Welcome to the Military Surplus Arms installment of the First Firearm series. For those not familiar with the series, we cover a different aspect of firearms and give you things to consider if it’s to be your very first firearm ever or the first of the type of firearm we’re discussing. For those that might not be sure what I mean by “Surplus” guns, a surplus gun is typically a government-issued firearm no longer in service. It is in surplus due to it’s being stored away after being replaced by something else. In these latter times, surplus guns came in waves by various countries selling off old hoards of rifles or handguns they no longer felt a need to hold onto. A few examples of military surplus rifles are British Lee Enfield, Japanese Arisaka, German K98, and the Swiss K31. A few examples of surplus handguns are Webley Mk VI, U.S. M1911, Browning Hi-Power and the U.S. M1917.
FIRST FIREARM: MILITARY SURPLUS FIREARMS
First, the bad news. If you’ve heard about guys buying surplus rifles or handguns for $100 or less, it’s true. Unfortunately, though, those days are most likely gone. I’ll not say that it’s impossible that the flood gates could open again from countries X, Y, or Z, but the general consensus is that most of the surplus arms have either dried up, or they’ve been deemed too fun for us to have and will most likely be crushed, torched, or melted down. The last waves of crazy-affordable surplus guns came from Russia in the form of Mosin-Nagant rifles and M1895 Nagant revolvers. Each could be had for around $100. Those prices are gone, aside from leftover magazine advertisements taunting us from the pages of history.
FROM THE HISTORY BOOKS, TO YOUR HANDS
It’s not all doom and gloom though. There are still plenty of surplus guns around to be had, just not in boatloads at bargain bin prices. Your local gun store or gun shows may carry some from time to time. If not, you can also check online firearm auctions or dedicated firearms forums. I have two surplus rifles that are fun to shoot. If you want to start with something outside the modern normal, being AR-15’s and modern pistols, a surplus gun is a possibility. Each scratch, ding or armory marking has a story to tell, even if you’ll never learn it. Surplus guns have character because they’ve been a part of something. Even if the firearm you settle on was never issued, it’s a copy of the ones that won or lost battles and it was made with winning in mind. For those in the United States, the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) is another option to check for U.S. surplus firearms, training or competitions.
CURIO & RELIC LICENSE
For those looking for your very first firearm, a Curio and Relic license (C&R) may not be something you want to dive into. However, if you’ve really got the itch to collect a lot of different pieces of history, a C&R license should be considered. For a $30 fee (good for three years), background check, and local law enforcement notification, you can begin to receive C&R eligible firearms at your door instead of having to pay a transfer fee through your local gun store. You can view the ATF’s website HERE for more information. Below is an excerpt from the ATF about C&R licensing:
To be recognized as C&R items, 478.11 specifies that firearms must fall within one of the following categories:
- Firearms which were manufactured at least 50 years prior to the current date, but not including replicas of such firearms;
- Firearms which are certified by the curator of a municipal, state, or federal museum which exhibits firearms to be curios or relics of museum interest; and
- Any other firearms which derive a substantial part of their monetary value from the fact that they are novel, rare, bizarre, or because of their association with some historical figure, period, or event.
Whether you have inherited a surplus firearm, or want to purchase one, it’s important to research the models you’re interested in. Not only does knowing more about your model bring more appreciation for the history behind it, but research can also make you aware of any safety concerns that others have noted over the years. One example of a safety concern is with the M1 Garand. The M1 Garand doesn’t stand up well to the pressures of modern .30-06 Springfield loads, but appropriate ammunition can be sourced or handloaded. There are also replacement parts that allow it to shoot modern loads. Having a gunsmith check the chamber for headspacing can be beneficial to knowing if the gun is still shootable.
If you’re looking for a surplus gun you’d like to shoot, you should also check on how available the ammunition is. There are a lot of old calibers still being made for surplus guns, but not always in the quantity to keep the price down, just ask a .357 SIG owner.
One nice thing about military surplus guns is that they look decent while on display. There’s just something to the look of steel and wood. Even if you do end up with a surplus gun that leaves you with safety concerns, parts malfunctions or a lack of ammunition supply, there are a number of ways to display them.
For readers that have not yet jumped into military surplus firearms, which one is calling to you? For those that have already started their surplus collection, which model would you recommend to someone looking for their first? Do you think another wave of affordable military surplus firearms will happen in the near future?