By now, many of you reading this should have attended a few gun shows. If not, you should go to one. All across the country these shows are meccas for shooting enthusiasts, survivalists, and gun collectors. Gun shows are great places to pick up items that you just can’t find anywhere else. But be warned, you won’t always get the best deal at a gun show unless you have the right tools and information before arriving at the show.
Here are a few tips and hints along with a little insider information so that you can get the most out of your next show. I have worked the gun show circuits in the Southeast for six years as a dealer and I have learned that the customers that are best prepared usually get the best deals. Of course you should already know that being prepared always has a better outcome, right?
Gun Show Arrival
Get to the show early on the first day, so that you will have the most inventory to choose from. If you decide on going to the show on the second day you will find that everything has been picked over, so don’t waste your time. If you can’t make it the first day, then you might not find what you need, and last minute end of the day deals are few and far between.
Remember to be respectful of the dealer’s products, ask before you touch, be polite and courteous. Remember they have spent hundreds of dollars for the tables, driven many miles and worked long hours setting up usually with a poor night’s sleep in a cheap hotel. The last thing they want to deal with is a “know it all” customer with an attitude that only finger fondles their stuff and then walks away.
Wear clothing with lots of pockets and that is comfortable. Wear a good pair of comfortable shoes as there will be lots of walking. Have a pen and paper just in case you need to make a note about a deal or a trade. Bring money, cash is king and credit cards are not always accepted. If they are accepted you can expect at least 3 or 4 percent “upcharge” fee to use your card, since that’s what it costs the dealer and you will pay for the convenience of using your card–whether it is a debit card or credit doesn’t matter. The ability for a dealer to accept plastic at a show is expensive and they will pass that expense along to you. If necessary stop by an ATM away from the show, since often the ATM at the show (if there is one) has high fees and limited funds.
Always carry a backpack; lugging plastic bags around can be uncomfortable a couple of empty gun rugs (zippered soft pistol cases) just in case and always have a good flashlight or bore inspection light and small magnifying glass, as most gun shows have poor lighting. Most of all use your smart phone for looking up prices, trends and information. Nothing is more disappointing than finding out that your deal wasn’t such a deal after you get home and look it up online.
Prepare to haggle over prices. Don’t be bashful, prices are often slightly inflated and the worst thing a dealer can say is “no”. Haggling is expected, so ask: “Is that the best you can do?” or “Do you have any wiggle room on that?” There is no harm in asking if it will save you a few dollars. Bundling multiple items is a great way to make a lower offer and get a great deal. It’s best to always know what you are looking at, so be informed and do your homework or look it up on your phone.
Be very careful as dealers will in fact lie to you. They will tell you a gun is new, when it is actually previously owned, they will take a factory refurbished guns and remove labels, selling them as new or they might tell you how only a few rounds were fired through a used gun when they really have no idea–and it could have been ten thousand rounds. Don’t just take their word for it–inspect guns closely. Most importantly be prepared to walk away if the price or condition is not right or you think they are being dishonest, there will always be another show and another deal.
Don’t bring distractions with you to the show, especially your kids or spouse. Even your know-nothing friends can keep you from being focused on your mission. [JWR Adds: Plan on making an extra gun show trip or two each year, dedicated to the education of your children. Don’t expect to buy much on these educational trips. But these forays will give your kids a wealth of knowledge. Dealers are often happy to share their knowledge, especially at quiet times, such as on Sunday afternoons.] Once inside the show, plan and navigate the show carefully and methodically, don’t wander around aimlessly or without focus. Make a quick sweep of the show and keep a sharp eye out for the items you came for. Be sure and take note of signs and landmarks so as not to get lost–believe me it happens. On your second go-around talk to the dealers, make conversation, sometimes they can provide you with valuable information and occasionally have items that are not out on the table or know of another dealer that might have just what you need. If a dealer asks, “Can I help you?” don’t say “I’m just looking” and saunter away. Tell him what you are interested in finding, and talk with them. They might actually be able to help you. I can’t tell you how many times customers tell me “I’m just looking” or even worse “I have to ask my wife” or “my wife will kill me.” How pathetic. If you honestly can’t walk into a gun show and spend money without asking your wife, then stay home and wash a load of clothes or do the dishes. Your wife will appreciate that.
