What to Look for When Buying a Used Gun

Whether you’re new to firearms, or a lifelong gun owner, knowing what to look for when buying a used gun can be daunting. However, if you follow a few basic guidelines, you should be well on your way to finding and bringing home a quality gun that will last you a lifetime.

There are many reasons to buy a used gun. One is cost — used firearms can often be tens or hundreds of dollars less expensive than their new-production counterparts. Another is availability — some makes and models are no longer manufactured.

You need to ensure that the gun you buy is functional, safe to fire, and reliable. While this is true for practical applications, such as concealed carry, home defense, and hunting, it’s also true for the individual who simply enjoys shooting guns and the competitive shooter who wants a weapon to win at tournaments.

Law Cases

Know the Law

Do you want to buy a used gun from your local gun store or from a private seller? In the eyes of the federal government, as long as you’re a resident of the same state that you’re buying the gun in, not a “prohibited person,” and the gun isn’t one prohibited for ownership by private citizens (e.g., short-barreled shotgun, machine gun), record-free private sales are legal.

State laws, however, may impose more stringent record-keeping requirements.

Buying Guns Online

Online gun sales can be difficult to navigate. Auction sites and internet-based gun stores can confuse the purchaser with unclear or poorly explained requirements.

At IFA Tactical, we pride ourselves on our customer service. Our trained sales staff can help you navigate the laws. We also publish a blog that helps beginners and answers any questions you may have.

Used Gun

Firearm Safety

Remember rule #1: All guns are always loaded. Always check the loaded status of any weapon that’s handed to you. Even if the owner, or gun-store employee, cleared the gun in front of you, don’t rely on their judgment. Perform the proper safety check yourself.

When clearing a firearm, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction (rule #2) and your index finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard (rule #3).

If you’re handling a semi-automatic handgun or rifle, you must remove the magazine first, then retract the charging handle or slide to open the action. Check the chamber both visually and by feel to ensure that it is unloaded.

A common technique is to insert the little finger of the dominant hand into the breech. If you don’t know how a particular gun functions, it’s a good idea to ask the seller/gun-store employee to show you.

Safety isn’t limited to observing gun-safety rules, however. If you decide to meet an online private seller in person, take sensible precautions.

Meet the seller in a public place in broad daylight — preferably the parking lot of a restaurant or supermarket. Ideally, you should bring a friend with you. If you can’t, let someone know where you’re going, with whom you’ll be meeting, and for what purpose.

As with classified ads in general, the number you provide should belong to a prepaid mobile phone or SIM card. Don’t disclose your office or home address under any circumstances.


When inspecting a gun for the first time, read the inscription on the slide and frame/receiver. Check the caliber, make, model, and serial number to ensure this information is intact, unaltered, and consistent.

Examine the firearm’s exterior for holster wear — i.e., the removal of bluing or phosphating by the leather or Kydex it’s been nestled in — scratches, rust, pitting, and cracks. Are the external parts — pins, screws, bushings, sights, etc. — intact and securely fastened?

Look for telltale signs of improper disassembly by the previous owner, such as damaged or stripped screws and pins surrounded by tool marks. The first shows that an incorrectly sized screwdriver was used. The second, that a punch or cartridge tip slipped off and marred the finish.

However, “don’t judge a book by its cover” applies equally to firearms as it does to everything else. While an examination of the exterior can reveal important information, it doesn’t tell the whole story. A weather-beaten gun may function flawlessly despite its appearance, or a showpiece may fail to cycle through a magazine. Holster wear or a few scratches may not necessarily diminish the price if reliability is your sole criterion.

Manipulate the Action

The action should cycle smoothly without undue sticking or play. Is the handle or slide too loose or too tight in its slot or on its rails? You’ll need to test the trigger too, but always ask permission before dry-firing a gun, new or otherwise.

Ask the seller if you can disassemble the firearm to inspect the internal mechanism. If you don’t know how to do that, ask the seller to do it for you. If they refuse, politely decline to continue the transaction. Anyone who sells guns, either informally or as a business, should be willing to take the gun apart for you.

Operate the controls — passive and manual safeties, decocking levers, hammers, magazine releases, slide stops/bolt releases, and opening levers. To test a pistol or revolver with an external hammer, cock it and apply forward pressure against it with your thumb. If it moves or falls, the gun is unsafe.

The same is true regarding manual and passive safeties. If the gun has a manual safety, cock the hammer/striker, engage the safety and squeeze the trigger. The hammer or firing pin should not release. If it does, the gun is defective and should be sent to a gunsmith for repair or parts replacement.

Likewise, in handguns such as the M1911, you shouldn’t be able to pull the trigger unless the grip safety is depressed.

A Word on Revolvers

Pay close attention to the timing of the cylinder. Does it align with the barrel and rotate consistently when you squeeze the trigger? Is there “slop” or excess movement or wiggle of the cylinder when the hammer is cocked? You may also want to inspect the forcing cone — i.e., the tapered barrel leade, immediately in front of the 12-o’clock firing chamber, that the bullet must pass through before engaging the rifling.

A misalignment between the cylinder and the barrel may have caused the bullet to strike the forcing cone’s edge, damaging it. Some erosion is normal, but it shouldn’t be cracked or noticeably deformed.

Close the cylinder gently — don’t snap it shut by “flicking” your wrist. This technique, popularized in Hollywood films, can damage the crane — the arm that connects the cylinder to the frame.

Check the Barrel

It’s important to inspect the barrel from both the muzzle and breech ends, including the crown and the chamber. You should do this with the action open.

Shine a bore light into the chamber or hold the breech end to a light source. This will help you see whether there are any defects. Rust, pitting, stripped rifling, cracks, etc.

Excess oil or rifle grease can reflect light and hide imperfections. A dry cleaning patch or cotton mop should suffice. Ask the seller if they’d be willing to let you clean the barrel.

Gun Shows

An American tradition, gun shows are an excellent source for used firearms, including military surplus, inexpensive ammunition, magazines, spare parts, accessories, web gear, instruction manuals, rare gun books, and beef jerky. While you can find federally licensed dealers, you’re likely to find more private sellers hawking their wares.

You can find some great deals, but this is a bazaar of sorts — you need to be prepared to haggle. If you know what gun you’re looking for, check the Blue Book of Gun Values to see what it sells for in good condition. This will serve as a benchmark and help you negotiate the final sales price with the seller.

Final Thoughts

Check out our online store at IFA Tactical — your one-stop gun shop. We offer a wide variety of firearms and accessories. If you have any questions and would like to give us a call, you can reach us at (586) 275-2176. We’d be happy to help you make a gun purchase you won’t regret.