatar mark s. says:

      The buy back programs are stupid and fool hardy , particularly the long gun variety . Just like cash for clunkers and the old appliance buy backs , useless , wasteful and silly .
      The only program like this that makes any sense is the drug return program but even that is handled wastefully .
      Recycling , good : return to destroy , dumb .

  19. avatar Ralph says:

    Old, busted, yada yada yada. Crappy old Khyber Pass rifles that were sh!t to begin with are still killing people quite dead, thank you very much.

  20. avatar Peter says:

    How many end up as wall hangers in some restaurant or bar?

  21. avatar Dean Carpenter says:

    How bout we start a registry on line. We just list our name, address and the guns we own. Then we can sit back and relax knowing how many guns we have, what guns we have and who owns them. Maybe we can get some existing group to maintain a web site just for this purpose.
    Gotta run. The BATF is calling.

    1. avatar mark s. says:

      Good afternoon UTAH .
      Server on and running .

      1. avatar mark s. says:

        Hey , If they did start national registration they would find out that there is actually only about 200,000 guns in total and most of them would be old , poor quality obsolete variety , RIGHT ?

        1. avatar Jeff the Griz says:

          Well handguns have been registered in Michigan almost 90 years, so yeah what long guns do you speak of?

  22. avatar Dean Carpenter says:

    No. I gotta run. Literally.

  23. avatar Ing says:

    What I like best about that consignment auction is that it’s happening on Progressive Drive.

  24. avatar gsnyder says:

    Yes and no the article. We own a number of older firearms, many being bolt-action, but all are in calibers of which ammo is common and all are clean and operable. Maybe not as new, but still useable, certainly not garbage.

  25. avatar pod says:

    Even if a statistically significant percentage of the weapons are in need of service, how many can still be fired in a pinch? It might not be startlingly accurate or cycle smoothly, but if the gun goes bang in an emergency, that’s better than nothing at all.

    Also, some of those beat-up guns might just need some TLC to get running again. A little lube, cleaning, and maybe some filing here and there and the gun goes bang again.

    And yes, guns are surprisingly durable, even if they are just chucked on a shelf for a few decades…

    I’d say the vast majority of the 350 million+ firearms in the US are in operable or near-operable condition.

  26. avatar Cameron b says:

    I’m sure a few, especially shotguns and breach loaders end up hanging in man caves and Cracker Barrel walls.

  27. avatar jwm says:

    People will use 12 bores made from plumbing pipe from the hardware.

    A cracked stock and a little rust ain’t shit. It’ll do to get a better gun.

    1. avatar Another Robert says:

      Father-in-law gave me a 1963-vintage Winchester Mod. 77 .22 because it had some rust and pitting at the muzzle end of the barrel and a bit of rust just inside the bore at the crown . All it took was some gun oil to get it off. Shoots just fine, any defects in the accuracy are dwarfed by my own defects as a shooter.

  28. avatar CentralIL says:

    Regarding what happens to the junk, I attended an auction of the assets of an old gunsmith/gunshop owner who had died. Lots of rusty junk in piles. A bunch of rusty barrels/frames with no other parts. Lots of junk that was probably taken in to be fixed but then the person decided it wasn’t worth it.

    The guy was a real packrat. There was a box full of the ends of shotgun barrels that had been cut off when the barrels were shortened. Not sure why he kept them.

    Regarding the total number of guns, remember, most of the guns in this country are relatively new and unlikely to have rusted away. In 1945 the total number was only about 47 million. Well over 150 million have been added just in the last 25 years. Given these facts, and that over 375 million firearms have been manufactured or imported, the total number of functional firearms in this country is almost certainly much higher than 300 million.

  29. avatar vv ind says:

    The autodefensias would love to upgrade to a few of those

  30. avatar Former Water Walker says:

    I’ve been an antique dealer for many years-2 bidders determine what an item is “worth”. You can think a catalog is complete garbage but strange things can happen when they get “auction fever”. And one mans junk is another’s treasure…

  31. avatar The Original JohnO says:

    I’d take some of the guns on the list. My former hunting shotgun was a Stevens 20ga double. It was so quick handling I’d have a pheasant on the ground before guys with heavier guns even got them to their shoulders. This one: J. Stephens, Model 235 Double Barrel Shot Gun, Serial # A41951, Missing rt hammer, sounds like my late father’s shotgun.

  32. avatar HJ says:

    Depending on it’s condition- repairable, shootable or not- I’d by that 1917 Enfield.

    1. avatar Last Marine out says:

      buy that old military rifle , I got a old 1917 U.S. Enfield and found a stock and a few metal parts shoots great now and looks new, you can even get a cold blue and treat the metal …ETC, and finish stocks up , I started at age 7 , fixing old guns up….

  33. avatar Last Marine out says:

    for the guns parts they go to E-gunparts and others like Springfield sports… and all old guns can be fixed up with new parts and become shooters again ,, many times have I fixed old guns into shooters…

    1. avatar Another Robert says:

      Man, I wish I still had that old Webley with the shaved cylinder my dad-in-law gave me, I’d be tempted to let some of you guys take a whack at it.

      1. avatar jwm says:

        The cylinder was shaved so it would take .45 acp in moon clips instead of hard to find .455 webley. Was the shaved cylinder the only “defect”?

  34. avatar Sixpack70 says:

    My grandpa has a few lever guns that he says are not shootable, although part of that is probably due to ammo availability. One of them is in .25-35 and minus a piece missing from the stock, would probably clean up and work well. My great grandfather bought a 20 round box of ammo for it in the 30’s and killed 19 deer with it to feed the family during the depression. He literally couldn’t afford to miss!

