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How To Inspect A New Firearm Before Transfer

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It’s no secret that a huge portion of firearm sales now happen online. The days of strolling into your local gun shop and picking something off the wall may not be gone, but for most consumers, that’s no longer their shopping norm.

Because of this, most gun owners are aware of how the online gun-buying process works. You find the gun you want online, place your order, and then a few days later stroll down to your favorite FFL, fill out a few forms, and take your new pistol or rifle home.

Unfortunately, there is a middle step that gets skipped far too often: inspecting the firearm.

Nearly every online retailer will include in their instructions, terms and conditions, or order confirmations a plea for buyers to inspect the goods they receive before signing for them and taking them home. The reason is simple—once the form 4473 is completed and the firearm has passed into the possession of the buyer, remedying any issues becomes a whole lot harder.

The trouble is, this request rarely comes with any kind of instructions on how to inspect the firearm, or what to look for.


How to Inspect Your Firearm

Inspecting a firearm is not a complicated task, but sadly, it’s probably the most consistently skipped step of the buying process. Too often, buyers will spend weeks researching models, agonizing over color and caliber options, only to sign the papers without so much as opening the box in the gun store.

Often, this is simply due to excitement. Your new gun has arrived, and you understandably want to get it processed and hit the range as soon as possible. But, this is one of the many times that an ounce of prevention can be worth a pound of cure, so buyers would do well to exercise a bit of patience to ensure that what they’re taking home is correct, complete, and functional before accepting it.

Other times, this step gets skipped because buyers (often new firearm owners) simply don’t know how to inspect their gun, or what to look for. If you’ve bought something eclectic and don’t yet know how it works or how to break it down, inspecting it thoroughly will be difficult—even more so if the gun store is busy and the employees are pressuring you to get done and get out as quickly as possible.

Regardless of the reason, skipping the inspection is never a good idea. You only get one chance to nip problems in the bud before taking possession of the firearm.

To properly inspect a new firearm, there are five key things to look at.


First and foremost, you need to be sure that you have the right gun. You might be surprised how often this goes wrong, either due to a mislabeling at the factory, an error in the retailer’s fulfillment software, or even just a gun store employee grabbing the wrong box off the shelf.

Check that you’ve received the correct firearm, including model, caliber, and serial number. Don’t just go by the box—verify that the markings on the firearm itself actually match the label.

For some firearms, this is as far as you need to go for this step, but others require closer inspection. AR-15s and other highly customizable firearms in particular demand a more thorough approach, as the difference between models can often be as subtle as a different handguard or upgraded trigger. Take the time to verify that the details of the firearm match the description of what you purchased.

For other firearms, such as certain handguns, you’ll want to verify things like the action type. HK handguns in particular are often available with a variety of action types, such as traditional DA/SA or LEM. The visual difference between these models is typically as simple as a bobbed hammer rather than a spurred one, which is easy to miss if you’re only looking to make sure you received the right pistol.


If the appearance of your firearm matters to you, take the time to review its aesthetic condition. This can be big things, such as getting the right color or Cerakote pattern, or smaller details like scratches or blemishes.

How much time you want to spend on this is up to you; if you’re a new pistol owner buying your first gun and know is going to get beat up and scratched through use and carry anyway, then a cursory glance for any glaring issues is probably sufficient. If, on the other hand, the gun you’ve purchased is rare, valuable, and destined to live the bulk of its life in a display case, you’ll want to put more effort into this inspection.

Go over the firearm from stock to muzzle, slowly. Carefully review each area before moving on. If you see something that looks incorrect or abnormal, ask the gun store employee assisting you. They often see dozens of hundreds of firearms a day and may have a better idea about what marks are normal or intentional, and what ones are defects.


Inspecting the firearm’s aesthetic condition is optional, but inspecting the function should not be. Before accepting the transfer of a new firearm, you should always perform a basic function check.

Start by clearing the firearm. Remove the magazine, if present, and check the chamber, ideally both visually and physically. If the firearm has an internal magazine—such as you might find in many shotguns—check that too. With the firearm safely cleared, point it in a safe direction, rack or cock it, and pull the trigger. The hammer or striker should fall, usually with an audible sound. Hold the trigger down and rerack or cock the firearm to verify that the trigger will reset properly.

Next, you’ll want to check the other controls on the firearm. If your gun has a safety, repeat the above steps, but engage the safety before pulling the trigger this time. The safety should prevent the firearm from discharging. If it doesn’t, put the firearm back in the box, walk away from the counter, and call the retailer. Do not accept an unsafe firearm for transfer.

For firearms without a safety or after you’ve function-checked the safety, check the other controls one by one. Insert a magazine and test that the release button works properly. For some firearms, you’ll want to take note of whether or not the magazine drops freely, as the failure to do so can indicate an issue. For other firearms, though, such as FN’s now-discontinued FS2000, the failure of the magazine to drop free is by design, so it’s not necessarily a problem.

Check each control individually, including the magazine release, bolt release, decocker, and/or charging handle as applicable.


Not all defects are immediately visible. Even if your firearm is spotless externally and functionally sound, the internals can still be hiding some unpleasant surprises.

It’s usually a good idea to perform a basic field-strip of the firearm to check for blemishes or damage inside the firearm. You don’t need to break it down into its individual parts, nor is it appropriate to do so on a gun store counter, so leave the tools at home. A standard field strip will suffice.

If you don’t know how to field strip your gun, look up the manual online for instructions or ask one of the employees. If it’s a fairly common model, they’ll usually know how to take it apart.

Once the firearm is disassembled, review the inside surfaces for unusual wear, missing finish, or damage. If you’re familiar with the firearm, it’s also worth taking a look at the connection points between internal components to ensure parts are correctly fitted and in-spec.


Lastly, review the firearm and packaging to be sure that everything stated in the description is actually included. Verify the number of magazines, the presence of a cleaning kit if included, and so on.

With most standard models, it’s rare for anything to be missing, but it’s not unheard of for kits that include extra magazines, carrying cases, or other accessories to arrive incomplete. The larger and more complex the overall package is, the more opportunities there are for error or oversight.

Once you leave the gun store, it becomes impossible for the retailer to know whether any missing components were actually absent, or if you merely misplaced them after the fact, so it’s essential that you perform this check and remedy any issues before accepting the firearm.

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The ability to purchase firearms online has thrown open the doors for everyday consumers, allowing them to access nearly every make and model of firearm on the civilian market. It’s an unquestionably positive development, but like all good things, it comes with a few challenges.

By inspecting your firearm before you transfer it, you arm yourself with the ability to address and correct any issues that may be present directly with the retailer, and without having to argue over whose responsibility it may be, or whether or not any damage was caused before the firearm left the store or after.

Inspecting a firearm for the five attributes listed above is an essential step for any responsible online gun buyer.