Where to buy:
Once you’ve selected a Kalashnikov that’s right for you, the next step is to acquire one of your own.
Nowadays we are lucky, in terms of all of the options we have at our disposal for this “acquisition phase.”
Let’s consider the pros and cons of three commonly accessible methods for buying a firearm:
>> Your local gun shop.
>> The Internet gun store.
>> The online gun auction.
The Traditional brick-and-mortar store:
We are all familiar, and perhaps most comfortable, with the experience of walking into a local shop to view and thoroughly scrutinize a firearm.
Physically handling and inspecting the item is the best way to satisfy yourself that you are getting what you pay for.
The biggest downside with this approach is that the Kalashnikov (AK-47) model or models you’re interested in may not be in stock at your local firearms retailer.
Then there is always the question of price.
If you’ve done your homework, you may find your local shop is asking more money than you might get elsewhere. From the standpoint of the shop, such is the reality of doing business when, as a dealer, you have to pay for a physical store with monthly rent, a standing inventory, staff, utility bills and so on.
In short, you’re paying a bit of a premium by buying locally, but you gain the benefit of having a local resource to fall back on, in case you experience problems with your new firearm.
You also have the benefit of being in a position to inspect the rifle.
Jim Fuller, founder of custom AK-builder Rifle Dynamics, is a big proponent of buying from brick-and-mortar shops because of this advantage.
He goes further by suggesting that if the shop has multiple models of the gun you’re looking for, you can scrutinize any number of rifles to pick the best of the lot.
You also might like the idea of supporting a business in your local community, which is a good thing.
On the other hand, you may have only one poorly stocked store in your area, or maybe even none close by.
What to do?
The Internet as a storefront
Welcome to the wonderful world of the Internet, where anything you might desire can be found with a few keystrokes.
Or so claims the usual marketing spiel.
In reality, the Internet can be both an advantage and a liability. The old adage, caveat emptor (“Let the buyer beware”) is vital to remember when buying online.
Let us say you are interested in buying a Saiga AK. Fire up your mobile device or computer and bring up your favorite search engine. Type into the search box: “Buy Saiga AK.” You’ll turn up several pages of links to pages for sales sites such as Gunbroker.com and Armlist.com, dealers such as Atlantic Firearms, various gun forums and the like.
(You may also consider typing in “Review Saiga” for test and evaluation articles and videos).
Next, assemble a list of sellers. You should contact each seller in turn to find out:
>> If they are offering what it is you are trying to buy.
>> If they have it in stock.
>> What their current pricing is, along with shipping charges and transfer fees.
>> Whether they will even ship the item to you at all.
Some sellers will not ship to certain states because of local regulations (or simply bias), or because they can’t be bothered with shipping “overseas” (Alaska and Hawaii).
It’s up to you to know your state and local laws. Don’t ask a seller to attempt anything that is illegal.
If you know that you can own a certain type of item (as in the case of Hawaii, rifle magazines with a capacity greater than 10 rounds) but the seller thinks otherwise, you can attempt to gently remedy this error in the seller’s accumulation of legal knowledge.
But be understanding. The sellers can lose a great deal if caught in the act of doing something illegal. Look at it from their side. Would you want to risk losing your business and possibly your freedom because you let yourself be persuaded to sell and ship somebody a $15 magazine?
I don’t think so. Neither does the seller.
Once you have narrowed your list of sellers, your next step is to determine if any of them have an unusual number of complaints filed against them.
You can use the familiar Internet search engines to check each seller for lists of complaints. Don’t be alarmed if most (or all) show a few.
Some complaints will be legitimate and some will not.
If promising sellers do seem to have accumulated a disproportionate number of complaints, it might be a good idea to contact the Better Business Bureau in their state. Or maybe just cross them off of your list.
When you’ve settled on a seller, and before you actually buy, you will have to find a local Federal Firearm License (FFL) holder that will accept transfer of the firearm.
Buying a firearm, or certain parts of firearms, is unlike buying anything else. When you seek to acquire a firearm, or certain parts of firearms, the actual transfer of the firearm or firearm parts must take place between FFL holders.
This generally means getting a gun shop involved with the transfer.
All stores that sell firearms must be associated with an FFL holder (usually via the store owner). However, that doesn’t mean they are legally bound to accept transfers on your behalf. This is an entirely voluntary activity on the part of the FFL holder.
Thus, it’s up to you to find a local FFL holder who will accept the transfer and process the paperwork. Most in my experience will charge a fee; generally anywhere from $10 to $50. Keep in mind that this covers the paperwork entailed in the transfer. You’ll have to coordinate the exchange of FFLs between the seller and whoever is acting as your agent. Once this is accomplished, and you’ve paid the seller and your agent, you can sit back and wait for your new firearm to arrive.
