What to Look for When Buying a Used Gun

June 9, 2022

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 can find a quality gun that lasts 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; many desirable 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 individuals who simply enjoy shooting guns and the competitive shooter who wants a weapon to win at tournaments.

Know the Law

In the United States, there is no specific legislation regulating or covering the purchase, sale, and transfer of used firearms at the federal level. As with new guns, existing regulations are primarily concerned with three factors:

  • Whether you are a prohibited person as per the ATF definition
  • Whether the firearm you are trying to buy is regulated at the federal level under the National Firearms Act or the Gun Control Act (machine guns, short-barreled rifles, short-barreled shotguns, etc.)
  • Whether you’re attempting to purchase a firearm across state lines, as per the Interstate Commerce Act

If you’re buying a used firearm, you must ensure you are not prohibited from possessing guns, that the firearm you want isn’t regulated or illegal to possess, and that the seller is in the same state as you.

Knowingly purchasing a firearm for a prohibited person is called straw purchasing, which is a federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison for both the straw purchaser and the recipient.

If the seller is in a different state, you will need to have the firearm transferred to you via a Federal Firearms License holder (FFL), such as the IFA Tactical premium gun shop in Sterling Heights. Doing so will require you to fill out the same paperwork (form 4473) as if you purchased a new gun, even if the seller is a private individual.

In addition to the federal laws, you must consult your local laws regarding firearm purchases, as there may be additional local and state-level regulations.

In Michigan, it is illegal for a private seller to transfer a handgun to a buyer who doesn’t have a Handgun Purchase Permit issued from your local county sheriff or a valid Michigan Concealed Pistol License (Michigan Compiled Laws 28.422a).

For example, if you live in Oakland County and do not have a Michigan CPL, you will need to contact the law enforcement officers at the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and inquire about obtaining a handgun purchase permit.

Buying Guns Online

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

At IFA Tactical, we pride ourselves on our customer service. Our trained sales staff in Sterling Heights can help you navigate the laws. We also publish a blog that helps beginner gun owners by answering questions you may have.

Be Aware of Firearm Safety

Remembering and applying the four essential gun safety rules is the duty of every responsible gun owner.

  • Treat every firearm as if they are loaded.
  • Never point the gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  • Be sure of your target and what lies beyond it.

Even if someone else has cleared it before you, treat any gun you receive as a loaded firearm until you have personally cleared and inspected it. Therefore, it is critical to understand how to safely operate, manipulate, and shoot the firearms you own.

Examples of basic manipulations a gun owner must be able to do:

  • Know how to operate, cycle, and inspect the action
  • Locating and visually inspecting the chamber(s)
  • If your gun has one or multiple manual safeties: Know where to find them and how to engage and disengage them
  • If your gun uses detachable magazines: Know how to insert and remove them
  • If your gun uses a standard or extended magazine tube with a crew cap: Know how to unscrew and fasten it

For example, here’s how to safely unload and inspect a standard Smith & Wesson M&P9 semi-automatic pistol:

  • Press the magazine release button to eject the magazine. If it doesn’t drop free, pull the magazine out yourself
  • Pull the slide all the way back. If the chamber is loaded, you will see a cartridge fly out of the ejection port.
  • Rack the slide once more while pushing the slide lock lever up until the slide remains locked in the open position..
  • Observe your firearm’s chamber through the now open ejection port and confirm that there is no cartridge inside. If it is empty, your firearm is now safe and fully unloaded.

Although some of these steps are common to many guns, every firearm model is slightly different. If you’re unsure how to operate yours, have never handled a particular model before, or need help with a specific step, don’t hesitate to ask a more experienced person, such as one of our friendly staff members.

Be Careful When Meeting Private Sellers

Gun safety isn’t limited to observing gun-safety rules, especially when purchasing guns from strangers. Take precautions if you decide to meet an online private seller in person.

Meet the seller in a public place in broad daylight, preferably in the parking lot of a restaurant or supermarket. Bring a friend, family member, or trusted individual 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 all classified ads, the number you provide should belong to a prepaid mobile phone or SIM card. Avoid disclosing more personal information than necessary to complete the purchase, and bring cash to avoid giving your credit card information.