  35. avatar Gunr says:

    Where do old guns go to die?
    same as elephants, the old gun graveyard.

  36. avatar gp says:

    I’d go to that consignment auction for the Eddystone, and a couple of other items that are vaguely described. I bought all of my guns used, many at auctions. Most of my collection is older than I am. My 1938 Winchester 52B wins me money at every match I shoot it at. My 1924 Tula dragoon and 1918 M1903 are wonderful fun to shoot. I took my 1952 K31 out to the range this afternoon. I’d never part with my 1942 Remington 510 single shot. Why would anybody diss old guns?

  37. avatar lowell says:

    That number has been 300-400 million since I started paying attention to gun control issues twenty years ago. Most guns outlive their owners just by being stored in a closet or dresser-drawer. In other words there is absolutely no way to know one way or another, But my gut doesn’t tell me that the number is lower, but instead MUCH higher. The DiY gun movement is also fledgling, but I can see a day fast approaching where it’s a noticeable part of the industry. Right now it’s ARs, 1911s, AKs and other foreign mil-surps, but newly manufactured parts kits for otherwise unobtainable guns could easily become a thing.

  38. avatar Chris Mallory says:

    The Glenfield Model 20 I got for Christmas when I was 13 is still quite capable of taking small game. So are those used Marlin Model 60s I picked up just for fun. My Grandfather’s break action single shot Winchester shotguns would love to be back in the field after some quail, if we still had any around here. They all share the gun room with my Browning semi-automatics and my ARs.

    The one gun regret I have is not buying that 1897 made Winchester 1887 at auction 20 years ago. It went for $20 more than my self imposed bid limit.

    Sounds like the writer is just as bad as any “Fudd”. If it isn’t his “kind” of gun there is no use for it.

  39. avatar Dan l says:

    I think the 300 mil number is massively low. I think the vast majority of respondents to how many guns they own would say, ‘enough’, ‘not enough’ , or no comment. It would never be in anyone’s interest to detail accurately how many guns they own. Except for properly insuring them which is insanely expensive. Maybe it’s just cause I live in texas, but I’d bet there are more than 300 million guns in the state. There’s over 30 million people, and everyone I know owns more than 10…….

  40. avatar Mikial says:

    I own a couple of very old shotguns, along with my many other guns. One of them was my father’s 410 that has never been shot in my lifetime . . . and that’s quite a while. But, it works and would shoot just fine. So, do these guns not count?

    My son has an old Raven .25 I bought at a Gibson’s store (long since out of business) 30+ years ago for $45. It shoots great and he really likes playing around with it, but most people would say it’s pure junk. Eye of the beholder and all that.

  41. avatar BKS says:

    What, if its not an AR, 1911, or plastic pistol its junk? Marlin 60s are good guns, my son takes his single shot .410 hunting more than any other gun in the safe, and I shoot any number of old .410s, 16 gauges, and .22s for hunting. I wouldn’t turn down any of the side by side shotguns on the list. I guess if the only use a person has for a gun is looking at it or bragging about what it cost at the local range then these are junk. A great number of these would be perfect for a kid’s first gun, loaners to keep around for hunting trips, or just to shoot. Appreciating fine firearms is great, looking down on an affordable and serviceable implement, not so much.

  42. avatar Mark N. says:

    Many of the guns I wish I had were manufactured in the 19th century, and all quite shootable. I”d start with a Harper’s Ferry musket, then original Colt 1851, 1860 and 1861 revolvers (plus a couple of pocket pistols for flavor) an 1858 Remington, and 1861 Springfield Rifled Musket, a Sharps Carbine, a Sharp’s .45-70, a Winchester lever gun in the same caliber, an 1873 Colt SAA (later black powder with the 5 1/2 barrel and ivory grips) probably a Richards-Mason conversion. I’d have spent thousands and thousands of dollars, and I haven’t even started on the 20th Century. There are many of theses guns in fine, shootable condition, or that can be made to fire again with minimal gunsmithing, that start at $1000 and then go up to “the sky’s the limit.” I think the record was an original, documented (and owned by the family of the original owner) Colt Walker in 98% condition that went for nearly $1 million.

    Since there are plenty of people who are not rich, old guns can be a perfect gateway to hunting and shooting sports.

  43. avatar Art says:

    #21 on the auction, Smith & Wesson Model MP15 Sport 5.56
    is an entry level AR-15 pattern rifle, are they the BESTEST?, nope but they shoot damn near anything with decent accuracy
    that would scare the crap out of most anti gunners
    I wouldn’t turn it down

    the Ruger MKII training pistol is another one, they are great guns(other than needing a PhD from MIT to clean them), we have a MKI I wouldn’t mind another or a MKII

    the Remington 700 in .308 or the Ruger M77 in 7mm Remington

    I could go on

  44. This article was written to confuse the antis. In reality guns are evil and no real American would own one,lol. At least admit to owning one to the government.
    Thomas Jefferson’s letter to James Madison on January 30, 1787 have the last word: “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.” I have the right to feel safe and that includes carrying a loaded firearm. I have the right to protect myself and if you don’t like it tough $hit.
    The 2nd Amendment was put into the Constitution so the people could protect themselves from a corrupt government. No double standards put DC politicians on Obamacare and SS and take away their guns.Thanks for your support and vote.Pass the word.

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