The Most Enjoyable Gun Show in Ages

    Ian with a prize from the Phoenix gun buy-back

    Author, with a Kassnar .22 AR lookalike (complete with homemade folding stock). Photo ©2013 by Dean Weingarten.

    The Arizona state legislature recently passed a law requiring cities to sell guns they collect in gun buy-backs, rather than destroy them, as is typically done. The law has been passed but not yet gone into effect – so the city of Phoenix and the a group called Arizonans for Gun Safety set up a series of three buybacks to be held before the law took effect.

    AFGS provided $100,000 of private money, and they partnered with the local grocery chain Bashas to give people $100 grocery gift cards for functional guns, and $200 gift cards for functional “assault weapons” (which they defined as any detachable-mag semiauto in .223, .308, or 7.62×39). They got billboards and advertisement, and were all set to go. The first buyback was May 4th, at three locations around Phoenix. I wasn’t there, but news reports described it as a huge success, with more than $80,000 of gift cards traded for guns. I decided to make the trip into Phoenix for the second event, which was Saturday May 11th (because of the organizers’ dwindling cash supply, this was scaled back to a single location only). I had heard about folks going to buybacks to buy guns out from under the gun-grabbers by offering cash, and I figured it could be interesting to try.

    I arrived shortly after 10am (the scheduled opening time), with a wad of cash and some trepidation about how the police would react to my plans. I didn’t expect to come away with anything really valuable, but figured I might find a decent pump shotgun, or other general-purpose utility gun. Sign-waving public activism isn’t really my thing, so I was a bit uncomfortable with the whole deal. Well, I shouldn’t have been.

    The handful of uniformed police present had coned off the driveway for the church where the official buyback was. People coming to turn in guns would (in theory) pull up to the cones, tell the cops that they wanted to turn in a gun, and then be waved through down the driveway to a little tent to actually hand the gun over. We buyers weren’t allowed to go back there, or to interfere with the driveway turn-in. However, the cops were quite clear that they had no issue at all with us buying the guns first, though, as long as we didn’t obstruct someone from turning them in if they really wanted to. There was one officer who showed up an hour or so into the event who was clearly hostile, and made a point of threatening to arrest anyone who stepped off the curb – but even he loosened up by the afternoon.

    I can only describe the experience as a cross between a parade, gun show, and backyard BBQ with friends. When I arrived, both sides of the (residential) street were lined with people waving “CASH FOR GUNS” signs – at the midmorning peak, there were at least 80 opportunistic and enthusiastic buyers. In fact, the official turn-in had completely run out of gift cards almost as soon as they opened, so people coming through only had the options of turning in a gun for nothing at all, or selling to us for hard cash.

    We probably intimidated a few people (unintentionally), which was unfortunate, but the vast majority of people seemed very happy to deal. Basically, a car would come down the street toward the turn-in, and the driver would see the throng of sign-wavers offering cash instead of gift cards. They would pull over to the side of the street and stop, at which point they would be gently but determinedly mobbed by 6-10 eager potential buyers. They would show us what they had to turn in, and people would either pass the gun around or take turns looking at it through the seller’s open car window. Someone would make an offer, which might be accepted or haggled on. The really good stuff got counter offers and bidding going between buyers, right there on the curb. It was the most fun gun show I’ve been to in a very long time.

    The buyers who were there (overwhelmingly white males 18-40, like myself) were all polite, good natured, and friendly (even the hostile police office would vouch for that – as far as I saw he wasn’t able to actually cite anyone for anything, as much as he clearly would have liked to). I spent the morning wandering up and down the street (between approaching sellers), and would randomly stop to chat up groups of buyers – “So, you get anything cool?” Without exception, everyone I talked to was happy to share their good or bad luck, and show off the really good scores they had gotten. One fellow got a Winchester 1897 pump shotgun (dirty, but in working order) for nothing at all – the owner just wanted to get rid of it and turned down the offered greenbacks. A Colt Delta Elite 1911 in 10mm went for $117. A nice ban-era MAK-90 AK for $80. The really screaming deals didn’t come when crowds of buyers were counter-bidding each other, but I think just about everyone went home with something new.

    My own personal score of the day came when an older couple in an Oldsmobile showed up with a WWII bringback P38. Original holster (cut up by the GI owner, unfortunately), two wartime mags, matching Walther production from the very end of the war (high B-series serial number). I would have gotten it for $200 had it not been for the 10 guys breathing over my shoulder, but I ended up taking it home for $350. I wanted to tell the lady that I though it was a travesty to take a family heirloom like a vet’s WWII trophy and have the police destroy it…but I settled for giving her cash and a thank-you-ma’am instead. It has a home now where it will be appreciated, and isn’t that what all guns deserve?

    Walther bring-back P38rescued from the Phoenix gun buyback

    My WWII bring-back P38. Made by Walther in 1945, with a serial number that puts it only about 5000 guns before the factory was overrun by the French.

    The attendees were a mix of people with different motivations, as you might expect:

    • Ideological gun-haters who had somehow come into possession of a gun and wanted it destroyed – maybe 5%
    • Genuine shooters taking advantage of the chance to dump worthless junk guns so they could put their grocery money into better ones – about 15%
    • People who simply had no concept of guns or shooting, didn’t like the idea of have guns around, and wanted a simple way to dispose of them – the definite majority, probably 80%

    That last group in particular was happy to consider selling to us, which is part of what made the event such a great experience. Some of those folks would happily take offers that were nearly highway robbery, and some of them wised up and would drive the whole length of the street, taking bids from all of us until they got what they thought was the best price. I would like to think the event was a win-win for everyone, because many of those folks got more than a $100 gift card for their guns, and we buyers got some great deals at the same time.

    I only encountered one hard-core ideologue myself, who refused to even tell us what she had, insisting that she would only hand it over to a cop.  She left planning to walk into a police station with whatever it was.

    Did I mention what a great bunch of people the buyers were? I didn’t see a single person being rude or argumentative, even when bidding wars were going down. It was like bears pulling salmon from a stream – everyone was having a great time talking wheeling and dealing, and if you missed your chance at a particular gun, well, there was always another car coming down the street with something else.

    Most of the guns really were junk. I saw a lifetime’s worth of Davis, Jenning, Bryco, and Lorcin automatics. There were more RG Model 31 revolvers than in that one morning than I’ve in the rest of my life put together. Lots of single-barrel break action shotguns, and a few rusty side-by-sides. one or two sporterized Mosins. The good items were scarcer, but I saw a pristine Russian Makarov (the owner wanted to get rid of it because he couldn’t figure out how to get the magazine out), a brand new Taurus TCP with extra mags and ammo, and others. Small handguns were a significant majority, followed by simple shotguns and .22 rifles. Centerfire rifles were few and far between – I saw two Mosins, the afore-mentioned MAK-90, and heard about a Mauser of some vague type. The media reports describe pretty much the same distribution of guns – in the first weekend they took in about 800 (private buyers probably get nearly that many as well, if not more), and only claimed 10 to be “assault rifles”.

    My only regret about the whole event? I forgot to wear sunscreen. If they do another one of these buybacks near me (and I hope they do), you can bet I’ll be there!

    Ian McCollum

    Ian McCollum lives in Arizona, where he spends his time searching out rare, unusual, and experimental firearms for his daily blog at His shooting background is in bullseye pistol, and before becoming a full-time gun writer he worked in the solar power industry.