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What makes a good gun store?

You will see a lot of these, on lots of objects.

For people who are new to the world of shooting, gun stores can be intimidating places. Many of us have a residual negative emotional response to firearms based on a lifetime of societal conditioning and endless media propaganda. Some of us are still working on forgiving ourselves for even choosing to own a gun in the first place. Others of us are highly worried about hurting ourselves, or hurting others unintentionally, with a gun we don't understand very well and still have trouble using smoothly.

Enter the gun store, which will typically fit the stereotypical profile as one of the last refuges of unabashed American masculinity. Whether you're in a brand new, upscale local gun emporium with gleaming wood floors and rustic shiplap on the walls, or a dingy strip mall shop that appears to have been most recently decorated in 1982, gun stores usually have several things in common. First of all, they're noticeably more secured than other types of stores. Bars on the doors and windows are common. The staff may eye you with customary, if bored, suspicion when you first walk in. Cameras dot the ceilings. And there are guns, guns, and more guns everywhere you look.

Most gun stores, being owned by someone who clearly values the Second Amendment, are also stuffed to the rafters with patriotic memorabilia celebrating our right to keep and bear arms. Since many gun store owners have a military and/or law enforcement background, you will likely find military patches, Gadsden flags, battle flags, and first responder flags as well. There may be gimmicky tin signs for sale, presumably to be used for decorating someone's cabin or man cave wall, like this:

Alternate text: "We don't dial 911" with a revolver pointed at you.

If the store is marketed primarily to hunters, there will be camouflage everywhere, and on pretty much everything. There will be long guns on racks on the walls, on and in display cases, and being handed back and forth across the counter by interested buyers and slightly less interested gun store staff. There will be rows and rows of pistols, semiautos and revolvers both, in glass display cases under all the counters. To the gun store initiate, being able to walk in and ask to handle and hold any firearm in the store may seem a little surreal, especially if our newbie is coming from a state like Illinois, California, or New York where gun legislation is much more oppressive. To that I say: Welcome to America, friend! (Just kidding. Sort of.)

So how do you know if you're in a decent gun store? In fact, what makes a gun store good? The very first thing that marks the quality of a gun store is the quality of the staff. Are they well-trained and do they observe safe gun handling practices at all times? Do they pressure you to only buy guns from their favorite brand (e.g. Glock, Sig Sauer, Smith & Wesson) or do they show you guns from several brands and let you get a hands-on feel for what you might want? Can they tell you off the top of their head the difference between one gun versus another? Basically, do they know what they're talking about? (Ladies: if your friendly gun store employee condescendingly tells you that you probably aren't strong enough to rack the slide on a semiautomatic pistol and should therefore buy a tiny .38 Special revolver to carry in your purse, get the heck out of there.)

There are other things to look for when it comes to determining a gun store's worth to you. Obviously, fair pricing is a big one. But availability matters too. If there's not much inventory on the floor, you're likely to be pressured into buying a gun that you weren't really looking for and that won't fit your needs. If there's too much inventory, i.e. every nook and cranny is filled with dusty guns, that's a pretty good indicator that the guns are overpriced and you should shop around.

A quality gun store is clean, well-lit, has attractive, professional displays, and the guns are as clean as the glass countertops. You can expect a certain markup in any brick-and-mortar store compared to the internet, so usually the prices won't be bottom dollar. But don't let yourself be taken advantage of, either. Don't be afraid to ask for a better price, and don't be afraid to (politely!) walk out and shop around elsewhere, both in person and online, to find what you want at the price you're willing to pay.

The benefit of buying your gun(s) at a store is that, depending on which state you live in, you can possibly walk out with them that very same day. When you order guns online, you must have them transferred to someone with a federal firearms license (FFL) and wait for them to process the transfer. They will also charge you a transfer fee that may end up being more than the small savings you found online. But then again, the savings may be substantial. Shop around and as with anything, buyer beware. The peace of mind of buying a new or refurbished gun from a reputable local dealer may outweigh any savings you might get from a gun dealer online.

I currently work part-time at a lovely gun store with an attached firing range. The staff are all gun enthusiasts, like me, and will talk your ear off about firearms if you give them the opportunity. The store is clean, well-lit, and nicely decorated, and even has a cozy sitting area complete with leather armchairs and a fireplace in the lobby. Unlike at a corporate chain store, our managers can usually work out a deal on pricing. And unlike at a corporate chain store, all of us staff are avid shooters and know what we're talking about.

As a gun store connoisseur who has enthusiastically patronized them in multiple states around the country, I enjoy browsing in ours for the reasons listed above. And while I can't promise that you won't be a little intimidated on your first trip to the gun store, I can assure you that the experience is bound to be far more pleasant if you pick a good one.

Happy shopping and stay safe out there!