Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Where to Buy a Gun

If you are new to firearms, you may be wondering where a good place is to buy a gun.  Much like buying an automobile or a new washing machine, there are a variety of places you can get one.  I have some advice, don't go to a big box store.

By "big box" I mean places like Cabelas, Walmart, Dick's, Bass Pro Shop, Gander Mountain, Academy and other big stores that sell sporting goods.  If you aren't very familiar with firearms, those are bad places to buy a gun.  There are a variety of reasons for this.
First, they tend to staff their stores with entry level employees with a minimum of general sporting goods knowledge.  Sure, every store has a couple old guys that really know their department, but the bulk of employees are not experts in a given field.  You are much more likely to find someone knowledgeable about firearms at a small gun shop.

Why does that matter?  There are a lot of firearm options.  While it may seem that the big box stores has a lot more inventory than a small shop, that may not be the case.  Likely the large shops have a lot of the same models, or a lot of very similar models, populating their cabinets.  They have more guns, but perhaps not a larger variety of guns than a smaller shop.

Next reason to consider a local shop is cost.  Quite often a small local shop has better prices than big box stores.  This, of course, isn't universally applicable.  Every small independently owned store sets their own pricing, but in my experience they beat most prices at large chains most of the time.  Now, the big stores do have sales from time to time that small shops can't match, but unless you are waiting for the item you want to perhaps go on sale, you'll likely find a better deal at a local shop.

Consider buying a firearm that has problems down the road.  Most big chains won't even let you bring a firearm in to be looked at unless you follow a special process, and the chance of having someone on staff that can diagnose it is rare.  Contrast that to your small shop where the proprietor will likely be able to diagnose the problem on the counter right in front of you.  That not only gives you an idea of what the issue is, but helps you learn something about your gun.  I've seen guys working at local shops help install parts, make sight adjustments and even swap out broken parts on the spot, with no charge.  If you have an actual repair needed, the big box store is likely just going to ship it back to the manufacturer.

Now, in general, firearms are very durable and problem free.  If you do encounter something that is actually broken, nearly all firearm companies have a "repair it for free" policy, whether that policy is written or not.  However, many issues people have are self-initiated.  That doesn't mean it isn't an issue, but even if the solution is a training or education issue, you are way more likely to get good instruction or advice at a small store.

Speaking of training, you're more likely to get a good recommendation for training at a small shop.  They are part of the local community and will be able to point you at a good instructor.  They know that if you get good instruction and take up shooting as a hobby, they have a chance to earn future business.  It's in their interest (and yours!) to point you at a good instructor.

Lastly, the buying experience is more pleasant at small stores.  At the two big box stores in my area, Cabelas and Bass Pro Shops, the buying experience is akin to buying a car.  You have to take a number just to talk to a worker.  If you decide to purchase something, you have to see 3 different people, move around the sales floor, fill out federal forms and whatever extra forms that store's lawyers thing they need and in general be confused about what the process entails and when you get to be done.  At both of those stores after you finish all that they escort you to the front of the store where you are finally allowed to take possession of the firearm you paid for who knows how long ago.  And if you decide you want to purchase ammunition or a case or holster?  You have to get out of line and queue up again.

At a local store you get to work with one person through the process.  Not only are they more likely to know about firearms, they know the process.  They can answer questions about the federal form and the background check needed to purchase.  My favorite local shop even gives you two copies of the receipt, so you can store one with paper records and keep one with the gun should you need to show proof of ownership.  At the chains you get a receipt printed on heat transfer paper that fades into nothingness in a couple years.  Good luck using that to prove ownership.

If I purchase a firearm at my local shop, I can be in and out in 15 minutes, sometimes less.  The last gun I purchased at Cabelas took 2 hours.  That stinks. 

Finally, a pet peeve.  Anytime I am in a big box store, I see nothing but people (including employees) pointing guns at other people.  It drives me crazy.  It's a very bad habit.

Stay safe out there!

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