Many people have older firearms, and even sometimes a newer firearm that looks a bit rough, or maybe even just traded for another firearm, something that you just don’t really know the true condition of the firearm as it was used by someone else. Many times the firearm is just fine, but regardless the firearm should be inspected to make sure it is operating correctly, and safe to fire. Be this something you do yourself or you bring in for us to look at; there are a few key things to check on your newly acquired firearm before shooting it.
Make sure the firearm is unloaded before you inspect it!
This should go without saying, but the number of times we have customers bring in loaded guns for us to look at is too damn high. So remove the magazine from the firearm, and check the chamber to be empty before proceeding.
Check for bore obstructions
Check your barrel to make sure you can see light at the other end. It doesn’t matter if it is grease, dirt, or a bullet stuck down the barrel, it will create back pressure and blow up. Your gun doesn’t care why or what it’s plugged with, just that it is. If the obstruction doesn’t come out with a cleaning patch or a jag, then bring it in to us to investigate and attempt removal. Incorrect removal techniques on obstructions will only cause more damage to the firearm.
Check for proper operation
The firearm must work correctly to fire as well as be safe to use. Check that the bolt, slide, or charging handle operates freely and without hangups or hesitation. Make sure that the safety engages and that the firearm does not fire with the safety turned on. Make sure that attempting to fire with the safety on does not disengage the safety as well. Ensure magazines fit and remove from the firearm correctly. Look for marks and indications that the fire control components might have been modified or tampered with. Sometimes people will attempt to do a trigger job or lighten a trigger to a point that the firearm can become unsafe. Part of this check should be engaging the safety on the firearm and giving it a good solid thump. Weakened fire control components will often discharge the firearm when subjected to a solid bump or jarring. A gun that is unsafe no matter the age or condition is unsafe for firing or use, and should be corrected or made unable to fire to prevent a potentially deadly accident from occurring.
Check for rust, cracking, signs of fatigue
If you can see pitting, deep rust, cracked metal, or other signs of metals stressing… chances are it’s not safe to shoot either. Some pitting is alright and can allow a firearm to still be shot and used, it’s a matter of where, on what, and how deep the pitting is that can change a simply neglected gun into an unsafe gun. If you see any signs of the above, you should have it looked at by a gunsmith. Even a cracked stock will worsen unless you attend to it, just like the metal on the firearm. No one wants a gun to blow up on them, and no one wants a sharp piece of wood from a broken stock going into their shoulder or face when it shatters under recoil.
Be sure of what the firearm is chambered for
The number of firearms that have been reworked, re-barreled, or re-chambered and don’t have the correct designations on them is surprisingly high. It’s not uncommon for us to see an AR-15 or even old hunting rifles with no markings on the barrel for it’s chambering. Many times if it is marked it is going to be as marked, but it doesn’t hurt to check the head-space to make sure that it is safe to fire as well as give you confirmation that it is as advertised. If a barrel is not marked, usually the only way to verify the chamber dimensions is to do a cast and take measurements to confirm what it is setup for. Specialty metals are used specifically for this purpose so as to not cause damage to the firearm and to reduce shrinking (or expansion) of materials to make sure you get the most accurate measurements possible for cross reference.
There is alot more details to go over when inspecting a firearm as well. But those are all key things needed just to make sure the firearm is safe for use. Other things can affect performance, behavior, or even show indications of a firearm that is on the verge of failing that an experienced gunsmith is going to be able to identify. Signs of where someone else got into a firearm and might have tampered with something, stress indicators, lockup tolerances and slop within components. All indicators that the firearm is having trouble in a specific area that is far too much to go into for a post on the internet. If you are ever unsure if your firearm is unsafe to fire then you should bring it by an experienced gunsmith for a proper inspection. Most will offer that as part of their cleaning service to make sure you are getting a firearm back in your hands that is safe to fire.