Tips for Assessing a Pre-owned Firearm

There is a vast second-hand firearms market in South Africa with many excellent guns available for those who know where and how to find them.

Pre-owned firearms are a great option for those looking for an economical choice.
Guns are generally very well engineered and manufactured pieces of equipment, and if well looked after and properly maintained can last and function perfectly for many generations.

Sometimes the second-hand market actually offers one a greater variety of firearms, especially if one is looking for an older model, e.g. collecting.

As with all pre-owned items, their age and condition can vary greatly and should therefore always be carefully inspected to ensure proper and safe functioning.
This is especially important with firearms as a malfunction at a critical time could result in serious injury to the user, or worse.

All guns posted on The Gun Trove have been briefly inspected for proper functioning and adequate quality, however The Gun Trove is not responsible for and does not guarantee the condition or functioning of any of the firearms advertised on the website, and it is highly recommended that you always personally inspect a pre-owned firearm before purchasing it.

Observing Proper Showroom Etiquette

When inspecting a firearm in a gun store, there are a few universally accepted, un-written rules and procedures that should be adhered to in order to ensure that the exchange is safe and comfortable for everyone involved.

Following these rules are also a sign of politeness and respect to the dealer, and you will receive much more positive feedback if you demonstrate correct, safe firearm handling.

Most of these rules simply stem from the Four Universal Laws of Gun Safety which should always be observed when handling a firearm in any scenario.
In case you are unfamiliar with these fundamental safety rules, they are listed below with a brief explanation of how they apply in a gun store setting:

1) Always treat a firearm as if it is loaded.
A firearm dealer will never hand a customer a loaded weapon (in most cases they won’t even handle a firearm and ammunition at the same time).
Even so, when handed a firearm for inspection, you should always make the firearm safe and visually and physically check that it is not loaded and that there is no ammunition in the magazine or the cylinder.

2) Never point a firearm at anyone or anything you don’t intend to shoot.
When handling the firearm always be aware of where the muzzle is pointing, and make sure that you don’t ever point it at anyone in the store or yourself.
If you wish to take a sight picture, point the firearm in a direction away from anyone in the store.
If there are many people around, the safest direction to point is straight down.

3) Keep your finger off the trigger until the moment you are about to shoot.
Since you are only inspecting the firearm and not firing it, simply always keep your finger clearly off the trigger.
If you wish to dry-fire the firearm, point it in a safe direction before slowly and deliberately pulling the trigger.
Always ask the dealer permission to dry-fire the gun before you do so, as this can cause damage or wear to the firing pin of some firearms, especially older models.

4) Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
If you wish to take a sight picture with the firearm or dry-fire it, always point it in a safe direction, away from anyone else in the store.
A preferable safe direction would be the corner of the store where the wall meets the floor.

Also be aware of what material the wall and floors are made of, and don’t point the firearm towards anything that is easily penetrable, e.g. glass or dry-wall.
If you are unsure of a safe direction within the store, simply ask the dealer to advise you.  

Always handle the firearm carefully and respectfully, even if it is pre-owned stock.
Don’t be too rough or rigorous with the moving parts, e.g. racking a slide over and over, or spinning a revolver cylinder and flipping it shut.
Also don’t be forceful with stiff or stubborn controls, and rather ask the dealer for assistance in these situations.

Below are a few pointers of what to look for when inspecting and evaluating a pre-owned firearm.

Test and make sure that all of the controls of the firearm work correctly.

On semi-auto pistols and rifles these would be the manual safety lever, slide stop/release lever, and magazine release button (not all guns will have all or some of these controls).
Some pistols also have a de-cocking/hammer-drop lever (the manual safety lever also performs this function on some models, e.g. PPK).

On a revolver the only control parts are the cylinder release latch and the ejector rod.

On a bolt action rifle the possible control parts are the manual safety lever and magazine release.
On pump and semi-auto shotguns these would be the manual safety lever and bolt-release/unlocking button.
On over-and-under and side-by-side shotguns these would be the manual safety lever and unlocking lever.

