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Typically, when a new gun owner considers buying a new AR-15, the two most discussed avenues are purchasing a new rifle or building one from parts. However, there is a third, less-talked-about option: buying used. But is it safe to buy a used AR-15? Learn what to look for in a used AR, and find out how to recognize a worthwhile rifle.
Why Buy Used?
Many first-time gun owners do not possess the financial means to buy the latest new firearms on the market, especially when a good-quality complete AR-15 rifle costs somewhere between $1,000 and $1,200 on average.
These first-time gun owners may also lack the confidence or feel intimidated by the prospect of building a firearm from parts, especially for their first AR-15.
Much like with computers, it’s a tradeoff: you may save money by buying parts instead of a pre-built, but you still need the time and the skills to assemble them.
Therefore, gun owners on a budget must turn toward the used market. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to buy used guns, and AR-15s are plentiful.
What to Look for in a Used AR-15
AR-15s are known for their modularity and parts interchangeability. The quality and value of each part are essential to determine the gun’s overall worth.
Following these tips when searching for a used AR-15 allows you to discern the potentially good purchases from the lemons.
Where to buy a used AR-15
No matter if it’s your first AR-15 or your 20th; If you’re turning toward the used market for an AR-15, always be cautious.
- If possible, buy from a local gun shop or a local pawn shop and check whether they’ll allow you to inspect the firearm. Ideally, they should let you strip it (or do it for you if you don’t know how to) so you can visually inspect it.
- If the local shop has a range or similar accommodations letting you test-fire it, take advantage of it!
- If the AR you want to purchase has an owner’s log with a round count history, a parts list, and other recorded information about the gun’s life, that is a big plus. Not only does it allow you to learn the gun’s history, but it shows the previous owner was conscientious enough to pass this information on to the next owner.
- Be extra careful when buying used guns online. Check whether the platform you’re buying on offers a return policy or other customer protection guarantees.
- Ask for permission to inspect or strip the firearm yourself. If the shop or the current owner does not allow you to do so, pass on it.
General advice on used AR-15s
If you find a stock or near-stock AR-15 with minimal modifications, check the manufacturer and model name. It is crucial to know about the gun’s original MSRP and whether they are still in production.
If the asking price is low (less than half the original MSRP), it’s probably too good to be true. Unless you can extensively inspect and check the rifle yourself, it probably has too many issues and is not worth purchasing.
If it’s very high, check whether that particular model is rare or collectible. If it isn’t and doesn’t possess any desirable or high-dollar modifications, it is probably overpriced.
If the rifle is heavily modified or built from various parts, knowledge of each part’s manufacturers and their respective reputations should guide you. Don’t hesitate to do your research and ask for fellow gun owners’ opinions on the quality and expectations for specific brands and makers.
You should generally be wary of what the AR community calls “franken-builds” or “franken-guns” rifles cobbled together from an array of cheap and mismatched parts, so named because they are reminiscent of Frankenstein’s monster.
If you can inspect or strip the used AR-15 before buying it, follow these tips:
- Examine the overall exterior condition. Cosmetic issues such as scratches or worn finishes are not necessarily a bad thing, but keep an eye out for rust, pitting, or signs of wear and tear such as cracks or chipped parts.
- Check the pins, bushings, threadings, and other exposed metal parts for signs of rust or corrosion.
- Remove the handguards and check the barrel’s exterior for signs of rust or corrosion.
- Examine the rifle’s bore and check the condition of the rifling, keeping an eye for pitting or rust.
- Test the charging handle and check whether it works correctly. In doing so, check whether the bolt locks back, how the trigger feels and whether it resets correctly.
- If the action sounds gritty or chalky, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not every shop cleans or lubricates the used guns on display, and AR-15 actions tend to be noisy when dry.
- If present, check the condition of the accessory interfaces (Picatinny rails, Keymod, M-LOK, etc.) and make sure they don’t feature signs of damage.
- Function-check the fire selector and make sure it clicks positively and feels easy to actuate.
- Check the magazine release button and make sure the magazine drops free. If it doesn’t, check what type of magazine comes with the gun; some mags are notoriously thicker than standard GI mags and may not drop free even in a perfectly functional rifle.
- If present, test the collapsible stock and make sure it works and holds its position when shouldered.
Additional safety tips
If you’re inspecting the AR in a brick-and-mortar shop, don’t forget to respect gun shop etiquette.
If you’re meeting the previous owner for a private sale (person-to-person), there are several tips you can follow for your safety and peace of mind:
- Ask the seller to produce a bill of sale to keep a record of the transaction. Bills of sale may be a requirement in certain states. They provide legal protection for you if that firearm is lost or stolen, then recovered as evidence in a crime.
- You may ask a Federal Firearms License (FFL) holder (virtually every gun dealer and many pawn shops) to conduct a peace-of-mind transfer. The FFL can run NICS background checks on either party if required, reassuring all parties that neither buyer nor seller is a felon or an otherwise prohibited person.
- If the seller lives in another state, federal law requires the seller to transfer the gun to an FFL.
As long as you know your local, state, and federal laws and you know what to inspect, buying a used AR-15 is perfectly safe and an excellent way to find a good gun for a bargain.