Used Guns And Safety: Cheaper Isn’t Always Better

There are a lot of deals to be had these days, both on new and used guns. Both options have their pros and cons, which we’ll take a look at here. Have you ever gotten a raw deal buying a used gun? Or worse, had a dangerous mechanical situation with a used gun?

Buying New Guns

Purchasing a new firearm definitely has some advantages.

First, you have the freedom to choose what caliber you want, the color, grip, accessories, size, barrel length, and other factors. Plus, some manufacturers include extras with their firearms, such as locking cases, spare magazines, cleaning kit, trigger lock, manual, and tools. One of the best aspects is you’ll get the manufacturer’s full warranty, which can be comforting. You’ll also have the reassurance that no one has abused or misused the gun.

Hellcat Pro pistol.
A new gun such as this Springfield Armory Hellcat Pro has a solid warranty by the manufacturer, which is reassuring. Plus, the buyer knows none of the internal parts have been altered. Photo: Jim Davis.

Another aspect is, as the original owner, you can track how many rounds have been through the gun.

Some cons of buying a new gun are the model you’re after may be in high demand and short supply. This frequently happens with the hot, new designs that everyone is clambering for. That new hotness often carries a higher price tag. However, I’ve found it’s often worth paying extra for the peace of mind knowing you’re getting a good, new, reliable gun.

Buying Used Guns

As with buying new, there are pros and cons to buying used guns.

A pro is you’ll save some of your hard-earned money. You can use that savings to buy extras such as ammo, holsters, or other accessories. You get more bang for your buck (no pun intended).

Marlin .30-30 used gun
Hunting rifles are often a fairly safe bet when buying used. It’s less common for people to alter their internals. This is a Marlin lever action .30-30.  Photo: Jim Davis.

Occasionally, you’ll luck out and maybe get some quality extras that someone else installed such as night sights or improved sights. On rifles, you might get a scope or other sight.

That’s pretty much where the advantages end, though, as far as I can tell. Mind you, I’ve bought or traded into dozens of excellent used guns over the decades. Hunting rifles typically have low round counts and inspection for abuse is easy. Consequently, you can find some wonderful deals.

Handguns can be a little different story, though. Some have very high round counts, which can mean worn parts and might equal danger. You might also get a pistol with polygonal rifling. If you shoot lead bullets through a polygonal rifle barrel, lead can build up. When fired, the pistol could experience overpressure. What does overpressure do? It could cause the gun to explode if it builds enough. A thorough barrel cleaning is in order for your “new” pistol since you don’t know what sort of rounds the owner(s) have put through the gun.

One of the down sides is prior owners may have “improved” the gun by adding aftermarket internal parts. Sometimes this can be an okay thing; while other times, it’s a tragedy. Not all aftermarket parts are quality; in fact, many will render the firearm unreliable. Worse still, you don’t know if the parts were professionally and correctly installed.

Glock 43 used guns
This Glock 43, purchased used by the author, caused a lot of issues because of aftermarket parts. It took a few weeks, too much money, and a lot of running around to get the pistol mostly back to factory specs. The author will never make that mistake again. Photo: Jim Davis.

I bought a Glock 43 not long ago infested with aftermarket parts. I figured I could find a factory armorer to replace these questionable parts easily enough. So began my quest. First, I had to track down all the parts I needed to restore the pistol to its original form. In that process, I learned the manufacturer won’t just ship out parts to any old person, but would only ship them to a factory-trained armorer. So, I couldn’t even buy the parts that I needed. To complicate matters, it wasn’t as easy to find a factory armorer as I thought it would be.

Aftermarket gun parts.
These are some of the aftermarket parts that infested the Glock 43. Even with quality parts, it’s hard to know if they were installed correctly. Photo: Jim Davis.

I found a gun shop who would do the work for me, and they told me that their gunsmith was a factory armorer. Except he wasn’t, which I didn’t discover for quite some time. Long story short, I invested additional money into this used pistol, which made it not a very economical buy. In the end, they failed to replace all the aftermarket junk with factory parts; so I was still partially on square one after plunking down a sum of money. All in all, it was a nightmare and I wish I never bought the pistol. It was, however, a valuable lesson for me (never buy a used pistol with aftermarket parts).

