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Clerks Relate Gun Shop Horror Stories

by James Tarr   |  November 5th, 2012 23

The customer is always right. ...Right?

I have visited several large gun stores recently from Michigan to Florida–specifically the Florida Gun Exchange in Ormond Beach–and have been asking several questions, mostly for my own education. One of the things I asked was whether they’d seen a surge in business after President Obama, during the second presidential debate, stated he wanted to reintroduce the assault weapons ban. Surprisingly, the answer was no. The other question I asked was, “Got any good stories?”

Oh boy.

If you’ve ever worked in retail, you know the customer is always right–even when they’re wrong, insane, dangerous, nice, mean or just plain stupid. The stories I’ve heard from gun store employees may be enough to turn your hair white.

My local gun store is not just large, but offers just about every service you might want, which means the variety of crazy stories they had to offer me was just as varied. Double Action Indoor Shooting Center in Madison Heights, Mich., not only sells guns, but has an indoor 25-yard pistol range, 50-yard rifle range, rental handguns and long guns, and does gunsmithing. While located in a suburb, they also get a lot of business from Detroit residents. You name it, they’ve seen it.

“Think about it,” Ken told me at DA one day. “You don’t go to the ski place, buy a pair of skis and then expect the salesman to teach you how to ski. Where else do you buy sporting equipment and expect the salesman to show you how to use it? But a lot of people who buy a gun just assume that you’ll tell them how to shoot it.”

“I can’t tell you how many times a day I’m swept by muzzles,” Brian told me. “At some point you just stop flinching.”

In the ranges, not only do the floors and walls downrange get shot a lot, but so do the lights and cables which run the targets back and forth. Even the walls between the stalls display bullet holes.

Michigan is a shall-issue state, and the store has no problems with customers carrying inside. Just don’t pull out your loaded gun, sweep the clerk and say, “I’m wondering if you can help me with this.”

All the store clerks are very knowledgeable and polite, but they’re also armed, and while in the store I’ve heard one of them tell a customer, “If you pull that gun out and point it at my head again, things are going to get pretty f***ing loud real quick.”

Open carry is legal in Michigan as well, and the clerks at DA love to tell the story of the guy who came in wearing an AR-15 pistol in a shoulder holster.

Al Allen, the owner of the store, told me he just scratched his head, looked the guy up and down, and asked him simply, “Why?”

He responded, “Because I can.”

The clerks behind the counter also aren’t big fans of the Internet, just because it is so rife with misleading or just plain wrong information. So many customers have to be re-educated when they come into the store that it’s become part of the job when selling a gun.

From customers wanting them to diagnose the problem with their gun over the phone, to BATF audits which take two weeks; as much as I love guns, I don’t know if I’d ever want to own a gun store after seeing what they have to put up with.

For years they used a magnet to make sure nobody was using steel-core ammo on the rifle range, but after a steady battering of their steel baffles downrange by armor-piercing ammunition (or its equivalent), they finally refused to allow any AKs or SKSs on the rifle range. After customers loaded the rental handguns with handloaded ammo or stuff they apparently salvaged off submerged U-boats, they require customers to use store-bought ammo in their rental guns.

I have a friend who insures several gun stores, and the horror stories he’s had to deal with are almost unbelievable. Sure, Walmart may have to deal with shoplifters, but have they ever had someone rent a gun, buy a box of ammo to go with it, then go into the bathroom and kill themselves? Have they ever had a widow bring in the live grenade she found in her recently deceased husband’s effects? Don’t think so.

So be kind to your local gun store clerks, and realize that not only do they have to deal with the same customers every retail store does, their customers are handling guns.

  • AaronW

    I agree that it's not the store's job to make the purchaser of their first gun into a competent shooter , just for having bought the gun, but it's also wrong to sell the gun without at least taking a few minutes to give them a few pointers.
    I met a woman in Winslow whose first handgun was an 9mm FN. We went to a desert shooting area. She had no idea what the decocker was for, was loading rounds into the magazine backwards, and didn't know how to release the slide.
    Imbuing people with a dash of product knowledge during and after the sale is just plain good customer service, and in the case of firearms, can help prevent negligent discharges.

