Buying Used Guns
“It’s too good to be true”:
When it comes to buying a previously owned firearm, the old adage “it’s too good to be true” is usually closed to reality than one might think. Firearms, like beautiful women come in all sizes, shapes, and conditions. As with any married couple, I’m usually in trouble for something, being the male species. When my wife threatens to trade me in on a newer model, I’m quick to point out that with her years of investment in me, I’ve become a classic (especially if I’m loosing the argument, which is 99% of the time). Much the same can be said of a used gun.
“It pays to do your homework”:
One of the very first considerations in purchasing a used firearm is who made it, and when was it made. Was the gun made by a well known manufacturer? A 12 gaugeWinchesteror Remington shotgun may command a far higher price than say, a shotgun manufactured inBraziland imported into theUS. Even with US manufacturers, a wide range exists between current and discontinued production models. For example, a Winchester Model 12 shotgun (no longer made) will fetch a higher price than a Remington Model 870 (still in production). Values depend on rarity, availability, condition of the firearm and even the “mystique” of the maker. A “Pre-64” (made prior to 1964) Winchester Model 70 earned the nickname “The Rifleman’s Rifle”. It was machined from solid bar stock, and all parts were hand fitted, and the action was housed in walnut stocks. As production costs increased, shortcuts in manufacture and assembly were made. Finally in 1964, a new version of the same model appeared, much to the disgust of rifle “loonies”. Sales plummeted and it literally took years and changes in manufacturing forWinchesterto recover its lost revenue. The old “Pre-64’s” commanded collectors prices and sold for 2 to 3 times the cost of a brand new Model 70. The irony is that the newer Model 70’s were held to tighter tolerances, had better stock designs and an overall better finish than the pre-64”s, and yet it was the older model that brought the money.
The point of this is that research goes a long way before making your purchase, whether from a dealer or an individual. Just because the gun is old and your grandpa owned it won’t necessarily mean that it’s a “classic”. Sentimental value is one thing, but the hard, cruel facts are sometimes another. With today’s internet and all of the blogs, research engines, twitters, tweets and what have you, research is at your fingertips. There are always the good old fashioned reference manuals; publications like the Gun Digest, Shotgun News, and similar periodicals which will provide an idea of current market prices as well.
“Condition is everything”:
Once we have located the buy of our dreams we need to determine in just what condition it is in. Honest wear is one thing. A firearm that has been honestly used, but properly maintained will last for generations. Is the bore bright, or is it dark and has noticeable pits? How about the exterior? Is the stock in good condition? Scratches are signs of “honor” and tell the story of years of hunts, but poor repairs, gouges, poorly installed recoil pads, tell yet another, sadder story. Is the gun in its original condition, still showing the original blueing and varnish or finish on its stock?
Years ago, I noticed an ad from a fellow selling a “pre-64” Model 94 Winchester in .32 Winchester Special caliber. Now, the fact that it was a “pre-64” and in a somewhat less produced chambering that the traditional .30/30, my interest was aroused. I met the guy who told me that the gun came from the great State ofMaine where it was used to hunt deer and bear. The exterior showed some signs of minor pitting, but the interior was well cared for, with the bore bright and shiny. I negotiated what I felt to be a fair price and voila, it was mine!
When I returned home I noticed some “kitchen table” gunsmithing on the rear sight. No big deal, as I frequent many gun shows (I guess you could call me a “groupie”). At the next show I paid a premium for an original rear sight for that Model 94’s vintage and went home to install it. When I tapped the old rear sight out of its dovetail, the front sight fell off of the barrel! As those sights were silver soldered (again, research pays off) on the barrel and not screwed on, my only recourse was to take it to my local gunsmith, since I’m well aware of my limitations. While I was there, and since he had to do some soldering anyway, my next “brainstorm” was to have him remove those ugly minor pits and reblue the rifle. The end result was that I became the proud owner of a re-blued, re-sighted, re-stocked (oh yes, I bought a new stock and fore end) original Pre-“64 Model 94Winchester. The problem was I now had invested twice the cost of what an original condition Model 94 would bring.
It always helps to know with whom you are dealing! After my Model 94 fiasco, I began dealing with a reputable dealer that specialized in vintage Winchesters, Remingtons, as well as other makers. This dealer stood behind what he advertised and sold. After this, not only did I begin showing some value with my investments, I learned quite a bit along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
Finally, buying a used gun can be an enjoyable experience or it can be a nightmare! It’s always good to remember why you wanted to buy that firearm. Is it for hunting, plinking or for fun? Are you buying it for an investment? What do comparable models sell for? Is the demand for that particular gun climbing or is it steady? What is the condition of the firearm? Normal wear is to be expected, but that’s far from signs of abuse or neglect. Who are you dealing with? Is it an individual or a dealer?
Remember the old Latin warning: “Caveat Emptor”; let the buyer beware! Mainly, do your homework and have fun.