When it comes to buying a firearm, most of us probably shop at our local gun store, or maybe a big box sporting goods store like Cabelas, Sportsman’s Warehouse, or something similar. Those aren’t the only places to look, though. Especially if you’re hunting for something odd or looking to score a good deal. If you’re willing to spend some leisure time looking around and are open to a used gun, then it may be worth considering buying one from a local pawn shop.
Understanding What a Pawn Shop is Before Buying a Gun from One
On the off chance you aren’t familiar with how a pawn shop works here’s the definition according to the Cambridge Dictionary: “a store that lends money in exchange for a valuable thing that they can sell if the person leaving it does not pay an agreed amount of money by an agreed time.”
Basically, folks give pawn shops items in return for cash. Sometimes it’s an outright sale, sometimes they leave the item for collateral and get a loan from the shop. If the person doesn’t repay the loan amount in a prescribed time, the shop can sell the item left for collateral instead.
While pawn shops deal in things like jewelry, tools, musical instruments, and electronics, many also deal in firearms. There’s nothing shady about it, they have to be licensed federal firearms dealers just like your local gun store. They still require a background check and must comply with federal and state laws to sell guns legally. The main difference is in how they get their inventory.
Many pawn shops don’t run a regular gun counter where they order guns through a distributor. Some may do that as well, but mainly they rely on buying guns brought in and pawned or sold to them for inventory. This means they typically have a selection of used guns, which can mean some good deals for you as the gun buyer.
Buying a Gun from a Pawn Shop
Over my two decades as a police officer, I visited pawn shops several times. Some are kind of disorganized, dark little hole-in-the-wall places. And others are pretty nicely organized, well-lit stores with large selections. Both can offer some pretty good deals or unique finds.
One of the prime sources for pawn shop firearms inventory is when a loved one passes away, and the family doesn’t have any interest in, or know what to do with, their guns. Often they’re happy to get some cash for them and get them out of the house. This can lead to myriad interesting items, from nice hunting rifles or shotguns to old war relics. Maybe even granddad’s police service pistol or the .22 rifle grandma used to plink critters in her garden. You’ll typically see plenty of modern stuff too.
Since much of the inventory will be used, take a careful look before you buy. See if the shop has any kind of guarantees as to function and coverage if it doesn’t. Look at it like you’re buying a used gun from a friend or your local gun store.
If you ask for help, just keep in mind that pawn shop employees or owners are no different than folks working in your local gun store or sporting goods gun counter. Some may know the subject well, others not so much.
They may even know some history about who brought the gun in and some background on it. Keep in mind, if you get a good story about a war capture, or some unique history on a gun, unless there’s paperwork to back it up, it’s just a neat story. As always, buy the gun, not the story.
Not Just Brick and Mortar
While it’s always nice to shop in person, I’ve found recently that a lot of pawn shops sell online through Armslist or Gunbroker as well. In my search for older pre-1960s Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers, a good number of pawn shops have popped up as sellers. Some have online inventory, and it’s been a fun rabbit hole just browsing and seeing what the shops get.
When you do find something you want to buy and are happy with the condition, it doesn’t hurt to see if the shop has any room to move on the price. Not every shop is going to haggle, but since they’re often buying used, they may have more wiggle room than a shop buying new guns at fixed dealer prices.
You can always politely inquire if a price is firm or maybe give a fair counter offer. You may find the right item at the right time that a shop may be willing to flex on, to move inventory.
Whether you shop online or go in person, pawn shops can provide you with some unique opportunities for great guns. Get to know your local shops or ones that ship to your area. Be polite, be fair, and get to know the staff, and you never know what treasures might await you.