Not too long ago, a visit to a local gun store might become a rough experience, involving store clerks sitting around the counter with a few buddies, talking about yuppies who occasionally wander in by accident. The highlight of their day might have been glaring at those “new people” who had not yet earned the right to hang out and spin gun yarns.
Fortunately, those days are mostly behind us. Many gun stores have gone full-auto retail and implemented 20th-century customer-centric ideas like hiring helpful sales staff, designing functional and attractive showrooms and installing electric lights and running water. This is a great thing, and we love to see new stores competing with each other to offer even better customer experiences. The quality of buying experience is light years ahead of where it was just ten years ago.
Even still, visiting your first gun store can be an intimidating experience. But so can any new experience where you have limited knowledge. Heck, I got a little stressed out going to Wild Birds Unlimited for the first time. I feared I would be instantly exposed as a bird-watching poseur! No worries, they were very polite to me and no birds were harmed in the process.
We’ve put together a series of helpful tips to help you not only survive, but enjoy your first visit to a gun store.
Think about your “why”
Before you go, think about why you’re looking at guns in the first place. Do you want it for self-defense? Or just recreational shooting? Do you plan on hunting? Or maybe you want to get into competitive shooting. If the store you visit is on the ball, the first question they are going to ask you is what you're going to do with the gun. This will help them steer you towards suitable options. Planning ahead will help a salesperson help you.
Don’t freak out because the sales associate is wearing a gun
Gun stores have to be security conscious. Like jewelry stores and other cash-heavy businesses, you’ll find that security is a little tighter than at your neighborhood Fabric Emporium. You’ll probably see cameras and possibly some sturdier than normal doors and windows. No worries, there’s a lot of valuable stuff in the building, and store owners have to be careful for their protection and yours. Most of what you’ll see is for nighttime security. You don’t often hear about gun stores getting robbed during business hours, do you? Can’t imagine why that is…
When you go inside, you might see that sales staff members are carrying guns! Yep. Just like the jeweler is most likely wearing some of his or her products, employees of a gun store will likely be wearing some of theirs. Again, no worries! That’s what they sell. It’s also one of the reasons that you never hear about gun stores getting robbed. Gun store employees aren’t necessarily being tactical commandos; they’re just practicing what they preach.
Demand professional service
If someone doesn’t acknowledge you within a reasonable time of you walking in the door or to the counter, think about moving on to the next store. This has nothing to do with gun stores and everything to do with retail stores in general. You’re there to learn first and spend money only if that process is satisfactory, so expect to be treated accordingly. If the staff doesn’t bend over backward to help a new shooter learn the ropes, find a different store.
Be safe when inspecting a gun
When a salesperson hands you a gun to look at, you want to demonstrate safe and proper gun-handling procedures. Even though guns in a store are “empty” you always want to treat them as if they are loaded.
An on-the-ball salesperson will hand you the gun in a safe manner, perhaps with the grip first and the gun action open. If they don’t and hand you the gun with the muzzle pointed right at your body, you have a choice to make. If you’re feeling dramatic, dive for the floor to get out of the line of fire. If you want to make a point in a more subtle fashion, nudge the muzzle away from you while accepting the gun. Perhaps they’ll get the hint. In all likelihood, you won’t have to worry about this. In a well run gun store, the salesperson will open and inspect the firearm to make sure it’s empty before even handing it to you. Then they will present it to you safely with the action open and the butt end first.
When you take the gun, return the safety favor. Make sure the muzzle never points at the salesperson or anyone else. The floor and ceiling are acceptable options depending on the store.
As soon as you get the gun, you want to open and inspect it. Look at the magazine and the chamber. Stick your finger in there to make sure it’s empty. You may feel silly since the salesperson just did this, but you’ll be safe. Remember, our goal is to enjoy this shopping experience with minimal gunfire. Besides, if the person helping you knows what they’re doing, they won’t be offended in the least that you’re re-checking what they just did. They’ll appreciate your attention to safety and good gun-handling practice.
When you’re holding a gun to test it for size and feel, keep your trigger finger straight alongside the frame of the gun. With most modern handguns, it’s perfectly fine to pull the trigger to test it out. When I say perfectly fine, I mean that it won’t harm the gun. If you want to test the trigger to see how it feels, first ask the salesperson if it’s OK if you “dry fire” the gun. If they say yes, double check the “empty” status of the gun and point it at a safe backstop as you do so.
If you don’t know the first thing about guns and shooting, tell the associate. Be honest. The more the salesperson knows about your specific situation, the better they’ll be able to help you. Pride and ego have no place here. You’re investing in a piece of equipment that could save your life, so take full advantage of what the salesperson can teach you.
If gun stores are new to you, just remember that they are a retail business like any other. The good ones will not only help you learn the basics; they’ll be thrilled that you’re there. As a new shooter, you’ll need not only a gun but all the surrounding accessories like ammunition, cleaning supplies, targets, and more. The smart stores will make you feel welcome, so if you’re not getting that loving feeling, move on.