Internet evaluations and other musings

Posted by Bruce Canfield

I seem to be hearing from an ever-growing number of guys who have purchased, or are considering purchasing, a U.S. military firearm and ask me to pass judgment on the weapon based on a description of the gun and/or some digital photos. I always try to be helpful, but as I explain in my replies, it simply isn’t possible to adequate evaluate a gun without a detailed physical examination. There are just too many variables and nuances involved that aren’t always apparent from even detailed photos. Sometimes there are glaring “red flags” and I may make mention of the most obvious ones but still cannot (or will not) give my opinion of the weapon in question.

As we may have discussed here before, the internet has totally changed martial arms (and virtually all other types of) collecting. Until ten or fifteen years ago, we collectors had to be content with visiting gun shows or perusing dealer’s printed catalogs to find the stuff we’re interested in. Today, there are a plethora of guns and related items a literal mouse-click away. Is this good or bad? The answer is “yes.”

It is good because we don’t have to spend an entire weekend, a questionable motel room, a couple of tanks of gas and crappy food to search out-of-town gun shows for new acquisitions to add to our collections. It is good because weapons that might never appear at even the larger shows are available at on-line gun auction/sales sites. It is good because it probably brings people into our collecting field that otherwise might not be exposed to the hobby.

It is bad because finding a “sleeper” or hidden bargain at an on-line site is almost never going to happen because too many potential buyers are scouring the sites and an obvious bargain will be snapped up quickly. It is bad because more and more potential purchasers will obviously drive up prices (of course what’s bad for a buyer can be good for a seller). It is bad because the very high (and still escalating) prices have proven to be irresistible to con artists who are eager to cash in on the popularity of the hobby. As one example, the vast majority of U.S. military shotguns I’ve recently seen for sale online are either outright fakes or have some “problems.” This is not to say that fakes weren’t around 30 years ago because they were, but certainly not the extent they are today. There’s just not as much incentive to fabricate a convincing fake of a $300 shotgun as it is for a $5,000 shotgun.

Like it or not, internet shopping for everything is here to stay. As discussed, it is a two-edge sword. Being able to Google almost any question and find out the answer in a few seconds is gratifying and we have all gotten spoiled with such instant gratification. Unfortunately, it just isn’t a reasonable expectation to get a valid evaluation of a collectible firearm by just sending a few photos and hoping to get a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” by return email. I would be very wary of anyone who would give an unequivocal answer in such a manner. 

On final piece of advice, if you do order a gun via the internet, make sure it comes with a reasonable return policy!

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