“Selling a firearm privately should be illegal!”
“Only criminals buy their firearms from private sales.”
Is any of this true? No, not even close.
As a firearms shooter and collector, my tastes and needs have changed over time. I’ve seen this happen with almost all gun owners.
Sometimes a gun store can scratch that itch, and sometimes they can’t.
There are tons of good reasons to buy and sell firearms privately, and hardly any of them have to do with any illegal or dangerous activity.
We’ll cover those reasons, how to privately sell, determine the price, and some safety tips.
Table of Contents
Why Buy a Firearm in a Private Sale?
As a firearms enthusiast, I often buy rare or hard-to-find firearms privately.
I can buy an AR any day of the week at a gun store, but it can be difficult to find a Sig 556R, Browning Hi-Power, or a Colt Snake gun.
Buying privately is often the only opportunity to find these guns.
Not only that, but when I buy privately, the firearms often come with extra accessories like magazines and are also often a more affordable option than a gun store.
In a lot of cases, you can also skip out on sales tax, which can add anywhere from 7-10% to the cost of the gun. (But double-check your state! We’re not lawyers or tax experts.)
Why Sell a Firearm in a Private Sale?
Sometimes I purchase a gun for a specific purpose, and the gun just doesn’t fit that purpose anymore. Often, I find another gun that fits what I need better.
A gun store will never give me close to the full value of the gun, so selling my gun on the private market helps me better recoup some costs.
Not to mention, sometimes I want to trade, and you can’t do that at most gun stores…but if someone else with a cool gun wants my cool gun, well, then that’s just perfect!
TL;DR… If I have a gun I no longer want, then the most effective and efficient means is to simply sell it.
Laws Regarding Private Sales
This is a big one. There is no federal law that prohibits you from transferring a firearm privately. Well, no laws against standard firearms.
Firearms and destructive devices that are considered Title 2 firearms require a whole lot of paperwork, an involved background check, and a $200 tax stamp. These are commonly known as NFA weapons.
Outside of these weapons, there are no federal laws regarding private transfers. What’s important to check is your state laws.
More and more states are getting on board with universal background checks, which prohibit the sale of firearms without a background check.
So always reference your state’s laws and ensure you are working inside of them. If your state requires a background check for every transfer, the sale will likely have to go through a Federal Firearms Licensee…a.k.a. a gun shop.
Where to Conduct a Private Sale?
There are a number of ways to get out there and start buying and selling.
One of the oldest ways is a gun show. Take the unloaded gun with you, tack a sign and price somewhere, and meet prospective buyers.
Using gun shows to sell private firearms isn’t the best route because most people just pass you by and may never get a chance to see your sign or firearm.
You’ll also have to make sure that the specific show allows sales without background checks, or else you’ll have to go through a third party. More on the often-mentioned Gun Show Loophole.
The benefit is you’re in a public place with law enforcement around, so it’s less of a personal risk.
Local Firearm Forums
Local forums are honestly my favorite — especially if the forum has a buy-and-sell rating for the transaction.
I can look up previous posts and see how trade deals have gone.
This makes me feel safer, and I get to know if someone is a frequent no-show or a lowballer when we actually meet.
Local forums also make it easy to connect to other gun enthusiasts as well.
Armslist is a nationwide option that allows you to shop by state and city, as well as post guns for sale and trade. They have a tiered system of membership, so you’ll be out a little money on the front end.
The downside is that Armslist has the occasional scam, which leads people to try variations of mail fraud scams. But if you meet face-to-face, you should be completely fine.
Another risk is you rarely know who you are dealing with before you meet them. This leads you to run into no-shows on occasion.
And now that you know where to make the private sale…
Determining the price is something that should be done before you even begin to think about buying or selling.
You need to know an accurate price to sell your gun at and a fair price to buy at. The best way to find value is, by far, the internet.
There are books like the Gun Digest and Blue Book of Gun Values which can be great but are not always accurate. A book gives a fixed price, but the market is always changing.
Prices may drop when a new model or generation is announced. Additionally, prices may increase depending on political pressures or availability.
The internet is truly the best source of information and can help you stay on top of the always-changing and adapting market.