Don’t buy things you can easily get somewhere else, unless of course the price is right. It is easy to be sucked into all the frenzy and spend your money on stuff you can get at any store. But you might then find a real gem at a bargain price but you will have already blown your budget on beef jerky and junk that you can get anywhere. Do not spend any money until you have closely examined everything at the show.
It is often thought that the best deals are made just before the close of the show on the last day; dealers are packing up and just want to make that last minute deal, right? Wrong. That’s an old school train of thought and it might have been the case back in the day, not necessarily true anymore. It can happen but many dealers have brick and mortar shops or sell their products online, so gun shows have become just supplemental to their business, not a primary source of income. Most dealers don’t really “need” to make that last minute sale. They have other more profitable means to sell their goods,they are ready to go home and don’t want to put up with your low ball offer in the last few minutes of the show.
Don’t Get in Trouble
Know the law and obey it. Remember crossing state lines to buy or sellany [post-1898] firearm is a felony [under Federal law] for private party sales. Any transactions of modern guns across states lines must be “to or through” a FFL dealer. Gun shows are known for having undercover law enforcement officers in the crowd. If a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Don’t buy anything that is questionable from anyone. I have seen fully automatic parts kits and those oil filter gun cleaning debris catcher “solvent traps” (suppressors) that are at least in my ind not something I even want my fingerprints on. If you are not fully informed of the law or licensed to possess an item, just keep walking. You don’t want to get that tap on the shoulder and a badge flashed. That just messes up your whole day.
Remember this: Dealers are not always in competition with each other, in some cases dealers are actually working in collusion. Dealers sometimes know each other can easily communicate by phone or text during the show. Many times I have had a call from a dealer a few tables down, the call goes something like this: “Hey there’s a guy trying to sell a Model 1911 .45 coming your way, I offered him $300.” This happens all the time. So don’t think that every dealer is completely independent of each other, they are not. They will work together to profit at your expense. I have had to buy quite a few beers at dinner for other dealers that provided me with a whisper call about a gun trade or sale.
After the Show
If there is something you like or don’t like about a gun show, maybe the fact that there are too many tables that are selling items not related to guns.If so, be sure to tell the show promoter about your concerns. Your comments and suggestions can make a difference in the quality of the dealers at your next gun show. You can usually find the promoter or manager at the entrance or just ask. They are glad hear what you have to say, positive or negative, let them know how you liked the show. – Prepper Ray in Lexington, SC
JWR Adds: I strongly agree with Ray about doing your homework. If you are considering buying a particular model of gun at an upcoming gun show, then spend a few evenings studying up on all of the details on model variations, production numbers, prices, and key inspection points before attending the show. If need be, print out hard copies of references and bring them with you. These references used as leverage, in price negotiations. I have authored and co-authored several can also be used as leverage, in price negotiations. BTW, I have authored and co-authored several FAQs on guns and ammunition that you might find useful to print out as references.
Preparedness-minded individuals are strongly encouraged to gain experience on both sides of the gun show table. Even if you don’t need any extra income, I recommend gathering up some extra items and renting a table at a local gun show for a weekend. By acting as the seller rather than the buyer, you’ll gain some very important skills and insights that could be crucial to a future barter-based economy. Haggling skills take time to develop. It also takes time to develop a smoothly-paced spielabout your merchandise. (There is a fine line between extolling the virtues of your merchandise, and being too pushy.) And you will learn to be observant for shoplifters. Most importantly, you will also soon develop a discerning eye about your customers–their backgrounds, their personalities, their motivations, their income levels, their intelligence, and their level of knowledge about guns. These are crucial “people skills” that might prove to be worth their weight in gold, in a post-collapse society.