Simply manipulate these controls and make sure that they work as intended.
If you are not familiar with the controls of a particular firearm, simply ask the dealer to assist and show you.
On older model firearms the control parts are sometimes not the same as on modern firearms and not as obvious to find, so it is better to simply ask the dealer to show you rather than possibly force a part incorrectly and risk damage to the gun.

Test and make sure that the main parts of the firearm function as intended.

With pistols, rack the slide and make sure that the hammer or firing pin cocks, and then pull to trigger to see that it releases.
Note: Some pistols have magazine safeties, meaning that a magazine must be inserted in order for the gun to fire.

If so, simply insert an empty magazine before pulling the trigger.
Also rack the slide on an empty magazine to make sure that it locks back.

You can perform the same tests on a semi-auto rifle by racking the bolt handle.
Note: Not all semi-auto rifles have a bolt-release lever.

With revolvers, pull the trigger to make sure that the double-action mechanism works correctly. Also manually cock the hammer and pull the trigger to test the single action function.
In both tests, make sure that the cylinder rotates correctly each time the hammer is cocked.

With pump-action shotguns, make sure that the pump mechanism cocks the firing pin and locks the foregrip, and that pulling the trigger releases the firing pin and unlocks the foregrip.
Also check that the carrier/lifter in the loading gate moves up and down correctly with each pump.
You can perform the same tests on a semi-auto shotgun by racking the bolt handle.

With a bolt action rifle, simply check that racking the bolt cocks the firing pin, and pulling the trigger releases it.

You must check the barrel for any signs of stress or damage.
This is vital for firearm safety as well as shooting accuracy.

An obvious sign of barrel stress is a barrel bulge, which is an irregular expansion or deforming of a section the barrel caused by over-pressure.
This creates an area of weakness and a firearm with this deformity should not be considered.

It is noticeable as a non-uniform bulge on the outside of the barrel, resembling a bubble within a thinner pipe.

Sometimes a barrel bulge is not noticeable from the outside and can only be spotted as a clear ring within the barrel.
This or any other scratches or damage to the bore of a barrel can significantly affect the accuracy of the firearm.

Note: When inspecting the bore of a firearm, don’t worry about any particles or fouling that you may see (especially with pre-owned firarms) as this is easily cleaned out and does not affect the quality of the gun.
However some very old rifles that have had cordite ammunition fired through them and not been cleaned may be susceptible to corrosion damage.

Another important part of the barrel to inspect is the crown, which is the muzzle end of the barrel.
Any damage to the crown or rifling within the crown will greatly affect the accuracy of the firearm.

As with barrel bulges, any irregularity of deformity in the cylinder of a revolver can also indicate a sign of stress and weakness created by over-pressure, and guns like this should be avoided.

You should also inspect the inside of each chamber for any unusual deformities, marks (scratches) or wear.
When .38 Special ammunition is fired extensively or exclusively from a revolver chambered for .357 Magnum, it can create lead build up inside the front of the chamber, or in extreme cases an area or ring of excess wear (depending on how the revolver was maintained).

Another characteristic to check on revolvers is the cylinder lock-up.
When the hammer is cocked, the cylinder should be locked in place with the top chamber lined up with the forcing cone.

In this position there should be little no rotational movement or play of the cylinder, and virtually no space between the front of the cylinder and the forcing cone.
The tighter the lock-up/less play in the cylinder, the better the condition and accuracy of the revolver.

Other areas of wear to check are the outside of the rear of the cylinder along the small, horizontal groves.
These groves are what the cylinder stop wedges into when the cylinder locks up for firing.  Over time the stop wears a vertical ring around the cylinder in line with these grooves. If a revolver does not have this ring, it means that it has not been fired a lot.

Another tell-tale point of wear is the inside of the breech face.
With lots of shooting, particularly with high power ammunition, the backs of the cartridges will wear round rings into the finish of the breech face. This us usually more evident with blued guns.

One can also check the forcing cone for any damage or wear (as well as the area around it for fouling) as this can be an indication of a history of lots of shooting.

