Buying a Gun Online

Shopping for a gun online can be a daunting task - this should make it easier.
When it comes to shopping online, most of us hunters and shooters think of buying gear, clothing, or ammo. The fact is, you can buy guns online, too. Below are some of my findings and tips on this subject. Now before anyone flips their lid, let me point out that these transactions are all fully legal and regulated. Federal laws are followed throughout; if the gun must be shipped, then it must be shipped to a Federal Firearms License (FFL) holder. Before a gun is released to the buyer, the required background checks are done by the receiving FFL holder. The FFL holder will usually charge a small fee for his services.

Most of the sites I've found follow the "classified ad" or "auction" format, and are selling, for the most part, used guns. Most listings seem to be placed by average folks looking to sell a gun they've decided to replace or just get rid of.

These ads can also be a great place to find deals on holsters and accessories, oftentimes by small dealers who don't get sufficient buying traffic on their Web sites. My direct experience in buying guns online is limited, but I feel I have a pretty good handle on the process. First, you need to know where to start (I have added some links at the end of this article). Many categories are available on most Web sites, such as shotguns, rifles, pistols, antiques, etc (it's helpful to know that semi-automatic handguns are properly referred to as "pistols." Pistols and revolvers are not the same thing). Select the category you're interested in, and take a look.

You may find it helpful to search a given site, in a given category, for what you're looking for, but don't be too specific in your search terms. If you're looking for a Remington 1100 12-gauge semi-automatic shotgun, try searching the shotguns using just "Remington." If the results turn out to be too broad, try something like "Remington auto." The reason is, it's easy to miss listings that may not have been posted using exactly the "right" terminology re: make and model.

Look carefully at dealers' ads, or any ad that states they accept credit cards, and always, always, shop around! One of the best tools for this kind of shopping is a reference guide giving gun values, such as a Blue Book of some type. Purchasing a book of this type may not be feasible for the "one-time shopper," but don't rush into any deal, any time, without knowing the going rate for that make & model of gun, in its present condition. The best way to find this out, short of buying a reference book, is to browse around different sites and local shops to see what's going for how much. This also gives one a good feel of what a gun's worth; many of us will be looking to sell again in the future, and it's nice to know we're not going to lose money on a deal. Also, you should realize that Blue Book prices are not written in stone, and are simply a guideline.

Personally, I've seldom bought my guns brand-new. I've never bought a new vehicle either, for much the same reason; I can usually get a used one just as good, for less, in most cases. I myself won't buy a gun unless it meets one or both of the following conditions: I must want it a heckuva lot and reasonably expect to use it (or at least drool on it) regularly, or it has to be a good enough deal that I can sell it for more money than I paid. You'll never lose if you follow this line of thought, and if you don't over-pay.

My first experience in buying a gun online was the fulfillment of an old desire; I had wanted a Colt .45 automatic since I was thirteen years old. I compared prices and agonized over the decision, until I found just what I wanted. When I asked the seller why he was selling (an important question!), he said that this gun had been stolen from his vehicle, and he had ransomed it back from a dope dealer, and now had bought a less expensive gun to keep in his car (go figure). No telling how true that tale may be.

The seller told me he had over $600 in the gun, and assuming his "ransom" amounted to a couple of hundred bucks, he had sunk somewhere in the neighborhood of $800 into this gun, for which I paid $485.

This was more than I had expected to pay when I began my search, but still well below the going rate. It was surely not worth $800, but a new gun of this type would run upwards of $550. I spent about one and a half to two weeks shopping online and comparing local prices before I decided to go for it. Incidentally, I didn't find any local prices that could compete with what I found on the 'net. The almost 2 weeks of waiting after the money had left my hands was unbearable. All of the Web sites I've found have an agreement in which you have a few days to decide if you're satisfied after receiving the gun, but when you're dealing with John Doe in another state, things can get anxious. I recommend speaking with the seller on the phone prior to making any deal, which I did. I found it very reassuring. The risk lies in sending a money order to someone you don't know, trusting him to send the merchandise after he has the money in hand.

One important question to ask is, why is the gun being sold? In most cases, the seller simply wants to get rid of it, or may just want the money to put toward a different gun. If your question goes unanswered, or if it isn't answered to your satisfaction, forget it. Any honest seller will answer all your questions with no hesitation. You can decide whether or not to buy depending on those answers. Maybe someone wasn't happy with the accuracy of a 3" barrel revolver, but you're looking for a self-defense gun; a short, handy gun that will preserve your hide in close quarters. No problem in a case like that, but if a gun is being sold due to problems with the mechanism, jamming, misfiring, etc, you will probably do well to look elsewhere.

One thing that's very common is for folks to have had some kind of "custom" work done to a gun, often costing them hundreds of dollars, and they expect to get this money plus their original purchase price out of it when the time comes to sell. The sad truth is that such work rarely adds to a gun's value, and in fact often detracts from it. Also, in certain guns, such as 1911-style .45 auto's, the term accurizing is used very loosely, and you should be on the lookout for this. Always ask for an itemized list of just what has been done with/to a gun, and by whom.

One other thing to think about is a scope on a rifle. As a rule, I don't consider the cost of the scope when figuring how much to pay for a gun with one on it. If you're looking at a well-known and well-respected brand of scope, you should be safe to allow that the scope is worth 1/3 to 1/2 of its new purchase price.

In conclusion, shop til you drop, then shop some more. Compare prices. Consult a reference book or someone with firsthand knowledge of gun trading and values. If you're not particular, consider another brand (I could have gotten a double-action Smith & Wesson .45 auto for around $300, but I wanted a single-action Colt). Never make a deal you're unsure about. And always ask why the gun is being sold.

- Russ Chastain