How to buy a used gun

How To Buy A Used Gun And Save

If you think that a used gun should be overlooked because of a bit of wear, then you have another thing coming. Barnum once said there's one born every minute, and the gun companies have a lot of people convinced that they should only buy new.

It's a load of hogwash.

With certain exceptions, there's nothing wrong with getting a used gun. In fact, you can get a great deal, even for your first gun. Here's how.

Preowned Guns Are Perfectly Safe

A little maintenance goes a long way

Guns, just like cars, are machines and can be subjected to mechanical stresses, but the thing about guns is they are darn simple things. Preowned guns aren't necessarily the risk in the same sense that cars are.

With a bit of maintenance, most firearms have service lives of thousands of rounds, if not hundreds of thousands. While some guns are sold because they stopped working as well, far more are sold because the owner wanted more room in their safe or something to that effect.

For the most part, all you're going to be looking at is a bit of cosmetic wear. Most people won't shoot any single gun they own enough to wear out the barrel or damage anything else. At most, any repairs you'll need to do will consist of a cleaning and lubrication and a few new springs - both are cheap - and maybe, just maybe, some bluing.

What To Inspect With A Used Gun

Just like with buying a used car, ideally you wouldn't buy a used gun sight unseen. That's not to say you can't, but it's more that you should try to inspect before buying. If buying in a store, ask if the clerk can field strip it or allow you to do so.

That said, what should you look for?

There are a few items that are deal breakers. If there is an issue with the following, you want to walk away. They are:

  • Cracked frame and/or slide: any cracks in the frame or slide indicate a gun is weakening.
    craked 1911 frame
  • Bulging barrel or cylinder: a bulge in the barrel means pressure has deformed it. The barrel throat is a little wider than the rest of the barrel; that's normal. A deformity due to pressure will not have a uniform shape, so if there's something that appears assymetrical...that means a problem. The same goes for revolver cylinders. If it looks off, walk away - unless you're able to replace the barrel and/or cylinder.
    A bulg in the barrel
  • Check timing, cylinder cone and lock-up of revolvers: When looking at a revolver, cock it and move the cylinder and chamber into place. Revolver timing is the gearing that will put the cylinder directly over the forcing cone, which is the part where the barrel meets the cylinder. When you cock the cylinder, it should align perfectly and there should be virtually no space between the cylinder and the cone. Furthermore, if you see excessive pitting, rust or anything else, that's a damaged forcing cone. Some wear is normal; a lot isn't. Timing can be fixed, but the other two things cannot. Walk away from the latter two issues.
    Check your revolver
  • Check the controls: Controls on a semi-auto should function. If they do not, that's a firearm you can't rely on to work. You can bet your life on a good used gun, but you can't on a bad one. This is especially important when it comes to safety features. If possible, learn the specific controls of the firearm you're looking to purchase and verify that they work.
    Check your semi auto controls
  • Check function: be sure to check function. Everything should work as it's supposed to.
    Make sure it functions correctly
  • Bore And Crown: inspect the bore and the crown of the barrel. Damage to either means it isn't capable of accuracy. Barrels can be replaced, but unless you're looking for a project gun it isn't a good idea to have to right off the bad. Expect a little wear, but damaged grooves or a damaged crown are deal-breakers.
    Check your firearm's bore and crown
  • Extractor: the extractor should be in good condition, and should be able to extract rounds without issue on semi-autos or revolvers. Test with snap caps or dummy rounds before purchasing.
    double check your extractor
  • Safety features: also be sure to pay attention to safety features. Safeties should work, including manual safeties and passive safeties such as firing pin blocks. An unsafe pistol has no place being anywhere, let alone in the safe.
    Double check your safeties

Also take a good look at the overall condition of the pistol. If it's completely beaten up, things like the screws, bushings, sights and so on are loose and rattle, then you have a serious beater and you are likely better served by a new or newer gun.

As to magazines, expect to buy a magazine or two if not replacing the springs. Magazines with a used pistol may be in good condition (examine the feed lips and follower) but a few spare magazines are always a good thing to pick up anyway.

Think About What Kind Of Used Gun You Want

different guns for different applications

One thing you should also bear in mind is what you want a gun for, be it a used gun, military or police guns that went to surplus or what have you. Is this going to be a carry gun? A truck gun, so to speak? Or are you just looking for something to take to the range every now and again for some fun?

If you're looking for a gun that you'll use for protection, you want as few issues as possible, so prepare yourself to pay a little more. If you're looking for a project gun, that's something else.

That said, cosmetic wear doesn't necessarily correlate to bad function. For instance, police trade-ins usually have a great deal of holster wear but are otherwise perfect because they won't have been fired too often.

That said, a used gun can net a fantastic deal. Don't buy junk, but definitely don't be afraid of the used market.

Sam Hoober 

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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