Buying through an online auction
Another vehicle you can use to purchase a Kalashnikov style firearm is the online auction. Gun auction sites can be great resources, not only for purchasing but for research as well. Don’t ignore them just because you’re not comfortable with the whole auction thing.
Over the years we have had occasion to purchase items from three of the big firearms auction sites:
All have their quirks and special features, though, in the end, we find GunBroker.com to have the most stuff available at any one time, and to be the best in terms of ease of access to useful information.
It’s easy to use GunBroker.com.
To search for what prices Saiga or other Kalashnikov-style rifles are selling for at present, simply go to the site and enter “Saiga AK” into the search box at the top of the home page. You’ll get something on the order of several hundred items that match the search terms.
One thing you’ll notice right away is that not all of the items that float to the top in the search are actually Saiga AK firearms or their parts. Some, in fact, will have nothing whatsoever to do with what you are looking for.
Sometimes this can be the result of using search terms that are too broad. However, in this case you’ll find that almost all of the “noise” is the result of some sellers putting key words in their auctions that have nothing whatsoever to do with what they are selling.
This is an annoying, somewhat underhanded ploy used by some sellers trying to get more people to see the items they are selling.
The default order for GunBroker.com search results is “Time left” for the auction. But for our purposes in using GunBroker as a research tool, the most interesting is to sort by “Bids,” because this can tell us what people are willing to pay for an item. There are lots of auctions on these types of websites with no bids, and that will never attract any bids. Some sellers will put the strangest old junk up on auction on these sites, and for prices that are utterly ridiculous.
Click on the “Bids” header twice, in order to get it to sort high-to-low. Then we can see what folks are interested in buying.
Be aware that most prices you see will not be anywhere close to the final until the last 15 minutes or so of the close of the auction. That’s when the serious buyers start their bidding in earnest.
Auctions can continue on within this 15-minute window for some time, if folks keep bidding. Every time a bid is submitted, the 15-minute clock is reset. It’s GunBroker’s equivalent of the “going … going … gone” of a traditional live auction.
If you decide you want to try to buy something on one of the auction sites, or you want to track the final sale price of items that look like they will sell, you’ll need to register on the site in question.
Registration on some sites is free. Others charge a nominal fee, usually less than $5; this is an attempt to make it less attractive for miscreants to run certain types of scams on the site.
You’ll also need to provide a valid email address, along with your physical address and phone number. Sellers will use this information when you buy stuff, so make sure it’s correct.
Once you have some information on the prices that various auction sites are registering for the Saiga AK you’re looking to buy, you can go back to the brick-and-mortar and Internet stores to see how their prices compare to the auction prices.
Or, if you are so inclined, and the price on GunBroker seems the most attractive, you can go ahead and try your hand at purchasing your Saiga AK via auction.
There are several different types of auctions on GunBroker. The most common is a straight auction in which the seller sets a starting price, anywhere from $0.01 to 100 percent of the suggested retail price and beyond. Your bid must at least meet the starting price, and then things will proceed from there.
Another type of auction is the “Buy now” auction. The seller sets a “Buy now” price, which is also a bid starting price.
If you think that price is fair, and/or you really must have the item, you can click the “Buy now” button for the item and you’ve won the auction. Otherwise, it functions the same as a straight auction.
The third type of auction is the “Reserve” auction. A seller will set a threshold price for the item, but that price is hidden from potential buyers. You can bid on the item, but unless you or another bidder meets the reserve price, the item will never sell.
Be careful not to bid higher than you are realistically willing to pay, because if you meet the reserve, the item will be yours unless some other buyer outbids you.
The sellers you’ll be willing to deal with as a buyer can depend to a certain extent on their GunBroker.com feedback rating. The same goes for the sellers when considering buyers.
Upon conclusion of each transaction that results in a sale, the winning buyer and the seller are encouraged to give each other a grade on how the transaction was handled, ranging from A+ (exceptional) to F (abysmal).
In theory, this gives everyone an idea of what kind of person they are dealing with. In practice it can be less useful than what was originally intended. Some parties can’t be bothered to rate anyone, good or bad. Some sellers will only give a buyer a good rating if the buyer gives them a good rating first. So the rating results tend to become skewed, and less useful than they would be if unbiased. But it’s better than nothing.
One good thing to look at is the comments that are left by the buyers as a part of their ratings. Click on the rating link for the seller, and scroll down the rating page when it appears. There you can get an idea of what kinds of recent problems buyers had with that seller. If you read between the lines of the comments, you can usually figure out what was going on.
Another check you can use is to click on the “Ask seller a question” link on the auction page for the item. This allows you to send an e-mail to the seller using GunBroker.com’s internal messaging system. Use this sparingly. Nobody likes to get constant series of nuisance questions. But if you are genuinely interested in buying the item, and can ask an intelligent question about it of the seller, their response (or lack thereof), can yield one more clue as to the character of the seller.
