Main street in Ada, Oklahoma, is like any other small-town main street in America. It's got several jewelry stores, restaurants, shoe stores, a theatre, women's boutiques, music shops, furniture, hardware stores and three pawn shops. Tiger Pawn is one of those family-owned pawn shops where everything in it isn't computerized and affixed with a bar code and price. Nope, owner/operator Terry Summers keeps everything that comes in and out of his store in his head. If you're looking for a ½-inch socket or a Van Halen CD, just fish around in the bins until you find it, then you hold it up for Terry for a price. Then you come back at him for a few dollars less and typically the item is yours. It's the same for guns.
America's pawn shops are laden with guns-old guns, antique guns, polymer pistols, Mossberg shotguns, 1911s, beat-up revolvers, Remington rifles, Ruger .22s and, occasionally, a collector's grade side-by-side that someone found in an attic and errantly pawned for peanuts. If you're savvy, good deals can be had at pawn shops.
“Most pawnbrokers will come off 20 percent,” said Summers. He's a huge guy with copious diamond rings and gold chains around his stumpy neck. He did a brief stint in the NFL lineman before getting hurt. He knows everyone in town, and I get the impression he does pretty well.
If you're in the market for a polymer pistol, why not shop for a used one? It's not like the wood will be dinged up. As long the gun doesn't look like it's been buried in the yard for a year or dragged behind a truck, who cares if the gun isn't still packed in grease?
Fact is, most people buy handgun because handguns are cool. They shoot a box of cartridges through it then stash it in a drawer. A few years later when they need some cash, they look at their TV and their Taurus and ask themselves with which they'd rather part.
“I get a bunch of Smith and Wessons, Springfields, Glocks, Remingtons,” says Terry.
In fact, there's a Springfield XD 9 in his glass case right now. It looks to be in great condition; likely someone bought it at retail for $550 then took a $300 hit on it because they needed the cash. Terry's asking $550. I check it out, see that it's barely been fired, and offer $350, knowing he can't expect full retail. He comes back at $500, but then I ask him about spare mags, the box, holster and mag holders that come with all new XDs. He says it's “as is”-meaning the gun and one mag. He settles at $425. If I would have actually bought this gun, I would have then filled out a 4473 form, submitted to the NICS background check (pawnbrokers are Federal Firearms Licensees), then I'd walk out with a Springfield XD that's already been broken in, but for $125 less than I would have spent at Bailey's Sporting Goods up the street. I need a spare magazine, however, so I'd buy one for $23 at Midwayusa.com.
Inspecting Pawn Shop Guns
One time I bought a Glock 23 from a pawn shop at a good price, but when I brought it home I had trouble disassembling it. Turns out, the corner of the slide was bent slightly, causing it to hang up before fully releasing from the slide rail. Had I taken the gun apart at the store, I would have seen this, and could have potentially haggled the pawnbroker down lower. As it were, I found a brass hammer and tapped the dent out. The gun works fine, and to this day it is my carry gun that I bought for 30 percent less than retail.
Before buying, disassemble the gun and inspect it. You are looking for cracks, dents, broken pieces of plastic and rust. Have a handkerchief or paper towel to wipe away grime and fouling. (You'll also likely need it for your hands soon afterward.) Hold the barrel up to a light and look at it. Even though it will likely be dirty with copper fouling, it should be smooth. Don't buy if you see pits or heavy rust. Reassemble the gun and try the trigger.
“We guarantee our guns will shoot,” said Summers.
Antique and wooden-stocked guns are a little trickier. Inspect the wood-to-metal finish for signs of replacement, mold or wear. Most wood-stock guns at pawnshops are going to have dings and “character,” but make sure the stock isn't warped or weakened.
For rifles that the barrel can't be removed, make sure the gun is unloaded, then take a piece of paper and place it in the open chamber so that it reflects light into the barrel. Look down the bore for signs of pitting. Ask if you can take the stock off. Inspect the action below the stock-line for rust-light rust can be cleaned, especially if it's a stainless-steel action-and inspect the stock bedding for cracks. Ask the pawn dealer if he'll let you shoot it before buying. The worst he can say is no.
Valuable old shotguns are even trickier. Just as when dealing in anything of great value, you need to know exactly what you're looking at, and recognize signs of alteration. An old Fox shotgun, for example, isn't worth nearly as much if the original stock has been replaced, so you should know this before negotiating.
What if it's Hot?
It's no secret that pawn shops have historically been a market for stolen goods. But reputable pawn shop owners try to minimize this, as their business is their livelihood. But, in the rare event that you buy anything from pawnshop, including a gun, and it turns out to be stolen, you are not liable.
“I will contact you and return your money before returning the gun to the police,” said Summers.
Of course, get a receipt for anything you purchase.
Tricks of the Trade:
Try to establish a relationship with a friendly pawnbroker who generally carries guns that interest you. If he has something you want and it's a fair price, don't haggle him every time. If he can make a few bucks off you occasionally, he'll be more likely to give you a deal too. He needs trustworthy clientele, just as you need trustworthy sources.
Ask him to keep an eye open for the types of items you're interested in, and ask him to contact you if he sees it. Help him out by sending other people to his shop. I've found that pawn shop dealings are very fun, because unlike retail gun stores, you never know what might show up-and prices are always negotiable.
“You can save money at a pawn shop,” said Summers. “That's the bottom line.”