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The Risks of Buying a New or Used Firearm Online (Updated)

Updated November 1, 2023

Buying a used firearm is like buying a used automobile. You need to have a level of trust between the buyer, seller. and transfer dealer. 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, mishandling, poor gunsmithing, improper packing for shipment, or being stored improperly? 5. What are the transfer dealer's policies?

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 an accurate description of what he received:

  • The rifle was a 44-40, not a .32 caliber

  • The firearm was re-blued and the wood was not original. The seller stated it was "restored".

  • The seller did not disclose pitting and corrosion that was found on the firearm.

  • The loading gate was not original and not the original finish

  • The forearm was not attached properly

  • The gun had damage to the muzzle (crown) of the barrel. This can significantly affect accuracy. It also had recent damage to the barrel. The front sight was missing and had a possible firing pin issue.

  • The magazine spring and follower was missing (necessary for proper operation of the firearm).

NEW Firearms

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 (before transfer fees) and there was no transfer fee. If the damaged gun had been ordered locally, it would have been taken care of without any extra effort or expense on his part.


Another situation that can arise is when the background check is denied or delayed. When you purchase a firearm online, the background check is done at the time of delivery to the customer. If you have not recently purchased a firearm and been through the instant check system, you could receive an unpleasant surprise. I do not recommend purchasing your first firearm online for this reason. If you receive a denial by the NICS system, It can cost you $100 or more.

If you are denied, you only have 3 options at that point: return the firearm to the original seller, sell/consign the firearm to the transferring dealer, or appeal the denial. The first two options can cost you transfer fees, shipping fees, return fees, consignment fees, and more. If you are denied the transfer, you can appeal to the FBI. It can be months long process. If the denial is upheld, your costs can easily outweigh the cost of the firearm.

Delayed transfers can cause you consternation. You can miss out on using your new firearm on that hunting trip or competition you was looking forward to. Delayed transfers are at the discretion of the dealer. Some dealers may transfer the firearm to you after 3 full business days. Some dealers will not transfer delayed transactions until a "proceed" is received in the system. Dealers can also use other criteria for determining how long to wait for a delayed transfer.

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, uneducated or use deceptive pricing tactics. 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 can still cost you your firearms rights. Background check issues can result in substantial costs up to and including the entire cost of the firearm. This will typically cost you in excess of $100 or more.

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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