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Tips & Tactics

Pawn Shop Pitfalls: How to Buy Used Guns

by B. Gil Horman   |  May 4th, 2012 44

Pawn shopMy hobby of “gun slumming” started back when I was a poor college student. I wanted to shoot more, but my buy-ramen-noodles-on-sale budget kept brand new guns well out of reach. Even some of the larger independent shops, those who had plenty of used guns in stock, were not always affordable. To expand my search for gun bargains, the phone book came off the shelf and every single storefront in the area claiming to stock firearms was identified, including the pawn shops. With more time than money in the budget, I started traveling around after work and on the weekends to see what these off-the-radar gun sellers had in stock.

This sifting of the gun shops proved to be much like the process of panning for gold. Several small stores and pawn shops fell out of my route after one or two visits. They were either too seedy or they lacked the right kind of inventory. But over time, a handful of shops I would not have found any other way proved to shine with golden opportunities for buying good, affordable firearms. Even better, these shops were stocking rare, antique, and even unusual guns typically only seen in books and museums. Best of all, the staff in these little shops sometimes turned out to be the fun, friendly, knowledgeable kind of people that make hanging out in the shooting community a real pleasure.

What started as a money-saving measure became an informal occupation. Whenever I arrive in a new town or city, the small local gun sellers all get at least one visit, and then I swing by the bigger ones from time to time to see what new surprises have surfaced. Whether you are tired of the big-box-store cookie-cutter inventory, on the prowl for the find of the century, or you just want to save money on a gun, then perusing the small mom ‘n pop operations and pawn shops may be for you.

Be Polite
Some small shops may have walls with flaking paint, ancient display cases long past their prime, or a shopkeeper in need of a fashion make over. The odds are high that the guy you see behind the counter is the owner, and telling him that his place needs a facelift won’t get you very far. Be careful not to judge too quickly. Just like the best places in the world to eat are not always fancy, the best gun providers may not always own a multi-million dollar facility. This humble shop could turn out to be the best source of used guns in town if you give it a chance. Remember, you can be polite to a shop owner as many times as you like, but you only get to be a jerk once.

Do Your Homework
We live in the age of information. There’s no reason to start shopping for used guns without some idea of what a reasonable price looks like. Go ahead and cough up the cash for a Blue Book gun values publication or online annual subscription.

If you are working on the cheap, a quick and dirty price-checking guide can be generated by searching for the gun in question on gun sale websites like, or Reviewing the price tags in conjunction with to the condition of the guns they’re attached to will provide a ballpark range of prices. Always run price checks before you buy.

Is the Gun a Find or a Clunker?
Knowing which used guns are keepers and which should be thrown back can be a tricky business. With a bit of research and some hands-on experience, it’s not too difficult to identify the guns at either end of the quality spectrum.

The Finds are pristine, inside and out, and ready to be hung in a museum display. These are the rare firearms that gun hunters dream about. The buyers will, if they’re not stupid, purchase these gems on the spot with a major credit card.

The Clunkers are beaten, worn out guns that will obviously do a better job of anchoring boats or weighing down papers than they will hitting targets at the shooting range.

The two categories of used guns that float between the Find and the Clunker require a more experienced eye to spot. The lemon can look an awful lot like a Find but it has a hidden mechanical problem the previous owner forgot to mention when he sold it. This is one reason why it’s important to inspect any used gun as closely as possible before you buy it.

When examining the gun, always follow the rules of the shop. If you don’t know what they are, then ask questions: Is it okay to dry fire the gun? Could you please field strip the gun? Could we take the grip off of this revolver? If you don’t like what you see for any reason, just walk away and save your money for another day.

The last, and possibly the best, category of used guns often found in small shops could be called the Workhorse. These are the guns that show wear and tear but they are still mechanically sound and ready to provide years of shooting service at a bargain-basement price. They often suffer from neglect, but not necessarily abuse. Their potential is hidden under layers of grime or spots of surface rust. A proper deep cleaning and lubrication, perhaps a new grip or new sights, and suddenly what started out as a “cheap gun” will become a favorite to take out to the range.

