How do I find an item I want? First, you should log on to one of the auction sites and select the search option. Enter the make, model and caliber of an item you are looking for. Such as: “winchester 1873 .45”, “1898 mauser 7mm”, or “colt 1903 .32” No need to use caps or punctuation, as the search does not use them. This will show you current listings matching your selection. Hopefully, there are several listings to view. It will also be helpful to do another search of closed auctions to see prices that were actually realized on your item.
Do a closed auction search going back as far as the site will allow. This can be up to 90 days. If you are looking for a collectible firearm then you also need to do your own research first, to be sure if the item you are viewing is correct. This can be done on any of the hundreds of sites devoted to specific manufacturers, models or countries of origin. Don’t hesitate to email a seller questions about his stuff. If he is a regular seller of collectibles, he should know the important details and address them in his auction description. Some sellers, like pawn shops or small retailers, don’t know what they are selling so you might need to ask detailed questions. Sellers who fail to respond to questions or are vague with answers should be avoided.
I want to hold and feel an item I’m about to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on. This point is hard to talk someone out of. The fact is that your local dealer or gun show may never have the item you want. Would you rather never have it or take the chance and buy one only viewed in digital pictures?
A good seller will invest in a quality digital camera and learn how to take detailed pictures with it. I show close ups of markings and other important details. I always show rust spotting, small cracks or dents in the wood or other blemishes on the firearm. I have seen sellers whose listings show lousy pictures that are dark or fuzzy and lack up close views of important markings.
Here is where the feedback on an Internet seller will be helpful. Most Internet auction sites have a system where buyers can publicly post their satisfaction with the seller and the merchandise they bought from them. A well established seller can have thousands of feedback reports.
Positive feedback will usually mention that the seller uses accurate descriptions, gives excellent service and ships quickly. Negative feedback can come from poor descriptions or pictures of an item, refusal to accept returns, or outright fraud. If a seller gets too many negatives, the site will kick them off completely. If a few negatives appear on an otherwise impressive total, read them with the understanding that it is impossible to make everyone happy. Some buyers are hesitant to buy from new sellers or those with few feedbacks. That would have to be your judgment call. Some of the best deals will be from new, inexperienced sellers.
OK, I found my dream gun, is it time to bid? Not yet. Before you get ready to bid, you should line up an FFL dealer to receive the firearm for you. A non-licensed individual cannot receive a firearm in interstate shipment. However, if the gun you want is in your home state, you can arrange to see it in person or buy it directly from the seller. You will need to be prepared to go to the seller’s place of business if they are a retail dealer. Or, if they are not an FFL dealer you can buy the gun directly, if person-to-person transfers are legal in you your state.
GunBroker and Auction Arms both have lists of FFL holders who will handle out of state transfers. Just enter your zip code and they provide a list of nearby dealers. Some large shops refuse to handle transfers because they believe it cuts into their business. As though they think you might be ready to buy their new Glock when you are looking for a WWII issue Luger that they don’t have and would never buy. Too bad, as this alienates potential customers that might return to buy something out of their stock.
How much will the transfer cost? This varies a lot by region. $10 – $25 in most areas will get you a transfer. But in places like California and New Jersey you might pay $50 – $100. There just are not many FFLs left in these anti-gun utopias. You also need to ask if they collect sales tax on a transfer. Some states expect the FFL to collect the tax as though he sold the item, even if he is acting only as a receiving agent and you paid the seller directly.
You also will want to ask if they will receive a firearm from a non-FFL seller. It is not illegal under federal law or in most states for a non-FFL individual to ship a firearm to another state as long as it is shipped to an FFL. A photocopy of the seller’s ID is usually enough to establish identity. Some transfer dealers do not want to receive a gun from a non-licensed individual. You might need to ask the seller if he is a dealer before you bid on his item. It is also wise to ask about the seller’s return policy if this is not stated in the auction.
Once you have a transfer FFL lined up, it is time to join the game. It can be frustrating, just like a live auction. There are many strategies involved in when to bid. Some will wait until the last minutes of an auction so as to not draw attention to the item they want. I say just decide what you are willing to pay and place your bid. If someone is going to bid more it really does not matter when it happens. There are deals to be had. It just takes time and patience.
About the Author: Phillip Peterson is a federally-licensed firearms dealer with more than 20 years' experience in buying, selling and trading antique and collectible military weapons. He is also a popular columnist for Gun Digest the Magazine.
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