What's My Gun Worth?

One of the most common, perpetually asked questions is “What is my gun worth?” It is constantly asked to the point of badgering and annoyance. It isn't helped by the lack of description that usually accompanies the question, for example, “It is in good condition.” Often, the question is accompanied by “Well, I don't want to sell it,” which might make you wonder what the excuse is to annoy people with the question in the first place.

Guns, in general, have been historically poor investments. To be sure, there are worse investments, like personal computers and electric razors, but guns often don't fare very well. You might see a gun for sale touted because “less than 100 were made!” Often, the reason a gun is rare or only a hundred were made is because the manufacturer just couldn't find sucker number 101 to buy one.

That $400 gun purchased new in 1980 is $1098.20 in 2011 dollars. That's just breaking even, adjusting for inflation. If you had bought $10,000 of Walmart stock in 1980, today you'd own upwards of 74,472 shares worth $3.9 million with an annual dividend check of $108,729 or so. Certainly, there are exceptions, and guns are better to collect than leisure suits, eight-track tapes, and pet rocks. In general, they are poor investments.

There are several resources available to at least get a rough idea of what a gun might be worth, though. They include the Blue Book of Gun Values, now in its 32nd edition that you can find at https://store.bluebookinc.com and most major booksellers. Another particularly good resource is the Standard Catalog of Firearms: The Collector's Price & Reference Guide, now in its 22nd edition. For older firearms, Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values has always been a very good resource. If you are serious at all about gun values, one or all of these reference works is mandatory. It sure beats irritating innocent fellow shooters with the hoary “what's it worth” type of nagging.

The problem with reference books is they are of course outdated before they are actually printed, condemned to document the past rather than foretell the future. Still, anyone can easily check online auction sites like Gunbroker.com to get a handle on what a specific model actually has recently sold for, not what it is listed at. Firearms in 99% condition listed at attractive prices sell easily. Those listed at full “book” retail value often never do sell.

Gun buyers are notoriously fickle. Often, very few folks want something until it is discontinued or random government regulations say they can't have it. As soon as folks think they can't have it, then of course they want it badly. It was that way with two dollar “pre-ban” full capacity magazines that sold for $150 just because there was a ban. Some junk-level guns, like the Chinese SKS rifles spit out by the millions, used to sell for a couple hundred dollars per case of ten, and few could stand owning them. Now, a used Norinco SKS in “very good plus” condition will bring $300. Still junk, but we often buy for reasons that make no sense.
The vast majority of firearms sold today are utilitarian, working class models, the same as it has always been. Mass-produced guns have “shooting value,” of course, but little beyond that. A couple of the more interesting shotguns, at least to me, are Browning Double Autos and the Winchester Super-X Model One. According to the 2006 Standard Catalog of Firearm Values, an “excellent” Double Auto Twelvette is $675, an “excellent” Super-X Model One is $500. They haven't kept up with inflation for the last six years, much less actually increased in value. A Browning Citori 525 Sporting is called out as $2320 for “New In Box” in the same 2006 book. Now, six years later, the just released Browning 725 Sporting, a far superior gun in my estimation, can be had for $2600, the field model for quite a bit less. If you just bought a 525 thinking that that it was worth $2300 six years ago, it isn't. Lightly used 525 Sportings sell for $1400, not what the “book” of six years ago said which was $1725 for “excellent.”

Shotguns and slug guns have particularly hard hit in value, as a matter of general usefulness. If a shotgun isn't rated for steel shotshells and doesn't have screw-chokes, it isn't useable in many areas so even “shooting value” takes a hit. The notion of buying guns to “pass down someday” is often ill-advised. If we aren't hunting and shooting with our families right now, what makes us think anyone would want our old guns? Time and time again, I see widows and heirs that just want to get rid of the things, as they received no enjoyment from them in the past, there is nothing to expect in the future from them. It is no heirloom when the heirs don't want the loom.

Nevertheless, there are solid values out there. As certain models of firearms jump in price, the older models do tend to follow a bit. That is assuming they are of good quality, reputation, and aren't known to have common issues. If that new plastic autoloading shotgun goes for $1500, that old 303 or B-80 for $400 starts looking better all the time. If the new plastic stocked rifle offends your delicate sensibilities, an older model with a good piece of walnut and obvious handwork starts looking pretty good as well.

In any case, educating yourself with the standard reference texts and a little independent research is going to make you a far more savvy gun buyer, and whether you are buying or selling it will at least get you in the ballpark. Condition is still one of the most important properties of a used firearm. Something like 95% or better wood and blue is desirable for modern guns, anything below that really diminishes value. Just like an automobile with dents, dings, and corrosion . . . a beat-up old gun is nothing that instills pride of ownership or is easy to look at, and soon it diminishes to the level of a neglected tool, for that's essentially what it is. There isn't much motivation to wax an Earl Scheib paint job, nor is there great motivation to maintain a pitted old gun. Metal is hard to sand back on.

One question that comes up quite a bit is insurance. Normally, it isn't that tough. Armed with a digital camera, it is very easy to accurately document your gun collection. Blue Book values are sufficient for insurance purposes, after all “replacement value” is what you want your firearms insured for. You'll typically pay a percentage of the whatever rider coverage you have for your gun collection annually, just like insuring any other personal property. What an individual gun is “worth” can never be known unless you actually sell it, but that isn't the notion of insurance. It is simply what it costs you to replace it.



Copyright 2012 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.


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