Danielle Faulkner had shot a firearm only twice in her life when she entered Wilshire Gun in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, earlier this year. She was a little nervous, even a bit intimidated. But she’d taken a concealed-carry certification course and felt ready to take the next step, so she’d lined up professional help for this possible purchase—a personal “handgun fitting” conducted by a Wilshire Gun firearms instructor.
“First, we sat down and talked,” said Faulkner, 45. “The instructor asked me why I wanted a handgun. He then brought out six different handguns and had me hold each one to feel the grip and the weight.”
They then went to Wilshire Gun’s indoor handgun range. Faulkner fired each of the handguns. She also practiced loading the guns and operating the safety and other controls.
The gun fitting took about an hour, and when it was over, Faulkner knew she wanted a semiautomatic SIG P238 chambered in .380 Auto.
“The whole thing was such an awesome experience,” she said. “I really felt so comfortable with the pistol I chose and the decision I made.”
Why a Gun Fitting Makes Sense
Mark Heins, the chief instructor at Wilshire Gun, pointed out the value of a fitting. “If you were going to buy a car, you’d look it over, sit in it, and then test drive it,” noted Heins. “And then you’d know if the car is for you. Or you’d know it wasn’t. It should be the same with a firearm, especially one you’re buying for personal protection.”
Wilshire Gun, which opened last year, caters to newer and first-time gun owners. Heins says many people are afraid of firearms, mostly because they have little to no experience with them. He says that all can change with hands-on experience alongside a good instructor.
“After 60 minutes, one-on-one with an instructor, a potential gun buyer has all their questions answered,” said Heins. “And they get to try out the guns in a low-stress, supportive environment.”
The gun fittings, Heins believes, help to correct the many misconceptions and fears novices have about guns. “People may have read some blogs or talked to a friend, or maybe saw something on television,” said Heins. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and a first-time gun buyer isn’t going to know what’s right or wrong.”
Heins notes that 90 percent of the people who do gun fittings end up buying a gun from Wilshire. They are able to apply the $50 fitting fee to that purchase. The store does 10 to 15 gun fittings every weekend, and they’re scheduled during the week, too.
Experience Changes Perceptions
Interestingly, Faulkner came to Wilshire Gun certain she was going to buy a revolver. That’s the type of gun she had fired during her concealed-carry course, and the wife of the course instructor told Faulkner that revolvers were the best choice for concealed carry.
“I was really surprised at how easy the semiautomatic pistols were to use and fire,” Faulkner said. “I tried some revolvers and they just didn’t compare.”
Gun fittings are also popular at Center Target Sports in Post Falls, Idaho, and not just for handguns. This part of northern Idaho is rich in wildlife, and big-game hunting is very popular. The area has seen an influx of new people from urban areas, and when they want to try hunting, many of them start the journey at Center Target.
“New hunters appreciate the gun fitting service to help them match up a rifle with their own physical size or dimensions,” Center Target’s owner Ed Santos says. We have great hunting locally, but it is often difficult terrain. So we help new hunters learn the tradeoffs associated with a light-weight mountain gun versus a heavy, high-caliber rifle.”
How to Find a Gun Fitter
Look for gun shops that have a range on site and offer good selection of firearms training courses, preferably by NRA-certified instructors. Such a shop will allow you to test fire guns before buying one, and NRA-certified instructors will help you match a firearm to your size and needs. (The NRA has a comprehensive online database that can help you find courses in your area.)
Many of the stores that offer these courses will also do a gun fitting. Some establishments charge for gun fittings ($50 to $75 is typical), others do not. For those that charge a fee, ask if the cost will be deducted from the price of a firearm purchased at the store.