Used guns present a very affordable alternative to their factory new counterparts, usually coming in well under retail. However, buying used can be a bit of a drag if you’re not familiar with what to look for in a firearm. With such a great diversity in firearms out there, let’s take a look at some common things you can search for before pulling the trigger on your next purchase.
Semi-auto pistols are probably the most common item I see exchange hands in the area I live, with a variety of models being wildly popular. So, when purchasing a used pistol, what do you search for? It’s relatively simple and can be looked at in a few steps.
First, check the exterior condition, any marring or scratches on the finish might indicate further wear internally. Bluing, original stocks, and other items can certainly add to the value of a firearm, but if they’re charging top dollar for something dogged out you can take a walk knowing you’re saving yourself some heartache.
Second, check the action, and what I normally do is ask for a round count from the seller. If they tell me the firearm has only seen 100 rounds but the barrel is showing signs of appreciable wear I know something is up. It’s a lot like purchasing a used car, where you can’t truly and honestly appreciate the seller’s comments without putting in your own research.
Third, check the internals if possible. Most sellers will allow this, with the exception being some gun shops, but getting a look at the frame rails, lug, and some of the other parts can tell you a different story potentially. I’ve had people come in telling me they want to sell a gun which is in like new condition, and the second I remove the slide I see carbon buildup and in some cases peening. Peening is something you should immediately steer clear from, preventative maintenance on a firearm already exhibiting peening isn’t going to prevent potential failures down the road.
Thankfully, inspecting a used semi-automatic handgun isn’t a complete nightmare compared to many other types of firearms, the controls and mechanisms are easily located and identified. This fact alone should make your potential purchase a fair bit simpler across the board.
A revolver is a different beast compared to a semi-automatic, and my preliminary inspections for a revolver are far more intensive compared to a semi-automatic. The inner workings of the average revolver are highly complicated, which makes them my primary candidate for caution when inspecting a used handgun. There are numerous factors to take a look at when inspecting a revolver, so take care when purchasing a used one.
Timing, which is the alignment of cylinder face to the barrel, makes the difference between the gun firing or kabooming and leaving jagged shrapnel and potential injury in its wake. Timing can be checked very easily however, and should be paramount when inspecting. To check the timing on any revolver, you want to squeeze the trigger while pulling back on the hammer with your thumb and let it come to a rest on transfer bar. Older revolvers will not have transfer bars, but the process is the same. While not removing your finger from the trigger, make sure the revolver is unloaded for this step, take your support hand and wiggle the cylinder. A revolver in great shape will have some play in the cylinder, but not a lot. A revolver out of time will have a great amount of free rotation to it, which is a whole other can of worm. In addition to checking the play in the cylinder, you’ll also want to inspect if the chamber aligns with the barrel, which can be achieved by shining a pen light down the barrel and seeing if the alignment positions the firing pin aperture directly in the center of the chamber.
Next, inspect the forcing cone, which is opening of the barrel where a round will begin its travels. Corrosion or excessive wear is a sign of major concern, and the revolver is unsafe in that state. Some carbon buildup is alright, just a sign of minimal cleaning, but any exterior wear that is visible is a big red flag for any potential revolver purchase. Forcing cones are generally fairly sturdy depending on the revolver, with some exceptions being relegated to the Smith and Wesson Model 19 which is regarded as premier fighting revolver, but did have some issues with forcing cones cracking while using 125gr .357 loads.
Finally, inspect the top strap, which is the big bit of steel where the rear sight rests. What you’re looking for on a top strap is signs of flame cutting, which can also indicate considerable wear or stress to the firearm. If there appears to be any erosion or severe loss of material on the underside of the top strap directly above the forcing cone, it is not a safe firearm to consider unless you plan on using it for powderpuff loads to punch paper.
A revolver is a particular style of handgun that is best suited to be thoroughly inspected by a gunsmith since they’ll have the training and knowledge to diagnose any internal issues that may be present.
Valuing a Used Firearm
As with any higher end commodity, firearms can command certain prices so it pays to be well versed in the price range that is acceptable for a weapon in varying conditions. Prices for used firearms may also vary from state to state, so keep that in mind when searching out your next used purchase.
If seller is anxious about any sort of inspection and would prefer the firearm be sold without being seen first, that’s usually where I draw the line. A weapon isn’t like a vehicle needing new brakes. Any mechanical flaw can potentially lead to catastrophe so it pays to know what you’re looking at. So for your own safety, heed my advice and be thorough for your next used purchase.