The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

GunBroker and Tips for Buying a Used Firearm

Are you getting ready to buy another firearm, or maybe your first? Where do you look? Gun stores, pawn shops, or the internet? GunBroker, TacSwap, Cabella's, 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!

gunbroker threaded barrel

Beware of what may be lurking underneath muzzle devices.

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 pre-owned firearm can be had for a lot less. 

So how do you separate the wheat from the chaff on sites like gunbroker, or in person? 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. 

used firearm bolt action

If you don’t mind some wear and tear, you can find good deals on used firearms.

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 or on Gunbroker type websites), 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.

m240 cracked extractor

This M240 was advertised as new but has a cracked extractor.

If you want to reduce risk even more, you can use a technique I call “gun store C.O.D.” When settling on arrangements with the seller, make sure to have them send the gun to your FFL (Federal Firearms License holder) from another FFL. Offer to pay for any additional fees and instruct the seller to drop the gun off at his local FFL with shipping instructions to your FFL. Once the sender’s FFL confirms receipt of the gun, you can transfer funds to the seller. You can also ask the FFL if they’ll inspect the firearm and the contents of the shipment for you. Since the seller will have to show ID for the FFL to log the gun into their possession, you’ll effectively eliminate anonymity from the equation and any fraudulent activity can be investigated by the proper authorities.  


If you can physically inspect the gun before you buy it, bring a few tools and at least some basic knowledge of disassembly and function. Grab a small flashlight, machinist scale or rigid steel 6-inch ruler, a few drift punches, a dental pick, a nylon cleaning brush, and a small towel or non-marring mat. First, ensure the gun is completely unloaded and the magazine is removed. Carefully examine the exterior of the gun; as when on patrol, “observe everything, admire nothing.” 

gunbroker buying a used firearm

Field stripping the gun you’re thinking about buying allows you to inspect it more closely.

Then, perform a function check — dry-fire the gun, cycle the action, and test any external safeties. Manipulate controls, furniture, flip sights, and any other features, checking for smooth, positive function. Then, you’ll want to do a basic field strip to inspect internals. You should ask the seller for permission to perform any disassembly or invasive inspection. A legitimate seller shouldn’t refuse, but if it’s a complex or high-dollar piece, you can ask the seller to disassemble it for you. Lay out the major assemblies on your towel or mat and take inventory of everything that should be present. Print out or save an exploded parts diagram on your phone if you need a reference. Check the operating parts — expect to see finish wear, but look for any pitting, galling, or damage to metal parts that looks unusual. Pay close attention to critical surfaces such as fire control parts, bolts, slide or frame rails, and locking lugs, and the mouth of the chamber. 

locking lugs inspection

Above, you can see galling on bolt lugs and locking lugs.

A small flashlight is critical for these detail inspections. Examine the barrel as best you can from both ends. Look for sharp rifling and a clean, uniform crown transition on the muzzle, checking for any rust or pitting. Likewise, check the chamber end. You might not be able to see all the way to the throat, but look for damage at the chamber mouth and inside the chamber walls. It should be clean and free of any scratches, dents, or corrosion. If you’re looking at a big-ticket item and feel a bit out of your depth, you can arrange for a gunsmith to inspect the firearm for you. For those buying on Gunbroker, keep this in mind as well. 

Some common issues you might encounter include the following:

> Dents deeper than 1/16 inch (the thickness of two credit cards): Use your steel ruler or straight edge along suspect areas to assess the severity of surface damage. Scratches and scuffs are typical, but big dents warrant further inspection and could be indicative of a bent barrel or receiver. Check the other side of the affected area for any protrusions. Dents in a barrel will present as a shadow when you look down the bore with a source of light at the other end.

damaged gas block used firearms

This damaged gas block explains why the gun didn’t cycle properly. If you didn’t have an opportunity to test fire the gun and the gas block was hidden underneath a handguard, you might have missed it.

> Lots of carbon buildup, but the gun is bone dry: Examine the internal working surfaces for premature or advanced wear. Check how much buildup there is with your cleaning brush and dental pick. Carbon and particulates that haven’t been carried away by lubricant can create an abrasive paste if not periodically maintained and can cause unnecessary wear. 