Be Patient
Good things come to those who wait – and return. A pawnbroker or small gun store may be empty today, but flush with shooting options tomorrow. These shops often take in sets of inventory from estate sales, police auctions or someone who decides it’s time to clean out their collection a bit.

These deliveries of cool finds are rarely predictable. I’ve been visiting the small gun sellers in search of bargains for years. In that time, only a small fraction of the firearms I’ve examined have come home with me. But the ones that have joined the collection are some of my very favorite guns to shoot.

  • Jim Eicher

    A cheaper option for a gun blue book is your local public library. Mine has two.

  • Gunner

    Some pawn shops are great places to shop for used guns. We had one with great prices and quality guns. After a manager change the guns were still good ones but the prices went through the roof with some used guns as much as retail prices!
    Shop around as the author said.

    • John

      Were is the pawn shop

  • Gunner

    If the local library doesn't have them they can usually get them from another library in the system.

  • Greg

    I was in the same boat in my college days, if it wasn't for a couple of decent pawn shop onwers, I would not have done half of the hunting that I was able to. I'd have to agree, it's a patience game, and the owner is looking to pay his bilss as well, so don't expect that every deal will be a sweet one. Relationships are built over time, and the trust with them.

  • Michael

    Having worked at a Pawn Shop part time for several years, there is one thing to remember, the longer a items stays in the shop, the more eager the shop is to turn it. They don't want their money to sit in inventory. Also the price is somewhat negotiable as they usually pay 1/2 or less than value. There are some good buys in firearms that might need some repair or is missing a small part. Get to know the owner and you will be surprised what is in the back room!

    • JRB

      Amen, on getting to know the owner. I have been offered several gems that were sitting behind the counter, because I knew the owner and he knew what liked.

  • Chris

    Pawn shops in my area tend to have such inflated prices that I rarely go there. Not long ago I saw a Winchester M1 in a Gold & Pawn, and was naturally instantly interested. Then I saw the condition after I got it in my hands – and the price that was the polar opposite of the gun's condition. $1500 for an absolute beater that was rusty, beat up, etc. The durn bolt wouldn't even hardly close on it, I had to push it closed. A $600 Field Grade from CMP would have seemed like a cherry in comparison. Then there was the 'unfired' Colt Ar with carbon burns on the end of the barrel, and the Desert Eagle that looked like it hadn't a shred of finish left on it and was all dinged up for $1000. And don't forget the WW2 era Colt 1911 with zero finish, deep gouges like it'd been run over by a Sherman, for the trifling sum of $875. Boy what a steal! Best deal ever saw around here was on a Norinco SKS for $150. It was missing the bayonet, sling and removable magazine, and had rust on it that would have come off with some 0000 steel wool, so it wasn't too too bad.

    • JRB

      sounds like you have pawn shops who happen to have guns in their inventory. Keep looking for the shops that are ran by "gun guys".

      • richard canfield

        does any one know if your become a colecter can you buy guns or sell guns any one help me out

        • richard

          forgot to say im on calf

          • MacTex

            Do you mean that you have a calf 'stump broke', as the hillbillies used to call it?

  • Cliff Hewlett

    Knowledge is everything!
    I collect WWII firearms and have found a fair number of "good" finds in pawn shops often at excellent prices due to they missed special or significant markings when pricing them.

  • JRB

    I have found most of my better deals at Pawn Shops. The shops in question were ran by "Gun Guys", other wise I wouldn't have stopped by. I have several that fall into that "Workhorse" category. Amazing how a little bit of finish wear will bring the price down on an otherwise excellent firearm.