Semi-automatic pistols with steel frames, particularly older models, can be susceptible to cracks in the frame and slide due to heavy recoil action, so that is something to look out for in high caliber pistols and guns that have been shot extensively, e.g. modified sports guns.

1911s are known for developing cracks in the frame just above the hole for the slide stop, as well as on the edges of the dustcover (after many years or very hard shooting).  Areas to check for wear and cracks on a 1911
However one should note that these particular cracks are quite easily repaired by a competent gunsmith, so if you have your heart set on a particular 1911 with these issues, they can be repaired.

Another area that can be checked is the extractor.
This can really, only be adequately checked by cycling dummy cartridges through the action, which you will have to take with you and ask the dealer permission to use in the gun.

This is not a fool-proof test but will certainly reveal any major problems with the pistols ability to extract empty cases.

Unless one is acquiring a gun for collecting or display purposes, one should not be overly concerned about the condition of the finish.
There are many gunsmiths who can re-blue or apply modern, customized finishes to firearms and make them look like new again, so don’t be put off if you find your dream gun but you are not happy with the condition of the finish.

From a collectors perspective though, one must remember that once a gun loses its original finish, its collectors value decreases, so the intended application of the firearm is very important when evaluating its finish.

Guns that have been carried or stored in a holster (whether leather, nylon or Kydex) over time all, eventually have some of their finish rubbed off from abrasion, known as holster-wear.
Factors that increase holster-wear are how often the gun was drawn from the holster (i.e. a gun used for sport), sweat (e.g. a carry gun), the environment (e.g. dusty or sandy) and maintenance, i.e. cleaning and oiling.

Some finishes are more durable than others, but all treatments or coatings like bluing, nickel-plating, Cerakoting and Kal-Guarding eventually show signs of wear from repeated use.

Stainless steel guns are not affected by holster wear as they have no finish that can be removed. However, they are still susceptible to marking and scratching from rough or repeated handling, especially if the stainless steel is polished (shiny).

All guns that are not regularly cleaned or oiled are susceptible to rust (especially at the coast and in damp environments), particularly older, blued firearms.
On guns that have been in storage for a long time, even if new or boxed, you will often find some light surface rust on the finish, usually in areas where the gun has been touched or handled (as the oil from your skin can promote rust formation).

In these instances one should not be put off, as in most cases this surface rust is very easily removed without damaging the finish by lightly rubbing the area with some gun oil and a piece of steel wool.
With stainless steel guns, surface rust is easily removed by using metal polishing agents, similar to that used for polishing exhausts and pipes of motorcycles.
A good, locally available product for this is called Autosol.

Some dealers and gunsmiths also offer a service of stripping and cleaning old guns to remove any rust and old lubrication and get them looking as good as possible again.

Of course is rust is very prominent and deep it can cause pitting in the metal, and even if cleaned and removed the damage to the gun will be permanent.
If severe rust forms on working (mechanical) or external parts like sights, hammers or springs, they may require replacing rather than cleaning or repair.

As with gun finishes, evaluating the condition of a firearm’s grip or stock depends on its intended purpose, i.e. collecting, self-defense or sport.

A collector may prefer to chose a gun with its original grips over aftermarket ones, even if the original grips are in poorer condition, and especially if they can’t be easily replaced by new, original grips (e.g. old or rare guns).

A wooden grip or stock can sometimes be repaired or rejuvenated with a little careful sanding and wood oil application.

For sports or self-defense, one does not need to be too concerned about the condition of grips or stock as there are many aftermarket options available locally and online, made in many styles and from a variety of materials.

Grips and stocks are easily replaced and do not require a gunsmith, although many will still assist with this if required.

For rifles and shotguns it is even possible to have custom stocks made to your specifications of material, size, finish and style.

Even if the grips or stock are already in good condition, you may still decide to change them to better suit your intended purpose, or simply for better comfort or aesthetic preference.
If you find a firearm that suits your needs and you intend to replace the grips or stock, just first make sure that they are available for that particular gun model before making your purchase.


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