It’s fairly easy to get carried away on an auction site when bidding for an item. You don’t want to end up paying more than you intend. This risk is, in part, is what makes auctions exciting. In order to keep our purchases under control, it’s a good idea to set some rules for yourself before you go in. This is something akin to setting aside a stake before going to Las Vegas.
Let’s say for example you find the Saiga AK you want on GunBroker.com, the seller seems on the up-and-up, and the starting price looks good. You’ve done your homework and you know the maximum you should pay, keeping in mind that shipping and other charges that will be imposed beyond the purchase price (such as credit card fees, if any, plus your FFL’s handling fee).
One good strategy to consider if you don’t visit the auction site on a regular basis, is to set your maximum bid well before the auction closes. If it’s more than what the current bidder is offering and willing to offer, your bid will be registered above whatever the current bidder had set as maximum, and you will be high bidder.
Others can make bids, but as long as they don’t exceed your maximum bid by the minimum step value (set by the seller), the GunBroker bidding mechanism will make sure your bid stays above counter offers by that step value.
If somebody comes along and outbids your maximum, you’re out of the running. Do not go back and bid more, especially for a fairly common item like our hypothetical Saiga AK. More Saigas appear for sale all the time. You’ll have another chance, and maybe at a better price. Patience is the key.
A better strategy, if you tend to visit the auction site on a regular basis, is to put one or more auctions for the same item on your watch list, but don’t make any bids right away. Keep tabs on the ongoing bidding for each of the items, and also conduct new searches for that item each time you visit. That way you keep your options open until the very end, and are free to take advantage of new, better offers that come along.
Don’t actually bid on any item until you are within the last 15 minutes of the auction. If the bidding for an item on your watch list goes above what you are willing to spend, though you won’t bid on it you might still keep it on your watch list to see what price is finally realized for that auction. It can give you an idea of where prices are going for that item.
So let’s say your auction goes well, and you outbid all other contenders and win that Saiga AK. Now what?
You and your seller have five days to contact each other and arrange for completion of the sale.
Since you’re buying a firearm, you’ll need to arrange for the exchange of FFL information between the seller and your local FFL holder.
You need to settle on a mutually agreeable mechanism for payment with the seller, and possibly shipping and insurance.
Most of the time, communications are handled by email, but some sellers will prefer to speak with you on the telephone. Whichever method is chosen, be diligent in your communications, make all the arrangements in a timely manner, and do what you can to ensure that payment is made to the seller quickly and safely. This is how you earn your coveted A+ rating as a buyer.
Once you’ve paid, you can sit back and wait for your firearm to be delivered to your local FFL holder.
What happens after that depends upon the laws in your state and local municipality. Don’t forget to register the firearm, if that is what is required by local ordinance.
What if you win the auction and then decide you don’t want to go through with the purchase? Auction sites take this kind of thing very seriously. To them, winning an auction is the same as a legally binding purchase. While they can’t send lawyers or agents of the law after you if you refuse to complete the transaction, they can and will bar you from attempting to make further purchases on that site.
What if, after all of your research, it turns out that the buyer fails in some way to provide what you understood was promised? Auction sites take that seriously, too, but somewhat less seriously than when buyers fail to keep their end of the bargain. The reality is that auction sites do tend to side with those that provide them with their revenue stream, and that means that the sellers are given more leeway than buyers — “the benefit of the doubt,” as the saying goes.
It may not be acknowledged by the auction site, but it is how things end up working. Each site has its own grievance-redress procedure you must follow, if you hope to resolve the disagreement in anything like a satisfactory manner.
The first step, of course, is to try and deal directly with the seller. If something is wrong, honest sellers will usually try their best to fix things to the buyers’ satisfaction. After all, most of the sellers are in business, either full or part-time, and they want to stay that way. Collecting vast numbers of angry customers does not help guarantee much in the way of a prosperous future for a seller.
If all avenues fail in dealing directly with the seller, you may file a formal grievance with the auction site. The amount of time it takes to deal with the problem in this way can vary, but it’s never quick. In all of my years buying stuff on the auction sites, I’ve never had to file a grievance, and though I have been the victim of misrepresentation a couple of times, none of these incidents were serious enough to warrant escalation beyond the seller.
In any event, you might wish to give the seller a bad rating for a poorly handled or misleading transaction. Don’t forget to describe in the comments area, briefly, why you rated the seller in this way. It can help other potential buyers to avoid someone with bad business practices.
Don’t be surprised if the seller gives you a bad rating as well, or none at all. You may have done everything right and in a timely manner, but that won’t stop some sellers from trying to justify their bad behavior by blaming it all on you.
The good news is that more often than not, you’ll have a satisfactory experience on this site. I’ve purchased quite a few items over the years — and I’m still doing so.