    • ralph

      How about the assumption that the woman you described is simply an idiot and as an adult must accept responsibility for her actions. She should have spent time reading the damn manual or taking a course.

      She was not the store's responsibility.

  • Mack Missiletoe

    " All the store clerks are very knowledgeable and polite, but they’re also armed, and while in the store I’ve heard one of them tell a customer, “If you pull that gun out and point it at my head again, things are going to get pretty f***ing loud real quick.” "

    Hahahahahaa!!! Amen to that!

    When I took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation Ridercourse some years ago, the wise MSF Instructor told me that some people will try and try to get their motorcycle license. But they will fail every time. He then said that some people just do not have what it takes to drive a motorcycle. I think this applies to guns as well. Some people just do not have the coordination or brains to operate a gun safely.

    I think there is a certain responsibility one has who is selling guns in a store professionally–to show the buyer how to use it if they do not know how. Maybe this would not apply to skis, but guns are very dangerous if improperly handled.

    Why, Ruger's Michael Fifer explained it perfectly, saying that the Shooting Sports are intimidating to get into if you have no dad or brother to show you how to shoot. You may realize you need a gun for home defense, but where do you start? The beginner does not know. So help him or her :D

  • Norm Mastalarz

    I worked behind the gun counter of a prominent Los Angeles area sporting goods chain a number of years ago. Many customers who were uninformed about firearms, but who wished to purchase a gun for home defense, required competent, if necessarily incomplete, education regarding their choices. Every single customer to whom I extended that help expressed sincere gratitude. Some made puchases on the spot, others returned at a later date. My point is that these folks were probably neutral, or marginally positive, regarding their attitudes toward gun ownership. I can think of no quicker way to turn such people into anti-gun types than by exhibiting superior, or even condescending, behavior toward them because of their lack of knowledge. (I've observed this sort of behavior in gun shops more times than I like to admit. It's counter-productive and stupid. When will we ever learn?) I'm happy to report that many of those first-timers became repeat customers and fans of the shooting sports. Needless to say, our sport needs all the new (and properly educated) members it can attract.

    • Richard

      Norm, you're exactly right!

  • Mike Merkel

    Firearm education in the schools is a good idea, but will never happen.

    • Jim_Macklin

      One of many good things about the recent changes in the laws in all states, the laws that pertain to firearms and firearms use in self-defense have become easier to find. Just a dozen years ago, to find the laws that deal with the use of force [self-defense], citizens’ arrest, and legal transport and carry are now collected and on-line everywhere.

      In Kansas has direct links to all the laws that should be known. In just a few weeks, about July 1, 2013 the State of Kansas will update the CCH instructor book which is a good instruction book to study.

      If every high school student got a full month of instruction on the NRA and KSAG documents, the pool of jurors would be better. Every citizen should know the laws and which states to avoid like the plague when traveling; don’t drive through NJ or NY. At least Illinois law provides a lawful means to travel in compliance with the state law.

  • Dennis Merola

    Mr. Tarr, I am a frequent guest of Double Action, also. One thing they will do is field strip the gun and give a basic lesson on cleaning and lubricating [even though I have purchased a few firearms from them]. And Al has always been friendly to me and other 'regulars' that come in even just to kick tires. But, I watch them and they are very cautious as curtious. One thing to be sure, they have opinions and are willing to offer them. That is refreshing to me, because they are not just will ing to sell anything for the money.
    Since Nov. 2008, I have seen their stock almost depleted to good back to depleted. A sign of the times. But I have noticed novices purchasing items which is good as long as they don't try out on the range. Good news is that thsy have watchful eyes.

  • hijinx60

    A friend of mine is a gunsmith. One day a man brought in a gun which he had put a scope on and asked the gunsmith to center it. When the gunsmith took it to the range to center the scope, he naturally checked the bore. The customer had actually drilled through the barrel and inserted bolts to mount the scope! I guess that stupid knows no bounds.

    • Mack Missieltoe


      Drilled and Crapped.

  • Gun buyer

    I'm sure it can be a dangerous profession, however if they want it to continue to be their profession they should treat customers like customers and not as interruptions and act like the customers should be gratefull they are being helped. The rude service just drivesmore of us to Internet sales and away from local gun stores.

