The Cornered Cat
Point of contact

Had a heartbreaking conversation with a friend a few days ago. She teaches entry-level to intermediate classes in another part of the country, and offers personal firearms coaching as well.

One of her newest clients was a woman who had an immediate, serious need: her violently abusive ex-boyfriend was slated to get out of prison the next day, years ahead of time, and she knew he’d be coming after her. She was terrified. And she’d never owned a gun in her life, nor shot one.

So she went to her local gun store, told them her story, and bought the gun that the guy behind the counter recommended for her. Then she called my friend for some one-on-one instruction. My friend gave her a rough rundown of the basics, using a dummy gun for illustrative purposes.

When they pulled out the new gun that the gun shop had recommended for a terrified new shooter who had an immediate self defense need, they found that this woman literally could not pull the heavy trigger on her brand new gun. She just did not have the hand strength to do it.

This kind of stupidity and thoughtlessness at the point of sale — for someone in crisis! — is enough to make an angel weep.

My ideal local gun shop would

  • encourage their salespeople to sample-shoot various types of guns (in all sizes and weights and in as many different calibers as possible), for the same reasons that good restaurants encourage their waitstaff to sample the entire menu: so they’ll be able to make informed recommendations to customers;
  • teach every person who works the counter how to assess hand/gun fit for pistol shooters, including the all-important question of whether the customer would be able to move the trigger (and never sell a gun to anyone who cannot reach critical controls or who cannot move the trigger all the way back using only the index finger);
  • have a knowledgeable, good instructor on speed dial — someone fully qualified to take a frightened new shooter and give them a fast track to building the most critical survival skills in the shortest possible time — and recommend that every new shooter contact that instructor or someone from a short list of recommended others just as soon as they reasonably can; and
  • Never, ever, ever, EVER push a new shooter into buying a DAO snub-nosed revolver (not even a new shooter who happens to be a woman), unless there’s literally no other choice that the new shooter will accept. 1  Snubbies are experts’ guns, not great for beginners and especially ungood for women with limited hand strength.

As the first point of contact between new gun owners and the rest of the shooting community, people working the counters in local gun stores play a critical role in how people choose their firearms, and an even more critical role in what new shooters do next.

Based on that initial experience, does the new shooter decide to learn more about guns, and become a safe, serious, responsible gun owner who can carry the torch for the next generation? Or do they instead have a negative experience, and decide that gun ownership isn’t for them — or worse, that they will own guns but never really learn how to use them safely and well?

Does the new shooter meet someone behind the counter who welcomes them into the community of gun owners as a fellow traveler and helps them choose the firearm that’s right for them? Or do they meet someone who’s just trying to make a sale?

Do they meet someone who cares about the end user and can help them meet their needs? Or do they meet a callously misinformed salesperson who would rather repeat old myths than learn something new?

Does the new shooter always meet someone who knows what they’re doing behind that counter? If not, why not?


  1. Of course, if that’s what the buyer comes into the store wanting to buy, that’s an entirely different kettle of fish.  Someone asking for a recommendation or advice should get good, helpful, on-target advice that will lead to a sale, while someone asking to buy a specific type of gun should get fast, friendly service that leads to a sale. I’m certainly not suggesting that gun store employees get in the habit of insulting their customers or arguing with their customers’ choices!

4 Responses to Point of contact

  1. GunDiva says:

    In a perfect world, this is exactly how I would run a gun shop.

  2. larryarnold says:

    Never, ever, ever, EVER push a new shooter into buying a DAO snub-nosed revolver

    Amen! And in particular not a superduper-lightweight snubby that kicks like thunder.

    Realize that if someone is buying a first gun it isn’t going to be just a carry gun. It’s also the one they practice with, use for home defense, and hopefully have fun target shooting with. If it hurts to shoot and they can’t hit anything with it, they won’t.

  3. Douglas says:

    some gun shops are better than others, just like people. my standing offer is if i’m at the range, and you ask nicely, i’ll let you shoot whatever i’m shooting or have with me. under careful supervision. best way to learn is by doing. you can describe how a gun shoots, but nothing replaces actually experiencing it for yourself.

  4. sunbeam39 says:

    I agree with your post. My elderly father in law (92) who live with us began having hallucinations. One day he was having a rough day. When I convinced him the threat was not there, he went to his room and came out with his S&W airweight j-frame. Basically he gave it to me and told me to learn to use it. My son in law taught me. Boy was it a mother!!! But with your very helpful sight and practice I am proficient.
    I seriously cannot believe someone would recommend this gun to a person in immediate need of protection. He could have at least let her try the unloaded revolver tto see if she could pull the trigger (the good thing of revolvers…dry shooting)! And yes, I remember the first time I felt that ‘kick’!
    I am a leftie, and after firing several semi-automatics and getting hot brass in my face I carry my snubby!!!

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