There are some real shysters out there, folks. And they want your guns.
Here’s a scene that occurred in my neighborhood. A retired gentleman, who had previously worked in law enforcement, owned a fine gun collection. He died of natural causes while out at the rifle range with his buddies.
Within a few hours, a local gun “collector” turned up on the new widow’s doorstep, inquiring as to whether she would sell her deceased husband’s guns. He wanted to take advantage of a grieving widow’s ignorance of gun values.
Often, used car salesmen use the obituaries as a tool, scouting for that vulnerable widow with a Chevy in the shed. I heard about one salesman in Minnesota who hit the jackpot, when the used Chevy turned out to be a vintage Corvette that he purchased for a song.
But back to the point: If you inherit a collection of guns, treat it like you would treat a set of fine antiques. If you do not have documentation about the appraised value of the collection, spend the time and money to hire a qualified appraiser.
If you want to have it appraised, first decide on why you want to have it appraised. Will you need an appraisal for insurance purposes? Would you like to have an appraisal because you want to know the collection’s market value? Or, are you planning on donating the firearms to a charitable organization or museum? The appraisal fee for charitable donations may be deductible.
When searching for an appraiser, do not hesitate to ask for his qualifications, experience and references. Get more than one appraisal, and if you want to check on the values, either buy the latest edition of Blue Book of Gun Values, or check online.
Another good general price guide is Standard Catalog of Firearms. Useful specialty guides include Standard Catalog of Military Firearms, Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms, Blue Book of Black Powder Values, Blue Book of Air Guns and Standard Catalog of S&W. Make sure the edition you are referencing has a recent publication date.
The NRA also offers a set of standards for rating modern and antique firearms that might help you determine the gun’s value.
NRA National Firearms Museum Director Jim Supica says, “Next to the hearse-chasing gun vultures, the second worst affliction for families selling a collection are ‘cherry-pickers.’ When a family tries to liquidate a collection themselves without expert help, the best pieces are snatched up at well-below market prices, leaving the undesirable ‘cats and dogs’ lingering.” Supica recommends selling or consigning the entire collection, rather than piecing it out, letting the good pieces carry the weaker ones.
He also recommends that if a gun has not been fired, leave it unfired. Don’t even dry-fire it. He says, “Even if the gun has never been fired, if the action has been worked to the extent that wear is visible, the value may be less than ‘NIB’ [new in the box] or ‘AS NEW’ to a collector. For example, the faint drag line that appears on the cylinder of a revolver that has been ‘dry-fired’ a few times will reduce the value to less than ‘AS NEW’ for a condition purist on an out-of-production revolver.”
Supica says you should keep the original box, because purists prefer the gun to be in its original box, which often had a serial number penciled on the bottom or marked at the end of the box by the factory.
Until you decide what to do with your collection, store it safely. If you do not have a gun safe, you could ask a reputable gunsmith to safeguard the guns for you. Another shady deal that dupes ignorant gun owners is the federal government and its support of gun buy-back programs. Bill Clinton’s program started in 1999, with 15 million tax dollars and this quote: “"Every gun turned in through a buy-back program means potentially one less tragedy." Not long after that program started, the Washington Post stated, “Studies show that law breakers rarely surrender their weapons to buy-back programs and that many people who do sell their guns have other firearms at home, or soon buy new ones."
Instead of offering the gun owner a fair market price for collectibles and valuable firearms, law enforcement agencies buy guns back for ludicrously low prices. And, to add insult to injury, no one knows how many crimes were committed in order to collect the guns for the buy-back program—which has a “no questions asked,” or a Clintonian “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.” policy.
If you decide to sell your guns, you should determine if your guns should be transferred through a Federal Firearms License holder. If you are not confident to do the research required before selling a firearm, check with your local Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms office.
An auction held by a firearms specialty auction house is a good means of liquidating a substantial collection. You can attend the auction and see the guns sell, but make sure to find an auctioneer with a Federal Firearms License and experience selling firearms. Supica says that if antique or collectible firearms are included in the collection, to consider one of the firearms auctioneers in the country that produces an illustrated catalog and good Web site listing. He explains, “This allows nationwide and international absentee bidding competition for the pieces that might sell too cheap if only local buyers are bidding.”
If you decide to keep the guns, make sure they’re cleaned properly before storage to prevent them from being damaged. Make sure they are stored in a dry, secure environment. If you are unsure of how to clean or store the guns, contact a local gunsmith for assistance.
Furthermore, if you own any guns, it’s always a good idea to take the time to record and photograph your collection; record each gun’s serial number. Supica suggests including the owner’s estimate of the value of each piece, along with the date of the estimate. This act will also prove beneficial for legal and insurance purposes should your collection be stolen. Include with your collection the name and contact information of a dealer, appraiser or auction house that you trust. Check to make sure that your personal property insurance will cover firearms, and will cover the total value of your collection.
Supica also recommends noting each gun’s historical significance. He says, “Take time to write it down now in a notarized statement. Keep the document with the gun.” Again, he reminds gun owners to identify each gun by its serial number and to explain how the aforementioned information is known. He concludes, “All too often, history is lost forever when a gun changes hands.”
Guns, like jewelry, have family histories. They need to be treated with respect, both in the field and in the home for obvious reasons. Guns also need to be valued, using the variables of dollars and “sense,” for their tangible and intangible worth.