Let’s say you save $100 dollars on a used gun. Then, you find a part or two needing replacement and have to hire a gunsmith. Your “savings” just went bye-bye and, in fact, you’ll dump enough money into the gun that you might have just been better off buying a new gun from the beginning.

Let’s look at why that Franken-Gun is on the shelf to begin with. Someone tried to improve it over the factory model by adding a ton of aftermarket crap. Not surprisingly, the pistol began to experience stoppages, frustrating the owner, who then decided to dump it at the local gun shop. He probably traded into another model of new pistol (which he’ll probably disable with aftermarket parts in his quest to improve it). In short, he screwed the gun up and traded it in, making it someone else’s problem. Furthermore, if you send it back to the factory for the warranty, they’ll reply, “These aren’t our parts and we can’t warranty them. The gun has been altered.” I can’t blame them for that.

Colt AR-15 used guns
AR-15s are popular for aftermarket accessories, which can be a down side. The good thing is it’s easy to open them up and see if there are any non-factory parts. This AR wears a Vortex Strike Eagle 1-8x scope. The plate carrier is from Blackhawk. Photo: Jim Davis.

Some Things To Check on Used Guns

When buying semi-auto pistols, there are some things to check before buying:

  • Ensure all safety devices are functioning.
  • Check the barrel for pitting, bulges, and wear. Verify the muzzle end isn’t damaged.
  • Check the feed ramp for damage or alteration.
  • Disassemble the gun and check for damaged or excessively worn parts. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you probably should not be buying used guns (that’s not a criticism, we all have to learn).

For revolvers:

  • Ensure there is no play in the cylinder, especially with a cocked hammer.
  • Make sure the cylinders line up with the barrel.
  • Squeeze the trigger in both double action and single action modes, if applicable.
  • Make sure there is no excessive wear. If parts are rattling, that’s a bad sign.

Trigger Jobs

Many gun guys fancy themselves as gunsmiths. Quite a few of them shouldn’t try it.

Some folks take apart their auto or revolver in an effort to perform a trigger job, wanting to smooth and/or lighten the trigger. In doing so, they make the firearm unsafe because of these modifications. Polishing certain parts, trimming springs, etc. is simply unsafe if you don’t know what you’re doing.

How can you tell the trigger’s modified as you’re fondling the handgun in the gun shop? For the most part, I certainly can’t. Even if I opened the firearm’s action, I’m not skilled enough to know what I’m looking at (that’s what real gunsmiths are for). The handgun could fire accidentally and someone could be killed. A trigger is absolutely not something you want to mess around with.

There are some good aftermarket triggers on the market, to be sure. The thing that you need to ask yourself realistically is, are you good enough to really benefit from one? Is the factory trigger really that horrible it’s holding you back? Because here’s the thing: it might be very difficult to tell who made the aftermarket trigger installed on the used pistol you’re buying. It might be sub-par, and since you didn’t install it, you might not know the brand. The next question is, did the person who installed it do so correctly?

Again, are these questions worth betting your life and those of your loved ones on? Thanks, I’ll take a hard pass.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes buying or trading for used guns can be a great deal. Especially if you know the gun’s history and/or it’s all stock with no internal work. But, how do you know someone hasn’t messed with internal parts, including the trigger? You also might not know how many rounds have been through the gun and whether or not it’s reliable or how worn some of the parts are. One shop that I’ve dealt with on a limited basis won’t even allow customers to field strip a firearm to see what’s going on inside (hard pass on that one).

In many cases, it’s worth just buying a brand new gun for the assurance no one has screwed with the internals. Plus, you get the factory warranty, just in case you have the rare event of buying a lemon. Remember, things can go wrong with anything that’s manmade. Most reputable manufacturers stand behind their products, and it’s reassuring to have that warranty on your side.

When dealing with things that go BOOM, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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