> Things inside the gun that shouldn’t be: I’ve seen twigs, rocks, feathers, and a tooth inside actions. This is classic Fudd stuff, often seen in shotguns only broken out for duck season and then thrown back in the closet. This is a sure sign of a severe lack of maintenance. 

used firearm mp5

This MP5 was chock full of carbon, but it was dry as a bone.

> Things that are loose that shouldn’t be: There aren’t many parts of a gun that work better when rattling about. See if the part can be easily secured, and inspect surrounding parts for any damage such as cracking, swaging, or erosion. Improperly installed ejectors often come loose. Poke any parts that ride on pins with your punches to check that they are properly secured.

> Excessively loose, cracked, or warped furniture: Problems with furniture usually stem from the spot it mounts to, often caused by callous handling or unnecessary exposure to inclement weather. Check underneath or inside if possible to assess the damage. 

> Damaged barrel threads, muzzle crown, or rifling: Muzzle or thread damage usually occurs from a drop on a hard surface and bore damage from overzealous cleaning of the barrel from the wrong end. Surplus military steel cleaning rods are a common culprit.

two gas ports

This barrel isn’t supposed to have two gas ports.

Are any of these problems cause for walking away from a deal? That’s completely up to you, dependent on how badly you want it and the price. All of these issues can be repaired by a competent gunsmith, which needs to be factored into the price.


Pricing is a very complex issue. Gun values are subject to swings in trends and availability, collectability, and local laws and restrictions that may affect scarcity. Gathering multiple points of data on values and completed sales will give you a better perspective on what you might be willing to pay. The Blue Book of Gun Values can provide a baseline value. Then, check sites like Gunbroker and Guns America, as well as gun forums. Be aware that even if something is listed for a certain price, it may not sell at that price. Look at actual bids and closing prices; if you have the time and inclination, keep track of listings for gun models that you might be interested in to become more familiar with realistic values in your area. 

rossi gunbroker

Above: This little Brazilian Rossi R351 38 Special went for $175, complete with its original packaging. At that price, you could use it as a pocket gun and simply buy another whenever it breaks.

Firearms that are rare, no longer made, or hard to find and highly sought after naturally fluctuate more on pricing, while current production guns with a steady supply are more straightforward. For the latter, between 20 to 40 percent off street price is a reasonable starting point. Start low, but don’t be ridiculous. Negotiating is a subtle art, and the gun crowd is largely an egocentric bunch — sellers can be easily annoyed. Here are some general guidelines and pet peeves when it comes to buying (and selling) guns. 

> Be polite, reasonable, and professional. Nobody wants to deal with an asshole. 

> Don’t be a drive-by low baller. This just wastes everyone’s time. You know who you are. 

> Respond promptly to messages. This goes double on sites like TacSwap. If you’re lackadaisical, don’t be surprised if the gun gets sold out from under you.

> Don’t issue ultimatums. If you don’t really want to buy the gun, say things like “Last offer.” Even better, “I can buy it from someone else for way less.” In that case, just buy it from them. 

> Be direct with your questions and requests for pictures. Ask for specific photos and don’t ask vague questions unrelated to the negotiation at hand. If you suspect you might be dealing with a scammer, ask for photos from a specific angle or orientation that wouldn’t annoy a seller but would reveal someone using stolen or stock pictures. 

gunbroker shotgun

While it wouldn’t be our top choice for a defensive shotgun, we picked up this old Savage shotgun in great condition for just $120.

> Aftermarket parts and labor don’t add as much value as some think. Sellers usually can’t recoup their investment in customizations and modifications.

> Seal the deal as soon as you feel comfortable with the terms. It may seem like you’re the only one with interest in the gun, but the seller may be actively negotiating with multiple people. 

> Money talks. Agreeing on terms with the seller followed immediately by payment accommodations is typically the only way to ensure you’ve reached an accord.

In summary, treat buying a used gun like negotiating sex. Be assertive but not aggressive. Be confident but not cocky. Say nice things. And don’t forget protection. Good hunting! 

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