by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

Part 1

This report covers:

• The shyster dealers
• Weasel wording
• Bad photos
• How to spot an honest dealer
• Honest vs. dishonest: What’s the verdict?

The shyster dealers
Today, let’s start out talking about those internet dealers who are less than honest. I’m not talking about the scammers who are certainly out there. They’re the people with nothing at all to sell. All they want is for you to send them money, and you’ll never hear from them again.

I’m talking about the dealers who do anything to mislead you about the real airguns they’re selling. They have actual guns to sell, but they describe them in dishonest ways. I’ve dealt with a few and discovered a great many others, so this should be interesting. Remember, I’m primarily talking about buying guns on the Gun Broker website, though this does apply to most websites where selling takes place.

Let’s begin with a downright lie. A fellow listed a beat-up old Remington cap-and-ball revolver for sale. The finish was gone and he said the lettering was worn off the top of the barrel — which is where Remington marked their cap-and-ball revolvers. It did say .44 cal. on the left side of the barrel in sharp letters, and the serial number was under the barrel where it is supposed to be. Too bad about the lost lettering on top!

Folks, that wasn’t a real Remington revolver. It was an Italian replica that was made in the 1960s, before the manufacturers worried about fakes. This company didn’t letter the tops of their guns — thinking that would be a big tipoff that they weren’t real. Well, the fakers got hold of these guns and weathered them to look like they’ve seen 140 years of hard use. No wonder the letters wore off — the hustlers say (and the suckers believe)!

I know this because I own two such revolvers myself. One, I bought knowing it was a fake, and the other was slipped to me in a deal where I got suckered. I kept both guns and often display them at gun shows, with full disclosure as to their counterfeit nature. Believe it or not, I’ve had several offers to buy one or both these guns, but I won’t sell them because I know how they can be used.

Weasel wording
I think this is the biggest clue that a dealer is dishonest. It’s even bigger than the dark pictures that are out of focus, though it usually accompanies them. The seller describes what he’s selling in such a way that you are mislead into thinking that it’s something it’s not. Here’s how it works. The condition of guns is critical to their value, and the NRA has published guidelines describing each condition. A gun that’s in good condition, for example, is in pretty bad shape as far as a collector is concerned. Good guns can have parts replaced and little or no original finish. Very good guns are quite a bit better than good guns, and excellent is the lowest condition most collectors want, unless the gun in question is very rare.

So, a dealer lists a gun as excellent in the title, causing many people to look at his listing. Then, as you read the listing, you see that he describes his gun as “excellent functioning condition.” That’s weasel wording at its best! A gun either functions or it doesn’t — excellent is not a part of that.

And these dealers go on to print many more half-truths to entice the gullible. One I like is the phrase “… great condition for its age,” or “… a fine gun, considering it is 84 years old.” Folks, you DON’T consider anything when you buy a gun. It is what it is — period. The seller should describe the condition — not temporize on why it’s so good, considering it’s hard life. If I reworded the phrases just a little you would see clearly how absurd they are — “.. this is a great car, considering it was under saltwater for a week.”

Another shyster trick is to give false hope in the description. “Rifling is faint, but should clean up better.” If it would clean up better, don’t you think the dealer would do that to sell the gun for more money?

And here’s my favorite. It’s the standard disclaimer of an airgun dealer on Gun Broker. In the descriptions there is this statement:

NONE of the guns have been tested for firing condition, so firing condition is assumed unknown, unless stated otherwise. I will NOT GUARANTEE the seals on vintage airguns, unless it has recently been resealed, even if the auction states that the gun was holding air (normally overnight), due to the o-rings being fragile and known to be failing due to age.

While this statement is not dishonest in any way, I think it’s a big cop-out. This dealer is saying that if you buy it, you own it, because none of his airguns have to work. He’s told you up front that they may not work, so now all responsibility is off him and onto you. Maybe this is a personal quirk of mine, but I won’t do business with someone who advertises this way.

And while we’re on the subject, what about the dealer who says that all his deals are final? No returns for any reasons unless the item you received was not the one listed online. I won’t even look at the photos of these dealers, because there’s no way I’m doing business with them.

Bad photos
Speaking of photos, let’s look at them for a minute. In this day of digital cameras in phones, there’s no excuse for bad photos. I’m not expecting everyone to have professional photographic skills, but at least they should know not to run a black picture, or one that’s so out of focus that the detail is lost. Don’t forget — they’re the ones who select the photos to run with their listing. Would you drive a car you were trying to sell through a mudbath before showing it?

Usually, the guns these dealers have for sale are either pictured from faraway, so no details can be seen, or they have dark photos, some of which are out of focus.

Using an out-of-focus photo in a listing to sell a gun is equivalent to selling a motorcycle with a pool of oil underneath it. It’s so wrong that I don’t want to have anything to do with someone who would do it.

And the worst of these comes when the person says in their description, “… I will let the photos speak for themselves.” And then he doesn’t picture the bore! I buy vintage firearms from time to time, and the No. 1 problem with all of them is the bore. The ammunition these vintage guns shot back in their day was highly corrosive, and most of their bores were ruined. I don’t mind paying more for a vintage gun that has a nice bore, but what I don’t want to do is buy a nice-looking gun whose bore is gone. Maybe some people want to reline the bore of a rifle — but not me.

I had some insight into what’s going on a few weeks ago when I looked at all of one dealer’s listings. He showed the bores of a couple of guns he was selling and disregarded the bores of all the others. This was a guy who had the “let the pictures speak for themselves” statement in his description, too. Well, that was enough said. You’re showing me only the ones you want me to see, so I know that everything you don’t show is something you want to hide. This guy even ran several of the same photos multiple times in his listing — just so there were more pictures to look at!

How to spot an honest dealer
We’ve talked about how the dishonest dealers reveal themselves in their wording. What does a honest dealer do? Well, one thing that makes the dealer seem honest to me is when he uses graphics (arrows and circles) in his pictures to point out the flaws on his guns. Maybe he even includes words in the description that draw your attention to certain photos where those flaws are pointed out. For example, “Picture 19 shows the rust on the triggerguard. I couldn’t get the light to cooperate, but the rust is just on the surface. There are no deep pits.”

Another giveaway to an honest dealer is the guy who has lots of positive feedback ratings. And when you read the one negative comment he’s received in the past 6 months, the guy says, “This dealer refused to ship me the firearm, even though we live in the same state, because I couldn’t give him a street address.” So the one bad report was because the dealer was following the law. That’s not a bad dealer in my book.

Honest vs. dishonest: What’s the verdict?
I’m not writing this series to convince anyone to do business over the internet. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, you should stay away. But for those who are willing to buy and sell this way, here’s my take on the safety of the business scene. I find most dealers are scrupulously honest. They have to be; because one misstep, and people start talking. The same internet that affords anonymity to those wanting to misbehave is also a billboard on which everyone can post the success of their transactions. Use a little common sense, and you can transact your commerce this way as easily as face to face.