How to Inspect a Used Gun

When inspecting a used gun for the first time, read the inscription on the slide and frame/receiver. Check whether the receiver features the gun’s caliber, make, and model.

Look for the serial number and ensure it’s intact, readable, and presenting no signs of alterations. All firearms sold on the civilian market must feature at least one serial number on the frame or receiver. However, some guns may feature the serial number in additional locations.

For example, when examining a used Springfield Armory XDM 10mm with a 15-round magazine, you can find the serial number in three places: engraved on a metal place under the frame and ahead of the trigger guard, on the right side of the slide behind the ejection port, and on the chamber, also on the right side. None of the original parts have been replaced if all three numbers match.

If the used gun you want is a pistol or a revolver, especially one that has been carried a lot, examine the firearm’s exterior for holster wear. Many older, former police-issued firearms, like the Smith & Wesson 5900-series pistols, may show signs of holster wear, despite exhibiting no mechanical issues.

Look for signs of wear and tear on the metal parts, such as scratching, damaged finish, rust, pitting, or cracks. Examine the pins, screws, bushings, and other small parts and ensure none are loose or missing.

Some used firearms may still feature the previous owner’s modifications and accessories, such as night sights on a pistol, an extended magazine tube on a shotgun, or different furniture (pistol grip, stock, handguard, etc.) on an AR-15 style rifle.

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, remember the adage: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Firearms with a well-worn appearance can still be mechanically sound and function flawlessly. If you’re thrifty, remembering this fact can help you save money on a quality gun.

For example, former police-issued firearms typically exhibit lots of external wear and tear but little mechanical degradation because they are traditionally carried more than fired. Some, however, may not. For instance, unissued surplus Detroit PD pistols (Smith & Wesson M&P .40) may show used gun pricing but appear flawless.

Manipulate the Action

If you visit a gun store to examine the used guns section, ask for permission before handling a firearm. If they allow you to examine and manipulate the used gun’s action, follow the basic gun safety rules and remember these tips.

When handling a used gun, one of the basic tests is to check the action. You should be able to cycle and operate it smoothly without sticking. Check for looseness or excessive stiffness in the slide, lever, or charging handle. Is the handle or slide too loose or tight in its slot or on its rails?

Ideally, you should test the trigger, although you may have to ask for permission to dry-fire first. Some firearms (e.g., rimfire guns) cannot be safely dry-fired without snap caps. Some handguns, such as those patterned on the 1911 (e.g., Smith & Wesson SW1911), possess passive grip safeties that disable or block the trigger unless it is fully depressed.

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. Knowing how to field strip a firearm is essential knowledge, and anyone who sells guns, either informally or as a business, should be willing to take the gun apart for you.

Operate all manual controls to test their function: 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.

A Word on Revolvers

When examining a used revolver of any make (Colt, Taurus, Smith & Wesson, etc.), it is critical to ensure the cylinder’s timing is in proper working order.

Timing refers to the mechanical processes when cocking or firing a revolver. The cylinder must rotate precisely to align the chamber (and, therefore, the bullet) with the barrel.

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 (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 deformed.

Never close the cylinder by performing the “Hollywood flick” (flicking your wrist to slam the cylinder back into the frame). Flicking can damage the revolver’s crane, the arm connecting the cylinder to the frame.

Visually Inspect the Barrel

It’s crucial 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. Depending on the bore diameter, some firearms may be easier to inspect than others. For example, 12 gauge and 20 gauge shotgun barrels will be less challenging to inspect than .22 or .223-caliber bores.

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.

Buying Used Guns at Gun Shows

An American tradition, gun shows are an excellent source for used firearms, including military surplus, former department-issued firearms, 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 with guns and other wares for sale.

Although you can find some great deals, part of the tradition in gun shows is haggling, especially with used inventory. 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.

Buy, Sell, or Transfer Your Used Guns at IFA Tactical

IFA Tactical is a leading premium gun store serving customers in Detroit, Macomb County, Wayne County, Oakland County, and everywhere else in Michigan.

Visit our location in Sterling Heights or visit our online store today. 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.

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