  • T.D. Honeycutt

    Pawn shops in Texas, where I gun-hunted for 15 years, are the best. One pawnbroker once confided to me that stock Glocks brought only $250 as collateral. When out of pawn (usually quickly), these guns went on the shelf at $400-500. Of course, with most pawn shops (not the mom & pops, though) everything is negotiable.
    The best phrases are:
    Is that the best you can do on the price?
    Are you firm on that price?
    Do you have room to move on that price?
    Of course, you have to know prices, and condition. In places where I was a known quantity, the manager usually gave me 10 percent discount right off the bat. Or the manager asked me to quote a price. As long as I didn't insult him, I got a good price.
    If I could get a good condition Glock for under $400 – sold. Oftentimes, the price was the same for a stock Glock with OEM sights or aftermarket sights like Trijicon, Meprolight, etc. With the after-market stocks, that's a savings of $80-120 built right into the gun.
    The only time I stung myself was paying $387 for a Browning BAR .270 – a great price – but finding out that the magazine had been removed by the prior owner. Replacement was $108, making it no so much a great deal, except as something I'd use forever and ever.
    You can't make money buying guns out of a pawn shop, but if you're an accumulator, you can do just fine.

  • T.D. Honeycutt

    Aftermarket sights, not stocks, in the original post.

  • Rcihard

    I go to Walmart and look through the Blue Book. They are on the shelf and no one cares if you look through one.

  • wesp22

    I love firearms!

    • Jeepers Creepers

      So do I! But I really like the non production made firearms.
      No rifles or shotguns. Only the short barrels. Most of mine do fire a rifle cased ammo.

  • Alan_T

    I'm too old and tired , I think I should just hire Gunner to canvas the pawn shops for me …… I'll buy the beer !

    • Dean

      LOL @ Alan_T

  • Paul

    Once bought a Ruger Mark II that a young man was selling and was having trouble getting a decent offer on it. Seems there was some brown gunk with red streaks on it showing here and there. Knew the young man and bought it anyhow. By the way, the brown gunk with the red streaks in it, peanut butter and jelly he had not cleaned off of it properly. I had seen him eating the sandwich before he tried to sell the gun.

  • richard

    can some one tell me how i would go about getting a c/w in calif im up to 9 guns now if you know please respond

    • MacTex

      I would guess (not having looked) that if you look, that info would be readily available online. At least that is how I found the requirments for others states I have looked into. If not, a bet a couple of phone calls would probably provide it. Good Luck!

  • Jeepers Creepers

    I have bought from pawn shops at gun shows in the past and will in the furture. I have never went directly into a pawn shop to buy or look for a firearm. The pawn shops always seem to take the best guns to the gun shows.
    I look for and buy only gunsmith made handguns. (like S&W P.C.). Most of the time the pawn shop doesn't know what they have. Once I bought a model 29-15 for the same price has a model 29-3. I love those not knowing Pawn shop people.

    • MacTex

      I have never seen a pawn shop set up at a gun show – where was this? Most pawn shop owners/operators I know don't have to take them to a gun show to sell them, but that is here in Texas. That is why they have a store front, so they can conduct business. Renting a booth at a gun show is just another added expense. It is hard to imagine some one not being able to sell their guns in this day and age, but that is just my experience. Please elaborate.

  • George Kelley

    Pawnshops are like going to bazaars in the middle east, prices are always negotiable.

  • deleted6424829

    since most of us have cell phones with cameras take a few pics of the firearm and do a visual yourself. Take it to you favorite Gun Shop and ask for a "ball park" estimate. Should be fairly close.

    • John

      oh man please don't do that, best way to really piss off the gun shop owner.

  • John

    All the pawn shops in my area only seem guns and gun related stuff.

  • JiminGA

    I bought my carry gun at a pawn shop…a Glock 17 Gen 3 that appeared to be in solid condition. I live in the Atlanta metro which is home to Glock USA. Afterwards, I drove directly to the Glock facility in Smyrna, GA where they inspected it, replaced the recoil spring, cleaned and lubed it, test fired it and gave me a free 17 round mag (it had a 10 round mag when I bought it). I knew all would be well as Glock guarantees all their guns for a lifetime. The gun is now 10 years old and was likely a LEO weapon back when they carried 9MM. This purchase saved hundreds off the new gun price as well as any gunsmith costs, and I have a virtually new weapon that has never failed to go bang, and I run over 200 rounds through it per month at the range.

  • AOKSteve

    One of the tricks that I have learned about dealing with pawn shops is to not go in to buy anything around the first of the month. Customers pick up their pawned merchandise when they get their monthly checks, and they pawn it back later in the month. These stores have a tendency to have less cash later in the month, and are more likely to deal because they need to raise cash to operate on.

