How to determine gun value
Used gun values can vary based on many factors, so it can be difficult to determine the gun value for your firearm
Selling a gun can be a big decision. And it can be an even bigger letdown.
The biggest thing that makes it difficult is your mindset. If you start out thinking ‘If I’m going to sell my gun, I expect to get the gun’s value back,’ you're already in for a rude awakening. The first thing to let go of is any sentimental attachment to the firearm; this will be an everyday transaction for the dealer, regardless of your opinion of the weapon. The second is the dream that you will be getting anything close the gun’s full value; this is a gun retailers' game, and you won’t be the one negotiating with home court advantage.
Anyone who watches Antiques Roadshow will realize that most of us overestimate the value of our possessions, leading to cognitive dissonance when we go to trade them in. The best thing you can do is to learn how to assess the actual value of your gun, and anticipate a realistic offer based on that value. But how do you determine gun value?
Identifying your gun
The first step in determining the value of a gun is to inspect it and make note of the identifying characteristics. This is important, because it’s how you make sure you are looking up the correct retail price. Sometimes, subtle details can have a major impact on a gun’s value.
Note: Remember to practice gun safety any time you are handling a firearm. Check that the gun is unloaded before you begin your inspection!
When you're inspecting your gun, you should be looking for the following details:
- Gun type: You should know whether you are selling a pistol, a rifle, a shotgun, or a muzzleloader!
- Action: The next category to look at is the kind of action. This is how the gun reloads, such as a single shot at a time, pump action, or fully automatic.
- Caliber: If this is marked on the gun, your job is easy, but if not, you may need to measure the diameter of the bore in the barrel.
- Measurements: Here you are looking for the length of the barrel, and the overall length of the gun.
- Identifying markings: This information can include the brand, the year and location of manufacture, serial numbers, and other invaluable identifiers. Some guns will have multiple serial numbers, and variations can indicate replacement parts that were added to the gun.
With this information, you'll be ready to identify the gun and be able to find the correct make and model when you are looking up the gun’s value.
Quality of workmanship can have a dramatic effect on a gun’s value
Evaluating the condition of your gun
But there is one more consideration to take into account, and this is the most important factor in the final gun’s value. Bluebook gun values are presented in a range based on the condition of the gun.
Gun condition isn’t a subjective evaluation; it isn’t a matter of opinion but determined by very specific standards. The National Rifle Association has the most commonly used gun condition standards, with two separate sets of criteria for modern and antique firearms. Modern guns are rated from new to fair:
NRA gun condition standards for modern guns:
- New: In unopened box, as if straight from the factory, never even sold.
- Perfect: Essentially new condition without provenance.
- Excellent: Lightly used, no visible wear, bluing nearly perfect.
- Very Good: In perfect working order, with only minor signs of wear or use.
- Good: The gun works safely, with only minor wear and nothing that interferes with function.
- Fair: The gun works and is safe, is very worn, but not rusted. May need some parts replaced.
Antique guns are rated from factory new to poor. NRA gun condition standards for antique guns:
- Factory new: Still in as-new condition, 100 percent original finish, and all original parts.
- Excellent: No less than 80 percent of the original finish, all original parts, and minimal wear.
- Fine: More than 30 percent original finish, minor marks in the wood and a good bore.
- Very Good: All original parts, up to 30 percent of original finish, but may have none.
- Good: Minor replacement parts, some rust, markings legible in good working order.
- Fair: Has some major replacement parts, may need additional repairs, has heavy wear and some damage, but in working order.
- Poor: Has some major replacement parts, needs major repairs, has heavy wear and damage, not even in working order.
- Trade in: This will be your best value for a gun you aren’t using anymore. Depending upon how desirable the gun is, you might even get close to the half-of-retail.
- Cash sale: You should only expect to get 30 to 40 percent of the retail value.
- Colt percussion revolvers
- Colt Single Action Army
- Pre-1964 Winchesters
- Early auto pistols in nice original condition
- Large frame Smith & Wesson top-breaks
- US military arms
- Original percussion & flintlock rifles
- Fine double shotguns
- Military surplus rifles
- Trade name guns
- Custom guns
The determination of a gun’s actual condition is done by a professional, and as a rule of thumb, you should expect that the professional's assessment will be a condition level or two below what you think it should be.
Note: One mistake that is often made with antique guns is to try and clean the patina from a collectible gun to make it look shiny and bright. Since the remaining portion of the original finish is one of the primary factors in the rating of an antique gun, there isn’t a faster way to destroy its value!
Calculating the trade-in value of your gun
The gun value that you pick up from the bluebook, or online equivalents such as gunbroker.com or armslist.com, represent the retail value of the gun. When you sell your gun,, the middle men need to make their profit which means, as it always does with traders, guns, and money, buying cheap.
You should expect to start your negotiating at half of the retail value of the gun, but don’t expect to get it!
At the end of the day, you're the one who will have to decide if the offer is worth the gun’s value to you. You don’t have to accept an offer, but having realistic expectations regarding the amount to expect will help with the shock when you hear the first offer.
With these Colt pistols, brand recognition can improve the value of a gun
Recognizing valuable guns
Just like any kind of collectible, collecting and selling guns are a very deep field. While it would be impossible to list every kind of valuable gun, there are some loose guidelines to the kinds of guns that are considered valuable:
In general, any rare gun by a quality manufacturer should be valuable.
There are also some kinds of guns that you should avoid, as they typically don’t fold on to their value, such as:
When you’re trying to trade these kinds of guns, don’t expect to see much return from them!
If you need help determining a gun’s value before a sale, or if you have other firearms questions that you want answered, you can trust the Experts on JustAnswer to give you unbiased information, and help you make the most informed sale that you can.