When buying a used handgun, it's not enough to simply take it to a firing range and note if you can squeeze off a few rounds. You want to ensure the inside and outside of the gun are in good working order so that the weapon will last for years. Like buying a used car, taking it for a quick test drive isn't enough to tell you about the quality of all the parts inside, so consider a few things to look for when you're buying a used handgun.
1. Check the screw heads
First look at the screw heads that hold the parts of the gun together. If they seem to be marked up, this often means that an amateur has been tinkering with the insides of the gun. A professional or someone with experience in cleaning and modifying a weapon will know what tools to use to undo screws on a gun without leaving marks, scratches, and the like. If the screw heads are scratched and especially if they seem bent out of alignment, this can be a warning sign that someone with little experience and know-how has been handling the care of the gun. You'll want to be extra vigilant in looking over a gun with marked-up screw heads.
2. Check the condition of the grip
A grip with chips, cracks, and other imperfections may not affect the performance of the gun itself, but it can mean having it slip from your hands as you're firing it, or making it difficult to control your aim. In older models of guns and discontinued models, it might be difficult to find a new, replacement grip; rather than risk that or face the cost of a new grip, check it carefully for anything that could compromise your control of the weapon.
3. Look inside the barrel
Of course you want to absolutely ensure that the gun is completely unloaded and the safety is still on, but once you do, use a bore light or small flashlight to look down the barrel. You want to avoid a gun that has a bulged barrel or obvious signs of rust. You might also look for signs of the gun being purposely marred; if someone has scratched the inside of the barrel with a screwdriver or other tool, they may be trying to change the grooves and other markings on bullet when they're fired. Their motives for doing this aside, that type of tinkering might also disrupt your aim when you fire the weapon, which can be very serious if you're choosing it for personal protection.