    • Dirk

      True if the pawn shop is undercapitalized. But if they've been around awhile and are smart operators they never run short of cash to loan.

  • Robert Johnston

    Here in North San Diego County, I have yet to see a pawn shop that stocked firearms for sale since the late 1980's. None of them seem to be of a mind to do so–they are more interested is precious metals, anyhoo.

    So, I have to wait for the "Crossroads Of The West" to make it's next Del Mar Fairgrounds showing to check out any interesting items.

  • @WendallMan

    We also don't have many (any) shops around us that sell guns so I have turned to the internet. A great site for local classifieds is

    Still have to do your research and make sure you are getting a good deal, but some real good deals can be found if you keep an eye out.

  • Dirk

    To get the best price, offer to pay cash – good old fashioned greenback money. If you are ready to buy, indicate that you want to take it home today. Layaway may be available, but it a little less attractive to the seller than an immediate purchase. This approach will serve you better than "What would you take for this?" because we hear this all day from people who aren't ready to buy. You may be fond of the rewards your plastic card gives you, but the merchant pays a fee when you use it. A pawnbroker may be able to double or triple his investment on some things he sells, but not usually on firearms. Guns are second only to precious metals in terms of liquidity. Quality firearms in top condition are easy to sell at only a small discount from new prices. A smart second hand firearms dealer will be a buyer of high demand guns at a fairly decent percentage of new price, because he will never be overstocked, provided that he draws interested eyeballs and does not overprice. Profit margins can be fairly slender, so cash talks louder than plastic. A dealer who cares about his reputation will guarantee that the gun functions properly. Make an effort to test it soon after buying.

  • Dirk

    P.S. to the above post: If the dealer has any other stuff you want ask for a package price. The profit margins are better on accessories than guns. There might be a sling with swivels or a half box of ammo under the counter that cost the dealer next to nothing.

    Being nice never hurts. The general public can be pretty rude. Have patience. If the store is busy, bide your time until the crowd clears and give the staff a moment to catch their breath and use the restroom. Don't overplay the tactic of running down the merchandise. We can see scratches and blue wear. It's okay to express genuine concerns like a cracked stock. If you don't like the value of the piece don't be a wiseacre. Avoid "You'll never sell it for that price." It is just as easy to say "Thanks, but I'll pass."

  • bizzle

    i am from Goeriga if u are around the same area what shops would u prefer me to

  • Disobey

    Do pawn shops do background checks for gun purchases & trades/trade in? Any help is appreciated. Seems I am on a list for being white and a veteran. No felony arrests, only misdemeanor for playing loud music.

    • Saul

      I’m not sure about pawn shops, I think it depends on your state. I suggest you try armslist , there are some good deals to be had if you know what you want, and no background checks at all.

      • Disobey


    • nious

      hay dude i know i guy who sells discreetly , especially handguns like p22,xd45 i cant name is all but bout my one year used xd45 from him last month and already getting lots of other connects i have just his cell number u can text 608501009

  • Rusty

    This article fails in it’s original purpose: how to buy used guns. There wasn’t any information at all on how to actually distinguish between fine, workhorse, lemon and clunkers. What would be better is examining by category: revolver, pistol, bolt, semi, pump. Nobody expects you to do specific used tips, model by model, but maybe on the 10 currently most owned guns models (incl. variants) , and the 10 currently most sold guns models, give a little tip or two when it’s relevant. Even better, good advice for purchasing the 20 most commonly purchased models from gun shops, as a separate article, or weaved throughout this one.

    I’ve only recently discovered G&, and already I like the tone, and ethos of the writing. It’s far more reasoned, and thoughtful than like, *coughLaPierrecough*

  • Schultzy beckett

    Whenever you come across a gun which happens to be old or an antique piece for that matter ,must get it examined from an expert because just in case if you happen to buy a clunker under the impression of a find or vice- verse the consequences could be disastrous. The best bet though always are the ones mentioned as Workhorse.In this category there is a very high probability of getting a good gun at low price.

    Schultzy @

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