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[Guide] Private Sales of Firearms for Beginners

Looking to do a private sale of a gun? We cover the pros, cons, laws, and what to watch out for when buying from individuals.

“Selling a firearm privately should be illegal!” 

“Only criminals buy their firearms from private sales.”

Full Size Mid Size Compact Handguns

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 cannot.

Backalley Deal
Back alley deal.

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, determining price, and some safety tips.

Table of Contents

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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.

Colt Cobra
Colt Cobra.

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. People will often tinker and upgrade to improve their firearm and purchase extra mags to keep it running.  

When selling the weapon there is no need to keep magazines and accessories for a weapon they are selling. They are also often a more affordable option than a gun store.

Ed Brown 1911 Magazines
Accessories are important!

As soon as a gun is purchased and taken out of the store it is now considered used. This means you can buy the gun at the used price.

You also do not have to pay sales tax (double-check your state)! Which can add anywhere from 7 to 10% to the cost of the gun.

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, or I find one that fits it better.

What am I to do with that extra gun? A gun store can never give me close to the full value of the gun, so I’d be selling my weapon short.

NSSF Gun Store
Gun Store (Photo: NSSF )

Remember, my gun is now used, so the gun store has to sell it as a used gun. That means they have to buy it from me at a lower price to make a profit.  

A used Glock is a used Glock and the price is pretty much constant at a gun store or in a private deal. I may also be interested in trading a gun for a gun instead of an outright sale.  

Glock G43X
Glock G43X

If I have a gun I no longer want then the most effective and efficient means is to simply sell it off.

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.

Frogs Good Stuff in Back
The good stuff is in the back.

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 prohibiting the sale of firearms without a background check.

Background Check Laws by State, Governing.com
Background Check Laws by State, Governing.com.

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…aka a gun shop.

One of the best references for all 50 states for gun laws is the NRA and their legislative arm — NRA ILA.

Where to Conduct a Private Sale?

There are a number of ways to get out there and start buying and selling.

Gun Show

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.

Gunshow Sign Board, CNN
Gunshow Sign Board (Photo: CNN)

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.

Gun shows certainly have an increased safety aspect to them with lots of LEO around. What about other places?

Local Firearm Forums

Calguns Marketplace
Calguns Marketplace.

Local forums are honestly my favorite. Especially if the forum has a buy and sell rating for the transaction.

I can look up someone’s previous posts and see how their trade deals have gone. This makes me feel safer, and I get to know if someone is a frequent no-show, or a low baller when we actually meet.

Firearm Forum Feedback
Firearm Forum Feedback.

Local forums also make it easy to connect to other gun enthusiasts as well.

Armslist

Armslist
Armslist.

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.

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 running into no-shows on occasion.

Waiting for a gun that never arrives.

And now that you know where to make the private sale…

Determining Price

Determining 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.

Blue Book of Gun Values
Blue Book of Gun Values.

The internet is truly the best source of information. Websites like Gunbroker and Gunsamerica represent the always changing and adapting market.

On top of that a simple search in Google like “Used Glock 19 for sale” can give a variety of results.

Internet Search
Internet Search.

You can learn more about pricing your guns in our [How To] Estimate the Trade-In Value of a Gun guide.

Lastly…

Safety Tips

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.

Buddy System

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.

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.

Urban Prep Tips Lights
This might not be your best option…

Police departments have even set up parking lots where people can meet safely, under surveillance.

Safe Exchange Zone
Safe Exchange Zone.

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.

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.  

Learn from my fails!

Some people never learned manners and can’t simply shoot a text message saying they won’t make it.

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.

Meet at a local range.

Always make sure the deal is worked out before you put your vehicle in gear. You can always walk away if the firearm isn’t in good condition or is not as advertised.  

However, it is good to understand what you are selling and for exactly how much. Or what you are buying and what exactly you are buying it for.

Always double-check, and ensure the terms are set. Lastly, always trust your instincts.

Simpsons Eject
No need to fuss, fight or argue, just bail.

If something seems odd or wrong, be willing to walk away, or cancel the meeting.

But remember, if you aren’t going to meet the individual, be nice and give them a call or shoot a text message.

Conclusion

As you become more accustomed to gun culture and the environment surrounding guns you’ll learn a thing or two.

Adams Arms AA19 Shooting
Gun people are pretty rad.

You’ll feel more comfortable buying, selling, and trading guns.

Until then, follow our guide to selling private firearms and 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.

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14 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Jeff

    "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."

    False.

    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.
    law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/922

    January 31, 2022 9:44 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Bull o' the Woods

    Must go through FFL in New Mexico as well. Map is out of date.

    January 25, 2022 9:24 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Richard

      Also Nevada.

      January 28, 2022 5:59 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Mick

    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.

    January 21, 2022 8:12 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    motomike

    Sooo, I can make a gun sale under police surveillance? No way that could go wrong!

    January 19, 2022 9:49 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Ray

    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?

    May 20, 2019 9:09 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    memguy

    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

    July 25, 2018 6:04 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Michael Green

      Forgive my novice question but where do I run a serial number?

      January 1, 2022 7:58 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Siaosi Kaluhapai

    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.

    June 20, 2018 10:40 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Analine

    ******

    March 10, 2018 11:15 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    D.W.Rose

    Good information! Very informative and good advice. Thanks,DWR.

    December 1, 2016 12:13 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      ehung

      Thanks!

      December 1, 2016 10:10 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jess

    Great info, thanks!

    November 30, 2016 8:43 pm
    • Commenter Avatar
      ehung

      Thanks Jess!

      December 1, 2016 10:08 pm
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