Gun stores can be intimidating, especially for a newbie. I am not always comfortable every time I walk into a gun shop. It should always be your goal to never offend the shop workers or owner. Every time you walk into a gun shop or into a gun show, just like at the gun range, you should be on your best behavior. Gun store clerks have been subjected to all kinds of bad behavior—handed loaded guns, muzzles pointed at them repeatedly, treated like idiots, and generally disrespected. Do not make them feel even more jaded by committing these unspoken “rules” of shopping in a gun store. Along with my own experience working at a gun store, and interviewing current and previous gun storeowners and workers, I have come up with a list of gun store etiquette “rules.” Like everywhere, even at home, there are a few Golden Rules of firearm safety:
- Treat every gun as if it were loaded.
- Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Never point it at something you are not ready to kill.
- Know your target and what is behind it.
- Always check to make sure the gun is unloaded. Never hand a loaded gun to a gun store clerk and never let a gun store clerk hand you a loaded gun.
First off, your shopping experience at any gun shop, whether a big chain or a local mom and pop store, should be enjoyable and safe. If you spot unsafe practices happening at a gun store at any time, just go ahead and leave. If one of the clerks is rude or makes you feel stupid intentionally, then you have every right to leave, also.
One of the main reasons why you go to the gun store is to shop for a new gun–right? If it is your first time, you might be nervous about handling all those guns. Well, don’t be! You can ask the clerk any question you want about the gun. I still do this. I always ask what each control is on a new gun. The clerk should clear the gun and show you that it is completely clear, never pointing the muzzle at you or anyone else. Pay attention to how they hand you the gun. It is good practice to hand the gun back the same way it they handed to you.
When you are holding the gun to get the feel for it, keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Sometimes the gun store will have targets on the wall that are a safe place to point the gun. You can ask the clerk where an appropriate place is to point the muzzle.
Handling the Gun Don’ts
- Do not dry fire the weapon. Dry firing is pulling the trigger when the gun has no ammunition or a snap cap in it. It is damaging to some guns, especially rimfire guns, if they are dry fired. It is understandable that you want to feel the trigger when considering a new gun. Ask the clerk before dry firing.
- Do not disassemble the gun. If you want to see its guts, ask the clerk to disassemble it for you.
- Do not flick the cylinder of a revolver back in place.
- Do not release the slide of a semi-automatic.
- Do not “force” the gun to operate. I have had times when I have pushed the magazine release and nothing happened. I always ask for help.
- Do not be afraid to admit you are a newbie. It is best not to act like a know-it-all when you aren’t.
Shopping for Accessories
All gun store workers and owners will plead with you to know the caliber, model, manufacture, and size of your gun. When I worked the catalog pick up window, I had a customer come in and ask, “Do you have a holster that fits my gun?” I smiled and replied, “Maybe. What gun do you have?” The customer’s response was, “It’s black. 9mm.” Some of you are probably laughing right now, but this happens all the time. Gun stores want to sell you what you want and need, but they cannot do that when you have no idea what it is you exactly need or want! Therefore, research what you want before you go. Workers are happy to chat with you when they have the time. However, remember, everyone’s time is valuable so be considerate, especially when the store is busy. On that note, many gun store clerks say not to tie them up too long, “It is fun to play with a multitude of guns, but if all you want to do is look and it’s obvious that the store is really busy, and don’t keep the salesman tied up too long. Remember a lot of us work on commission and we aren’t making money while you stand there and fondle 20 different guns with no intention of buying.”
Chitchatting with Clerks and Other Customers
Gun stores can be a plethora of information, both good and bad. It is fun to chat people up in a gun store, but it is important to remember your manners when talking to clerks or other customers. One former gun storeowner says, “Be polite and respectful to everyone. You don’t know who they are, where they have been, or what they know.” This same previous owner says he has seen people nearly come to blows over arguments. We all know that gun people have some very strong opinions and we all think our opinion is right. So, do not recommend guns or ammo to anyone unless they ask for your opinion. “I don’t care what your favorite or least favorite gun is, people are set in their ways and think they know what they want, facts be damned. Nothing good can come out of an unsolicited recommendation.” All gun store employees I talked to, ex and current alike, said do not interrupt and do not contradict anyone. You hate it when someone gives you unsolicited advice, right? Then do not give it to others.
I asked some current gun shop employees about gun store etiquette and they brought up quite a few good points:
- Do not talk about killing the president.
- Do not talk about making your gun fully automatic.
- Keep your children close to you and under supervision at all times.
- Do not try your gun in a holster without clearing the gun first. Show the clerk your gun is completely unloaded.
- Never point a gun at anyone.
Clint Smith, a writer for American Handgunner magazine, got a chance to work behind the counter at a gun store just to see how life was on the other side. He said safety is key and noted that some customers are very rude. He writes, “The store guy is actually on your side and he would like to sell you something. Work with him, not against him, and it will go much better–trust me.”
Do you work in a gun store? If so, what advice would you like to give shoppers? If you do not work in a gun store, what are some gun store misadventures you have had? Tell me your story!