I am certain the savvy gun buyer in the audience will take umbrage with the title. I have purchased quite a few used guns over the years. But in the end, new guns — for the shooter, not the collector — are by far the best bet. This is especially true for the less-sophisticated buyer.
We have several million new gun buyers. These folks have bought new guns for the most part. I would never recommend a new or first-time buyer purchase a used gun. The learning curve is steep enough without taking a chance on a used and abused firearm.
Flooded New Market
As an example, a friend’s shop has a ratio of perhaps 80% new to used guns. Another shop runs 50-50. I am a pretty fair parts replacer and rise to gunsmith level in certain areas. In each of these shops, complaints and repairs are 100% in the used gun area. I do the best I can to fix these guns, but most of the time the final cost makes the firearm a poor bargain.
The lure of a used gun isn’t nearly as strong as it once was. There are plenty of affordable and reliable new guns readily available that serve well for personal defense. We each have a practical and a cheap side, I suppose.
The cheap side may go too cheap and buy a handgun that isn’t suitable for the chore. The practical side should decide not to throw good money after bad, bite the bullet, and purchase a new firearm for serious use. Let’s look at some of the strong points of a new gun compared to a used gun. As an example, the new gun will be exactly the gun you want. No compromise. The finish is your choice. Model, size, caliber, and accessories are yours to choose.
If you cannot afford quite the pistol of your dreams, you may purchase a similar model — an economy model — that serves well. The Ruger EDC is a good, concealed carry gun that has cut some corners over the LC9 as an example. The difference between the Smith & Wesson Military and Police, Glock 19, and Springfield XD 9 is primarily conversational.
There is little that may be achieved tactically with one quality handgun that you cannot do with another. Spare magazines and holsters are plentiful. You also have a warranty that will help with the occasional factory defect.
I have had few problems with factory pistols, but no maker is perfect. A few years ago, I had a problem with a Springfield pistol feed ramp. A call tag was sent, and the pistol traveled to Springfield. I had it back in less than a week. I also had an ATI 1911 with an improperly set adjustable trigger. The hammer would not fall.
A call tag was sent, and I had the pistol back in three days. Three days! And it was properly set. Some makers have a better reputation than others. The point is, problems with new guns are few and far between, but they can occur.
A factory warranty is good to have. Taurus rocked the world a generation ago with a lifetime warranty. A standard most of the industry joined.
Bad Deals and Bad Luck
Sometimes a used gun has the factory box and spare magazines, other times what you see is what you get. Most any used 1911 will have a junk or gun show magazine. The person trading it in always thinks he or she will get another 1911, so they keep the good magazines.
Rifles traded in are without a scope or with a Walmart scope and cheap mounts have been substituted for the Leupold the rifle originally wore. Those used deals are seldom as economical as a modern package rifle sold with a bore-sighted scope already mounted. The modern hard-shell box, accessories, and tools are good to have. When you start adding up these things, you may find a used gun isn’t that good a buy.
Of course, some shops overstate the value of used guns. They are often within 10–20 percent of the price of a new gun. And there are new guns with better features. As an example, the older Military and Police self-loaders are not bad guns. In fact, I could easily say they are good pistols. However, the new 2.0 version is a better gun. No matter how good a deal the older gun is, the modern 2.0 trigger system is a better system.
Likewise, the new Shield is a much better handgun. These new guns are affordable. At present, some guns bring more than the MSRP. However, older guns are also inflated, and they are not worth the money.
A rather weird example was a first-year Glock 17 9mm advertised as ‘the Holy Grail’ for Glock collectors. The sights are the original type which were produced before the front sight improvement. Yep, the type that was easily knocked off even when drawing from a hard-shell holster.
There was no provision for mounting lights and no changeable grip insert on these first-generation offerings. This pistol is worth a fraction of the cost of a new Glock and cannot be upgraded. I don’t think there should be collector interest in a pistol produced in the millions…
Production pistols are seldom a gun deal. If they are half the price of a modern firearm, perhaps. As an example, during a recent browse in a gun shop, I spotted two Ruger revolvers. A new Ruger GP100 was priced at just below $800. A stainless-steel Ruger Security Six was tagged at $697.50. The GP 100 is more rugged, has a smoother action, and is more accurate. It’s just not much of a decision for me.
Autoloaders are more problematic. I may step on some toes, but for the most part, makers have steadily improved their firearms. Older versions are simply not the best performers in comparison to modern firearms. I have a S&W Model 39 9mm on hand for reference.
The Model 39 isn’t in the class for durability and reliability with a modern SIG or Beretta. Used examples are overpriced in my opinion. Try finding a set of grips. Spare magazines will set you back about twice as much as a Glock magazine. Did I mention the Glock always feeds and functions?
Up to now, I have considered only used firearms in good condition. The gun butcher is alive and well in 2022! I run across pistols with a butchered trigger action often. They are dangerous to the user and all those in the near vicinity. As an example, I realize the Apex trigger for the Glock is a popular aftermarket addition. Apex enjoys an excellent reputation. But is the trigger in that Glock an Apex?
Build a gun yourself — if you have the skill, and you know what went into it. I have tested several revolvers that have suffered springs cut and the hammer and sear engagement filed to the point the action was smooth — sure — but completely unreliable. Stay away from modified guns of any type. The worst problems I have personally experienced were with this type of handgun.
At this point, get out the slings and arrows. I avoid guns shows, and not just because of the pandemic. At one time, I enjoyed going to shows and meeting with like-minded folks. Some of the sellers were more exhibitors, selling off a small part of their collection. Today, greed seems to be the main focus.
In the past, I could find parts such as grips and magazines that were not available elsewhere. There were good buys from time to time. During the past three to four years, the landscape has changed. Panic buyers have taken over. Book sellers and parts sellers are now on the internet. Gun show prices are terribly inflated, and often enough, the show is full of broken or butchered guns.
When you buy from a gun retailer or reputable pawn shop, you have a legitimate firearm. It is a slur that pawnshops have disreputable goods. It is the law in all states that when a firearm comes into the pawnshop it goes into a database and the gun is checked against a national hot sheet.
Occasionally, a gun comes up stolen, and justice is swift to the moron who sold it. Pawnbrokers must hold goods 7–10 days before they sell them, allowing these goods to be checked with law enforcement.
Every time a gun show hits town, a few weeks later some kid or adult trades in a gun purchased at the gun show, and it comes up stolen. If the seller doesn’t have a receipt, only the story was purchased at the gun show, from some guy whose name he did not catch.
If you do this more than once, the cops will take a hard look at you. I am not saying gun shows are full of stolen goods, of course not. However, there may not be background on the firearm purchased in a private sale. I am simply stating reality. I don’t wish to have a gun with a questionable origin. This type of thing really colors a self-defense shooting, and your reputation.
I hope that you will take these few words to heart. Firearms are not terribly expensive, after all, if you need a firearm that accomplishes a specific chore rather than a showpiece. Carefully balance the price of accessories, ammunition, and even the trade-in value. I think you will agree, new guns are the best buy.