Collectors work crowds at gun buyback events for rare finds

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When Schuyler Taylor attended a gun buyback program in Seattle last year, he wasn't hoping to turn in an unwanted firearm for a $50 gift card. He was looking to pay cold cash for a rare weapon.

Taylor, a 24-year-old gun enthusiast, is one of a growing number of collectors who has been showing up at the events, where towns, police departments, churches and nonprofits offer money or gift cards for old guns. The events have been held all over the country, credited by some for getting weapons off the streets and ridiculed by others for paying money for rusting junk. But collectors have taken notice that some of the guns, which are typically destroyed, are worth far more than they fetch at buyback events.


“My goal was to go down there and see if I could find something that I felt should be preserved instead of it going into a melting pot,” Taylor told “Many of the people who come to the buybacks to trade in are often naïve. They don’t realize that they have an heirloom.”

Gun blogger Dean Weingarten, who hosts a website called Gunwatch, said a collector who attended a recent buyback event in College Park, Ga., bought several valuable guns that would have otherwise been destroyed, including what is believed to be an antique flintlock pistol. Weingarten says competition from collectors should be encouraged.

"It stretches the turn-in budget so that more guns can be taken off the street," he wrote. "It helps keep fearful widows from being defrauded of most of the market value of the gun they are turning in. It prevents valuable assets from being destroyed by bureaucratic inflexibility. It is a win-win-win situation."

But the rogue buyers are not always welcome at the events, and they don't always offer a fair deal, according to Tom Knox, president of the National Automatic Pistol Collectors Association.

“Those people do indeed work the lines and buy guns,” Knox said. “They are usually called "door hawks," or "parking lot hawks," and they are usually at gun shows, too. They are looked down upon in the collector community.

“They still underpay these people who have no idea what their weapons are worth,” added Knox, who has attended buyback events in the St. Louis area. “The hawkers then take what they bought to a gun show and sell them at a higher price.”

The police departments that often hold the buyback usually offer anywhere between $50-$200 for guns handed in with no questions asked. Recently, many of these programs are held with hawks looming outside, much to the displeasure of officials.

At the Seattle event Taylor attended last January, the city's police department went through $80,000 in gift cards by noon and had to cut the event short. But with private transactions not prevented by federal law, and in many cases not by state law either, guns continued to change hands, much to the chagrin of officials.

“There’s no background check, and some [guns] could be exchanged on the streets that shouldn’t be in circulation,” then-Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn told reporters at the time.

Taylor said officials chased private buyers off the parking lot where the event was held, relegating them to the perimeter. He said he and other "hawks" seemed mostly interested in preserving collectibles, not ripping off people turning in guns for a dwindling supply of gift cards. And as long as no laws are broken and both parties shake hands, he saw nothing wrong with it.

“It’s only a problem if we have a problem with capitalism,” Taylor said. “[But] they were very much against us buying anything. We were banned.”

The Atlanta branch of the NAACP was scheduled to hold a buyback event this week, and officials vowed to have security on hand to prevent any unsanctioned transactions.

“We’ve heard of it happening at other programs,” Mary Ross, interim executive director, told “We will have security there keeping the peace. But we can't stop them for going down the street.”