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The Risks of Buying a Firearm Online

Updated July 1, 2020

Buying a used firearm is like buying a used automobile. You need to have a level of trust between the buyer and the seller. As a buyer, your concerns include: 1) Am I paying a fair price? 2) Will I even receive the item I paid for? 3) Will it be the item that was described? 4) Will it have damage from misuse, mis-handling, poor gunsmithing, or being stored improperly?

A recent customer had this to say about a rifle he purchased at a popular online auction site:

The rifle was advertised as: "MARLIN MODEL 1894 .32 CAL LEVER ACTION RIFLE - RESTORED (CRACK IN STOCK)".

Here is his commentary about what he received:

First, the good. The receiver is in surprisingly good shape. It has been re-blued, but the printing is legible. The lands are also surprisingly still sharp and the rifling decent. There it ends.

Now the interesting. It has been re-blued, and the stock and forearm are replacements. The rifle was advertised as: "MARLIN MODEL 1894 .32 CAL LEVER ACTION RIFLE - RESTORED (CRACK IN STOCK)". The gun is a 44-40.

Finally, the bad. There is some pitting on the lever and in the center of the barrel. There was a mixed coating of surface rust and carbon in the barrel. Most was able to be brushed out, but the barrel requires more attention. The lever polished up nicely, but you can see small pits on one side. The magazine spring and follower are missing. The loading gate is not original, and the replacement was parkerized as opposed to blued. The replacement forearm was not tapped for a screw and there is no screw holding the retaining band in place. The gun has been dropped on the crown and has a good-sized dent at the muzzle, though the crown itself is not damaged. The outer portion of the barrel is damaged. This is recent damage - there is no rust. There is a chance the firing pin sleeve is broken. It is wobbling. And finally, the front sight is missing.

The auction house disclosed the broken stock and the missing front sight is noticeable in the pictures (but not mentioned in the description). They completely misrepresented the caliber or never checked it, did not disclose the marred muzzle, missing magazine spring and follower or the missing screw for the band and forearm.

Another customer had an unwelcome experience when he purchased a new shotgun at one of the leading online gun retailers. He purchased a shotgun and had it sent to us for transfer. When it was received, it had minor damage from the manufacturer (obviously packed with the damage at the manufacturer). He sent it back, incurring a transfer fee in the process. He received the replacement and it had damage from the manufacturer, again incurring a transfer fee. When he received the 3rd and final gun, it met his expectations. When the transactions were completed, he had incurred 3 transfer fees and received 1 shotgun. He then asked about buying a second shotgun for his other son. I acquired the second gun and it cost less than he paid for the first gun and there was no transfer fee. If I had received a damaged gun, it would have been taken care of without any extra effort or expense on his part.

Here is what you should consider before purchasing a firearm online:

  • When it comes to “fair price”, it’s not just about the dollars. You can save a few dollars but pay a lot more in time, hassle, stress, and worry when things don’t go as planned. You could even receive a gun that is worth substantially less than you thought it was worth.

  • Realize that you are taking some risks when you purchase a firearm solely based upon someone else’s description of it. Even if the gun is “new”. There can still be manufacturing defects or damage incurred before you receive it. Condition of a used firearm is highly subjective. It can have a significant effect on its value, especially if it is a collectible. If you are buying a firearm as a “shooter”, condition is not as critical if it is safe, usable, and durable.

  • They say pictures are worth a thousand words, but pictures don’t always tell the whole story. Pictures can be manipulated by intentionally hiding defects when the image was taken, or by retouching the image afterwards.

  • The entity that you buy from online could be untrustworthy, misinformed, or uneducated. They may intentionally misrepresent an item, may have been misinformed about what they are selling, or they may not know much about what they are selling.

  • What if there is an issue with the background check? What are your options? If you fail the background check, your options are limited and expensive. You can fail the background check for many reasons including: being misidentified by the system, having your identity stolen and the fraudster being convicted of a serious crime under your name, receiving incomplete or inaccurate legal advice after conviction for a seemingly minor crime, expunged, deferred prosecution, or diversion for a minor crime that didn't actually restore your firearm rights. This issue can result in substantial costs up to an including the entire cost of the firearm. This will typically cost you in excess of $100 or more. We recently had a transfer customer that experienced costs well over $300 on a $500 firearm.

Protect yourself by knowing your seller, being informed about the item you are purchasing, and knowing what your options are if you are disappointed or unable to take possession. If you want to minimize your risks, purchase locally.

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