You can learn more about pricing your guns in our [How To] Estimate the Trade-In Value of a Gun guide.
How to Safely Sell (or Buy) Guns
The good thing about dealing with “gun people” is that we are a group of people who often follow the law to an extreme degree. So meeting someone to buy and sell firearms isn’t usually a risky proposition.
Even so, we should always exercise a few safety measures.
Bring a Buddy
The Buddy System is an excellent way to stay safe. Bring a friend with you when you meet someone in a face-to-face transaction over any form of a local forum, Armslist, or social media.
Even better than the buddy system is to sell it to a buddy, a coworker, or a friend of a friend.
Meet in a Well-Lit or Public Space
When meeting a stranger to buy or sell a gun, or really anything, always meet in a well-lit public location. I would never advise going to some random guy or gal’s house or meeting out in the middle of nowhere.
Police departments have even set up parking lots where people can meet safely, under surveillance.
If you are meeting to buy an expensive firearm, I’d advise meeting at a range and doing some heavy research. The research will allow you to check for defects in the firearm and things that can go wrong.
Also, meeting at a range allows you to throw some lead downrange. This way, you know for sure the weapon works.
When arranging a meeting, I would never agree to drive more than half an hour. This is just a preventive measure against no-shows and wasted time.
Ask for ID & Bill of Sale
If you are unsure of the seller, and their intentions, don’t be afraid to ask for an ID, a concealed carry license or permit, and a bill of sale.
This will usually eliminate anyone acting fishy and is a good way to CYA (cover your ass).
If you meet over something like Armslist, you’ll have their email address. Run their email address through social media and see if it links to any accounts — you can scope out your stranger pretty easily this way.
Always make sure the deal is worked out before you put your vehicle in gear. A Bill of Sale is a great way to prove you bought the gun and also explicitly lays out the terms.
Trust Your Gut
If something seems odd or wrong, trust your gut!
Never be afraid to walk away or cancel the meeting if the firearm isn’t in good condition or as advertised OR if you just get an overall bad vibe.
It’s not worth putting yourself in a bad situation — either financially with a not-great gun or physically with someone that makes you uncomfortable.
As you do it more, you’ll feel more comfortable buying, selling, and trading guns.
Until then, follow our guide to selling private firearms. It’s easy to be successful, safe, and come away with the best deal possible.
Any stories of how your private sale went? Let us know in the comments below! If you don’t feel like setting up a private gun sale, be sure to check out our article on the 10 Best Online Gun Stores.
15 Leave a Reply
Calguns is a great site for California transactions. It's got an active marketplace and a feedback system like the author recommended.
"There is no federal law that prohibits you from transferring a firearm privately.... Outside of these [NFA] weapons, there are no federal laws regarding private transfers."
Title 18 USC 922 outlaws the transfer by ANY PERSON of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that the recipient is a prohibited person. There are also federal restrictions on private interstate sales, sales of stolen or defaced (serial numbers), firearms, etc., and likely other prohibitions. Don't assume it's legal because you read it on an internet gun site.
Must go through FFL in New Mexico as well. Map is out of date.
As of 2020, or maybe it was 2021, Private firearms sales in Virginia have to go through an FFL. Unless something has changed recently. I don't think your map image is correct anymore.
Sooo, I can make a gun sale under police surveillance? No way that could go wrong!
Travis - great article. One question tax? If you purchase firearm from private party and have to go to FFL dealer do you pay tax for sale price of gun or just the Licensed FFL’s transfer fee?
remember if u buy a stolen gun...it's your loss. Always spend 10.00 and run serial number before u buy from a online site
Forgive my novice question but where do I run a serial number?
It's interesting to learn that there are different avenues online where you can sell your firearms that most people will respond to. It makes sense because of the power of social media these days, the guarantee of information dissemination and advertisements can reach even on different parts of the world which makes it favorable for businesses to earn revenues right away. A friend of mine is looking forward to selling his .45 caliber pistol but he doesn't know where to begin. I can share this post with him for options or look online for websites that are willing to buy guns.
Good information! Very informative and good advice. Thanks,DWR.
Great info, thanks!