Since I had two different people ask me recently why anybody would buy a gun that didn’t fire and couldn’t be made to fire, I figured it was a fair question that deserved an answer. Here are four reasons why:
(1) There are many legal restrictions on the sale of real guns.
You simply can’t buy a “real” gun, or can’t buy the one you want in many instances, because there are restrictions on purchasing them in many countries, and even some states or municipalities in the United States. Non-firing replica guns are legal to buy and own without any restriction in most of the United States and in many countries of the world, and don’t require any sort of license or permit. If you want a firearm to protect life and property or to use for hunting and target shooting, obviously the non-firing type doesn’t make sense. But what if you just wanted a classic .357 Magnum with an 8-inch barrel to display as part of a collection, or maybe the sleek Walther PPK, like James Bond uses in the movies? Except for relatively few places where replicas of “modern” firearms are banned due to their realistic appearance, you would be able to buy a totally realistic, non-firing replica of either of those classic handguns.
(2) Non-firing replicas can be safely displayed in your home or office.
Non-firing replicas do not fire, and cannot be adapted to do so. Their barrels have metal plugs inside, and while they are made of metal that approximates the weight and heft of a real gun, they are not made of the kind of high-tensile steel required to withstand the pressure and hot gases of a gunpowder charge. Moreover, the chambers and clips are made a non-standard size so that real bullets won’t fit them, as an added safety measure.
So long as they are handled sensibly by responsible adults who display them as collectibles or use them in reenactments, living history performance or film productions, they are completely safe. “Safe” means if you want to practice your western quick-draw in front of a mirror, you won’t accidentally shoot yourself in the foot with a replica Colt .45! If you really want to unleash your inner Wyatt Earp, get yourself a frock coat, brocade vest and a replica of a Tombstone Marshal’s badge, and join one of the many quick-draw groups in the U.S. and other countries and test your draw against other would-be “gunslingers.”
“Handled sensibly” means because they look so authentic, you don’t take them out in public and wave them around where a cop or somebody might mistake it for the real thing and shoot you. Of course they should be kept out of the hands of children, too, for the same reason–and also because loading mechanisms and other metal moving parts in a quality replica can pinch or mash little fingers.
(3) Real antique firearms are usually difficult or impossible to find, and they cost a lot more.
Despite the number of them that were captured and brought back to the United States during both World Wars, a real Luger P08 Parabellum for sale is difficult to find. A thorough internet search yielded only two for sale, priced at $3107 and $6214 U.S. A search for a real Broomhandle Mauser C96 yielded only one, and it was $3650 U.S.
If you go back even further in time to look for an original 1861 Navy Colt, you can certainly find them, but be sure to bring your checkbook! At a recent on-line auction, a mint 1861 Colt Navy, still in the wood presentation case with powder flask and other accessories, went for over a million dollars! Of course that Colt had belonged to the officer in command of Fort Sumter at the outbreak of the Civil War, which surely added to its value, and you can certainly find 1861 Navy Colts that sell for a lot less that that. But unless the gun had never been fired (which likely puts it in the high-dollar category), it probably wouldn’t be wise or safe to try firing it, as it would be impossible to tell the condition of internal parts, how it had been maintained, etc. So when it comes to antique guns, just because you bought a “real” one doesn’t mean you can fire it, and anything in mint, fireable condition is going to be expensive.
Vintage rifles, such as the octagonal-barreled 1860 Henry (like the one Quigley used in the movie “Quigley Down Under”) are nearly impossible to find. Even a modern, firing reproduction of the 1860 Henry sells for around $3,000 U.S.
Realistic, non-firing replicas of these same historic guns cost a small fraction of what you can expect to pay for a real one. Best of all, ‘rare’ and ‘scarce’ are not a problem. Everything from the elusive Luger P-08 to a Brown Bess Musket from the American Revolutionary War is easy to find, at a price that is affordable for almost any budget.
(4) Quality non-firing replicas are historically authentic and have working mechanical parts.
A quality, non-firing replica is the closest thing you can get to a “real” gun. They have the heft, weight and handling “feel” of a real gun–everything except the bang and the bullet. When we say “quality”, we’re not talking about those chunks of plastic resin molded and painted to look like a gun. Quality replicas are made of metal and, in the case of models with wood grips or trim, it will be real, oiled and polished wood (usually walnut) just like a real gun. “Ivory” or “pearl-handled” grips will probably be a polymer imitation, but in appearance, feel and action, replicas will closely resemble the genuine article, right down to the action of real moving parts in the loading and firing mechanisms.
Hammers cock and will strike the chamber with an audible “click” when the trigger is pulled. Clips insert and release (you can even get dummy “bullets” to load into some models.) Cylinders rotate, and/or swing out, depending on the model. AK-47 assault rifle replicas can be field-stripped and cleaned like a real one, and are often used for training, for that reason. . A quality replica is heavy, and has the heft, look and feel of a real gun. How cool would it be to display a realistic replica of Wild Bill Hickock’s engraved 1851 Navy Colt on your desk, or hang a realistic copy of Dan’l Boone’s famous Kentucky rifle on your wall? You can find a replica of almost any famous pistol or rifle with a quick search on the internet. Non-firing replica guns are great conversation pieces, and a piece of history you can hold in your hands.