I REMEMBER THE first time I walked into a Wild Birds Unlimited store. I was just like those characters on the TV show “Naked and Afraid,” although I was slightly less naked and much more afraid. Realizing that I might be exposed as a poseur who didn’t even know the difference between a pied-billed grebe and a black-bellied plover, I tried to fake it.
“Hi, I need to buy some bird seed.”
“No problem sir, what are you trying to attract? Chickadees and titmice or are you more into American sparrows, towhees and juncos?”
“Umm … I’ll be back in a second, I think I left my car lights on!”
So went the “faking it” strategy. But that was my fault, as I’d forgotten the basic premise of retail stores. The good ones survive and thrive by sharing their expertise with folks new to the subject. If they’re smart, they welcome people who don’t know anything. When they invest some time in teaching newcomers, they’ll be rewarded with loyal customers.
It’s no different with gun stores. If you’ve never touched a gun in your life, a gun store visit can be intimidating. Because guns are scary! But seriously, a gun store is like any other retail establishment; it’s a place where you can go not only to buy, but to learn.
With that said, let’s consider a few tips that will remove the stress from your visit. There’s no reason your experience can’t be a pleasurable and safe.
Help the Salesperson Help You
A good gun store will be thrilled to have a prospective gun owner walk into their store; after all, you don’t have anything, and they can sell you everything.
The key to a mutually beneficial gun store visit is letting go of our pride. For some reason, we humans think that we should know everything and we hate to be exposed as ignorant on any topic. Your best move is to tell your sales associate, right up front, that you are new to guns and looking for assistance.
It’s also a good idea to be able to communicate why you’re there in the first place. Maybe you’re just curious, or perhaps you’re thinking about getting a gun for home defense. The more you can tell the gun-store staff about why you’re considering a gun, the better job they can do to steer you in the right direction.
Don’t Freak Out if Employees are Wearing Guns
I remember when I first became interested in guns and shooting. Walking into a store or range where people were openly carrying guns scared me. It seemed so… dangerous. It didn’t take me long to realize that folks openly carrying a gun were the very last people I needed to worry about.
But let’s back up a second. When you walk into a jewelry or clothing store, you expect the staff to be wearing the products they sell, right? It’s no different from a gun store. Also, like any business that handles valuable items, they have to think about security. Security is not unique to gun stores, you’d be surprised at how many jewelers have guns on their person or behind the counter.
Learn This Basic Gun-Safety Etiquette Before You Go
We’re going to make this one easy, and provide the lesson right here. After all, this article is a full-service guide to your first gun store visit, right? First, there are four cardinal rules of gun safety. Follow these and no one gets hurt. We’re adapting a little for application inside of the store, but the rules are essentially the same anywhere else.
1. Treat a gun as if it’s always loaded, so don’t do things like pulling the trigger and pointing the gun at people.
2. Keep your finger off the trigger unless you are prepared to shoot it, or, in this case, test it under safe conditions. We’ll talk about that in a minute.
3. Don’t point the gun at anything you’re not willing to destroy, like other customers or the gun-store staff. Remember, we’re treating every gun like it’s loaded.
4. Be sure of your target and backstop. I know what you’re thinking. “Hey! We’re in a store, not at the range!” You’re right, so while in the store, when you do things like look down the sights or handle the gun, point it at the floor, wall or ceiling, not at people.
I should mention one more habit that’s a good one no matter where you are, but especially important in a gun store. A good gun salesperson will always verify that a gun is unloaded before handing it to you. If you want to be an excellent, and safe, customer, as soon as your hands touch the gun, do that again. Yes, open it back up and look for yourself to make sure it’s empty. If you’re not sure how, just ask the salesperson for help. “Excuse me, how did you open the action again?”
How to Test the Trigger of a Gun You’re Fondling
When you’re buying a car, you are almost certainly going to drive it before signing up for those easy monthly payments. While most gun stores do not have shooting ranges where you can test fire each gun, you can usually test out the trigger to make sure it feels good for you.
For most guns, it’s perfectly harmless to “dry fire” (operate the trigger without ammunition) just to feel how it works; however, there are some types of guns that can be damaged by this practice, so always ask your sales associate first if it’s okay to dry fire the gun you’re looking at.
Always, always, always before testing a trigger, open that gun again and verify that there is no ammunition in the chamber, cylinders or magazine. And remember to point the gun at the floor or empty wall space when operating the trigger. Most important, never hesitate to ask for help or guidance. This is your first visit to a gun store, after all, so you’re not expected to know everything.
If You’re Not Comfortable, You’re in the Wrong Store
Like any other retail business, gun stores are there to serve you—the key word is “serve.” If you went to a restaurant where the staff ignored you while they sat at the bar watching “Ultimate Fight Melee,” would you stay? Of course not. Even Little Freddy Bob’s Roadkill Diner offers better service than that. You’re the one paying for the product and service, so you’re allowed to expect good service.
Not too long ago, far too many gun stores were dusty old caves populated by grumpy gun geezers. Walking into one of those places made you feel like a city boy entering a Western saloon. The music stopped and everyone gave you the evil eye. Fortunately, the gun industry has (mostly) caught up with the times and many stores are attractive, service-oriented and have modern amenities like running water. If you stumble into a place where you don’t feel welcome, move on to the next. You’re the customer and have every right to a great shopping experience.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re the boss, even if you are brand new to the whole concept of shooting guns. While I’ve poked a bit of fun, gun stores are like any other retail establishment. The vast majority of them will do a great job of helping you learn and understand this exciting new world.