Recoil|January - February 2021
Tips for Buying a Used Firearm
John Brooks

Are you getting ready to buy another firearm, or maybe your first? Where do you look? Gun stores, pawn shops, or the internet? Should you buy new or try used? You sit down at your computer, head swirling with questions, and start your search. Droves of options fill your screen and forum chatter makes you second-guess yourself, until you finally decide on a specific model. New gun prices make your eyes water, so you decide to look for a used one. You find a listing with blurry, poorly lit pictures of the gun atop filthy salmon carpet and framed by the tips of New Balance sneakers. The description is sparse, but the price is reasonable. You arrange a meeting and find yourself in a parking lot down by the interstate. You’re approached by a greasy individual and do the awkward meet and greet before he leads you to the back of his ’96 Nissan Altima, complete with blackout tint and multicolored body panels. Your quarry is nestled in a dirty bath towel in the trunk. To your surprise, it seems pretty nice, except for the quart of oil dripping out of every seam. You produce the cash and quickly return to the safety of your vehicle to inspect your new prize. As you begin to disassemble it under your dim dome light, you see things that quickly form a pit in your stomach — buyer’s remorse. Welcome to the exciting world of used gun purchases!

While this scenario might be a stretch, some will find it resoundingly familiar. Sure, you could just buy new guns from respectable establishments, but where’s your sense of adventure? If you plan on actually shooting the thing, aren’t anal-retentive, and don’t mind a few dings and scuffs, a quality preowned firearm can be had for a lot less.

So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff? For a lot of the used gun market, the simple answer is that it’s a lot more difficult. An overwhelming number of used guns for sale adorn the web instead of the counter at the gun shop, because they’re privately owned. Just like used car shopping, ideally, you’d be able to kick the tires. But if the seller is located too far away, you’ll have to perform your due diligence remotely.


While new guns are guaranteed to come to you in an unmolested state, a used gun that has been properly cared for during its break-in period will have the working parts smoothed out a bit. Tool marks and sharp edges from the manufacturing process become polished from use and smooth out the action. Heat cycles season rifle barrels and even out any imperfections left behind by the bore reamer and rifling button.

Some may cringe at the idea of grubby hands having been all over a gun, but remember that guns are designed to be shot. Many prospective buyers ask, “How many rounds does it have through it?” Whether or not sellers give accurate answers, this is probably one of the most misleading questions you can ask. Modern firearms can go through many tens of thousands of rounds without adverse effect. One caveat are rifles chambered in hot cartridges where throat erosion is a concern.


Due diligence is paramount if you don’t want to be swindled. Do the research. Specs and features are good to know, but discerning patterns of real-world accounts are most useful. Find out what parts are prone to wear and breakage, as well as whether the manufacturer has good customer service. Become familiar with basic disassembly and reassembly of the gun so you can inspect internal parts effectively. If you aren’t able to inspect the firearm beforehand (such as with an out-of-state purchase), come up with a list of questions for the seller based on your research so you won’t be surprised when it shows up. Ask for additional pictures of specific areas you’d like to examine more closely, whether for cosmetics or potential problems. If the seller is reluctant to cooperate, move on.

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