Part of the whole "firearms experience" is finding a shop that can serve your needs, make recommendations, and become a lifelong resource. There are many great gun shops out there...and there are more than a few lousy ones, as well. I was blessed to work at a great shop with dedicated salespeople and an owner who cared about customer service. Did they always hit it out of the park? Of course not, but they learned from mistakes and they took customer feedback seriously.  I weigh every shop I visit against these folks...and too many come up seriously lacking.


In my 2015 book, The Handgun Guide for Women, I included an entire chapter called "How to Visit a Gun Store." My husband thought it was funny but I explained to him that novices (especially women) have no idea what to expect...and seem to assume that being disregarded or treated badly is somehow their fault for asking 'dumb' questions and being a neophyte. WRONG. 


You have every right to be taken seriously and to be treated like the potential cash cow that you are (guns ain't cheap!!) Any good shop owner knows that once you buy one gun, you will need a holster, a belt, ammo, training, a cleaning kit, storage, and, always, MORE GUNS! If he/she doesn't require that the staff provide courteous service, great information, and educated guidance, then something is wrong.


The great thing about capitalism is that you have OPTIONS. Exercise them. Vote with your feet and go elsewhere. To help you make your decision, I have created the questionnaire below. Print it; use it. It comes from my experiences as both a salesperson AND a customer -- and from hundreds of horror stories shared with me by students and fellow shooters over the years.  Questions? Feel free to contact me at Tarae@aphf.org

  1. Was the store crowded? (This can impact staff attentiveness – but only temporarily)

  2. Did one or more sales staffers look up, smile and welcome you?

  3. Did the staff: A). ask how they can help you? or B). tell you they will be with you once they finish with another customer?

  4. Did the salesperson stand in front of you & make eye contact/smile as you asked questions?

  5. Did the staff member belittle your choices or mock your gun knowledge (Think: “hey buddy, you’ve never shot before? Seriously? You don’t care about your family’s safety?” or “hey little lady, are you here to buy a gun for your hubby?”) 

  6. Did the staff member “clear” each firearm he/she showed you? (Clear means checking to make sure it is empty and handing it to you with the breech open or the cylinder interior exposed)

  7. Were you allowed to compare and contrast (with help) multiple different firearms at one time? (Shops that limit you to one gun at a time severely limit your ability to make a wise choice and are interested in THEIR convenience, not yours.)

  8. Were you allowed to try the trigger pull on each gun (with or without a snap cap)? (Trigger pull is essential to your ability to successfully fire a handgun. If store policy prevents you from pulling the trigger, do NOT make a purchase. Dry-firing -- pulling the trigger with no ammo or a dummy round in the chamber -- will NOT harm your firearm, especially with a snap cap/dummy round.)

  9. Were you allowed to rack the slide on the firearm? (Again, essential to successfully firing a semi-auto handgun. If the store policy prevents it, go to another store.)

  10. Did the salesperson help you determine: the gun fits your hand; you can easily drop the magazine; you can load it and utilize extras such as laser, manual external safety, adjustable back straps, etc?

  11. Did the salesperson offer to show you how to “break down” the gun you have selected? (If the store is packed, this is not always possible…but the salesperson can and should offer to do so at a later, less hectic time.)

  12. Did the salesperson explain to you what a 4473 form is and how to fill it out?

  13. Did the salesperson explain the approval process and give you an estimate on how long you will have to wait?

  14. Did the salesperson seem to be pushing you to a particular brand to the exclusion of all others? (Sales people are human and have their preferences. Remember to ask WHY he/she prefers this brand. But also know that gun manufacturers offer “spiffs” -- or sales incentive programs -- where salespeople earn points toward free guns every time they sell one of THAT manufacturers’ guns.)

BOTTOM LINE: You are ALWAYS better served doing business with a “bricks and mortar” store than ordering on-line. Smart shop owners know that building a relationship with customers means repeat business. Smart customers know that a good gun shop is a resource for information, guidance, training and access to the newest models! 


But many customers DON’T understand that they CAN and SHOULD expect good customer service from a gun shop. In fact, they should DEMAND it. They should also understand that there are many GOOD gun shops out there, so you are not limited to doing business with arrogant, inattentive ones.


DO REMEMBER, that one encounter may not tell the full story. Retail is hectic, people have bad days, owners can’t always control the attitude of their staff…give each shop at least two chances to earn your business (but don’t BUY until they HAVE earned it!) 


CORRECT ANSWERS: 1-variable; 2-YES; 3-YES; 4-YES; 5-YES; 6-NO; 7-YES; 8-YES; 9-YES; 10- YES; 11-YES; 12-YES; 13-YES; 14-YES; 15-NO. 
Document Created by Tara Dixon Engel, author, Handgun Guide for Women, VP of Training -- American Police Hall of Fame, Titusville FL.