As If They’re Loaded: Buying Guns at Pawn Shops

February 07, 2020 - Guns & Other Firearms

I recently received a question from a customer who read my previous post on Buying a Gun from a Pawn Shop asking what to look for when examining a gun.

If you’re interested in buying a gun from a pawn shop, you first want to make sure that the pawn shop has a gun license that allows them to sell or buy guns. After you’ve found a licensed pawn shop and a gun that interests you, check out a few tips I have on how to examine a gun.

Warning: Always verify that the gun you are interested in is unloaded before examining.


Avoid anything that looks abused, but be open minded to anything with minor cosmetic issues – it might be a bargain (unless you’re looking for a display piece). What’s the overall appearance of the gun? Is it scratched, dented, finish faded, or like new? Does any of the surface marking seem like it will affect normal function? If you can’t tell the difference, then stick with newer-looking gun with no visible marks.


Sometimes the modifications disguise issues with the gun that are important to know. On high dollar custom jobs, there should be adequate documentation of work done and by whom. Check to make sure you can handle the gun with ease at all time. If there is anything loose or rattling, walk away. Don’t force anything or put excess pressure on. If it rattles or jingles, and various bits and pieces are loose, keep looking elsewhere.

Check the barrel

Guns are loaded until proven otherwise. Verify the gun is unloaded, then take a look at the inside of the barrel with a bore light. In general, you won’t be able to tell much beyond clean or dirty, but you can at least avoid glaring problems like bulged barrels or rust. A little dirt isn’t a problem; a lot can cause concern.

Action and Dry Fire

Ask the seller for permission to work the action and dry fire the gun. The action should be smooth and lock up firmly. The trigger should be smooth with average pull weight. If the action binds up then that is a clear sign to walk away. If the trigger is too light or heavy, then that’s another sign to walk away.

Additional Information:

Most modern firearms from big-name companies are well-built pieces. They’re built to work reliably under most circumstances. If all of the above looks good upon examination, you’ll most likely have a good gun. When in doubt, stick to known brands – they’re popular for a reason.

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Jordan Birnholtz
Jordan Birnholtz

Jordan Birnholtz is the cofounder of PawnGuru. An alumnus of the University of Michigan, Jordan started PawnGuru in 2015 with Jon Polter, David Stiebel, and Jessica Zahnd. When he's not working at PawnGuru, Jordan volunteers his time to support undergraduates in building socially-responsible businesses and organizations through Optimize, a program at the University of Michigan.

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