The Sad Gun Show Dilemma

There is an outstanding gun show sponsored by SAR in Phoenix each year that I always make a point to attend, and this year’s was about two weeks ago. One of the things that came to mind several times while I was browsing tables looking for cool stuff was the issue of mismarked items on tables…

One group of mismarked items are the ones that are simple fraudulent, either by nature of make markings or fake provenance. The fake provenance is usually a matter of probability and storytelling – can you really prove that Walther WASN’T personally owned by Hitler? Maybe not rhetorically speaking, but grander the story to more documentation one should demand to back it up. The minor end of this thing is claiming that a particular gun like a beat-up Mosin Nagant, was a Vietnam bringback. Well, it certainly could have been…does it have an import mark? Does it fit the characteristics of the guns we would realistically expect to be in Vietnam? Does the seller have the GI’s papers authorizing the rifle?

Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard to tell genuine bringbacks from more mundane guns. For example, I met a fellow at the show who had a tanker M1 that he was pretty convinced was an original in-the-field modification from WWII. He said it had come back with a Navajo soldier who was a friend of his family, and had described it as being his army rifle. The vet passed away years ago, and there was no physical evidence to back up the rifle’s provenance (and it did have a muzzle brake that was clearly post-war). On the other hand, it was a wartime production rifle and didn’t have any third-party stamps on the barrel. I really could have been a field-modified rifle…but there’s absolutely no way to tell.

At the other end of the spectrum are things like the batch of clearly faked “Nazi” M95 straight-pull carbines that are floating around (I’ll have a more detailed post on these coming up). When you see something like that on a table, what do you do? It the seller knows it’s fake, it won’t do any good to point it out, and if he doesn’t know he’ll probably not jump to slash the price on the word of a stranger at a gun show. Having made foolish attempts to “fix” this sort of situation in the past, I now just walk on past – and make a point not patronize the table unless I suspect it’s an innocent error.

Fake Nazi marking on an M95 carbine
Fake Nazi marking on an M95 carbine

Fraud may always be a risk, but one would think we could at least help reduce simple mislabeling. Unfortunately, it is really tricky to attempt to tell someone that an item they are selling isn’t actually what they believe it is. I thought I had a case where I could do some good at this past show, when I noticed that one dealer had a Remington-Lee early turnbolt rifle labelled as a Lee Navy. I’d been talking with him about some other guns earlier in the day and I though I had a bit of a rapport developed, so I mentioned the mislabeling. He immediately turned suspicious and hostile at the notion, so I dropped it.

I took the lesson to heart, and the next time I found something mislabeled it was a box of 7.65mm Frommer ammo. I’ve been looking for that for a long time, so I just kept my mouth shut and paid for what the seller thought was a box of vintage 7.65mm Browning. And felt a little guilty about it. Sigh.