If you’re very familiar with guns, you’ll already know what to look for, but, as a reminder, let’s go through a few key items. If you’re new to guns, the following should give you a general idea of what to look at—but it’s always recommended you have a gunsmith check it out as well. You’ll want to inspect the exterior condition to make sure that the gun’s fit and finish are acceptable. Minor wear from holsters or light scratches is to be expected, but be wary of rust, pitting and even cracks. Chewed-up screw heads can be an indicator that at least one of the previous owners was not careful with the gun.


If you’re buying in person, you’ll get a chance to function test the gun and, with permission from the owner, dry fire it. Make sure no live ammunition is present when you do inspect the firearm, but a snap cap can be handy. The gun’s trigger and action should function smoothly, and you should not sense any unusual tightness or binding. Nothing should be excessively loose, either. Ask to field strip the gun or have the seller do so to allow you to inspect its inner components. Inspect the bore for rust, pitting and worn-out rifling. If you’re buying online, asking for a quick video and detailed photos should help you further determine the condition of the gun.


Modifying guns is a popular thing to do nowadays; as a result, it’s getting harder to find used firearms that have been left untouched from the factory. Some used guns are offered with aftermarket parts installed and some will have been configured back to stock configuration. If parts are found on the gun, take a look to make sure that they have been properly installed and are not loose or misaligned. An improperly installed accessory can damage the host gun and decrease its value—and in some instances affect its performance or even safety. Be sure to verify that the accessories are genuine and completely functional. For guns that were once modified but turned back to stock, be sure that no original parts are missing and that the job was done competently.


$150 for a G17? $500 for an M1A? Once in a blue moon you’ll run into a once-in-a-lifetime deal, but those are few and far between. If you find a listing online for a gun or gun accessory that is priced way below what it usually goes for, beware. Buying from reputable shops, sellers and websites is recommended. We’ve made plenty of successful purchases over auction sites such as GunBroker.com and online forums as well, but do your homework on the items being sold, as well as on the seller. And again: buyer beware.


The laws regarding used firearms sales can very from state to state and even from local jurisdiction to local jurisdiction. Federal laws can differ from state and even county and city laws. Do your research to make sure you’re doing it right. Gun shops that offer transfer services are versed in the legalities and can help you through the process. If you haven’t bought a used gun before, it may seem intimidating, but don’t let the process turn you off. There are plenty of great deals out there to be had. It may take some patience, but it almost always turns out to be a fun and rewarding experience.

Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the July-August print issue of World of Firepower Magazine.