  • Grnn8man

    I have a friend who owns a gun shop. A customer came in and looked at an AR and asked if the "F" and "S" on the side next to a button was for fast and slow – he refused selling the gun to the person.

    • John

      What Gun Store; I want to make sure I never shop there.

  • guest

    A local Gunshop owner shared:
    " He had removed a revolver from the show case for a 20 something customer; a box fell from the open show case. He opened the cylinder and handed the revolver to the guy, then bent over to retrieve the fallen object taking his eyes off the" kid". he hears the " kid" close the cylinder.

    Straightening up; the kid points the revolver at him(cylinder closed) A tussle over the gun ensued..
    "He informed the kid: "had he had his usual carry gun on the kid would be dead".
    "What???? It was just a joke!!!!!!!"
    I never realized this kind of dangerously stupid crap happened. Considered working in a gun shop once; I now no longer want to ever deal in firearms with the general public. A simple gun safety 101 class would be a business windfall for any gun shop and should be offered. Sadly Some of my fellow citizens should not own firearms.

    After seeing a severely wounded ( back leg shot in half at the knee joint, compound fracture) Whitetail doe put down by one of our "party" this weekend;
    Some of them should not be granted hunting licenses either.

  • CommonMan

    I see a lot of discussion centered around the topic of basic weapons training and gun safety. Some have drawn parallels with the basic requirements our society expects and demands in other areas of human endeavor — operation of motor vehicles, hunting, and basic academic skills. Why not require the same of gun owners — that a basic level of proficiency with weapons be met before someone can legally operate a weapon? Personally, I don't think it is the gun shop owner's societal resposibility to train prospective gun owners – we don't require car dealers to train car buyers to drive. The government already knows who the legal owners of guns are, why not require of ourselves a basic level of competency with the deadly weapons we own? This is our societal responsibility.

    • Guest

      IMHO, a goodly number of US gun owners exhibit a serious lack of respect for the responsible ownership of deadly weapons. This (neighbourly) observation is based on having spent considerable time travelling (post retirement) in the US the past few years, primarily in Florida. It appears gun owners have allowed their second amendment right to overshadow their good common sense and caused them to become desensitized to the serious dangers of irresponsible ownership and unaccountable use of such weapons. In many cases the safe storage laws in force here in Canada would prevent many shooting tragedies that occur repeatedly in the US. Carrying a loaded weapon when one is awake for protection is fine but leaving a loaded firearm readily available to anyone in the house without proper supervision and safe restricted storage is simply courting disaster. I'm sure there are very many safe and conscientious guns owners in the US, unfortunately the track records of the irresponsible owners speaks volumes. Sadly there will not be any easy or quick fixes to this problem coming anytime soon.

      • Kent

        If Adam Lanza's mother had been a responsible gun owner (i.e. stored her guns so that only she could access them), then the Sandy Hook shooting wouldn't have happened. Restricting the types of guns a person can purchase and making background checks more stringent do nothing if the gun owner isn't the one committing the violent act.

        Making more gun owners RESPONSIBLE GUN OWNERS is the only way to reduce gun violence.

  • DLDG

    We had Marksmanship sports in MT high school in the 80's. My husband lettered twice in it and qualified for the junior Olympics.

  • Mintex

    Sorry Kent but if there's one thing I learned in the 18+ years as a criminal investigator is that someone, especially a mentally ill criminal, will carry out their plans to harm others unless locked away. I strongly believe Lanza would have carried out his plans in some fashion even if he didn't have access to his mother's guns. He could have stolen them, bought them illegally on the street or used an IED (as the Columbine killers built). It's not the firearms that made the crime, it was the criminal. Sure, it might not have been as bad but he could have still accomplished his goal. Until you stop the killer behind the gun, you will not stop the killing.

  • shootbrownelk

    Mintex, couldn't have said it any better. Mental illness needs to be addressed. Finding a gun isn't a problem for a crook a druggie or a mental case, never has been.

    • Brum

      Only problem is, if we lose our right to own guns, some of us will go crazy. Better to have an armed and sane population than an unarmed crazy population. LOL

  • Jake

    To the best of my knowledge from all that I have read about the shootings . The shooters Have been on pychotropic drugs. Such as luvox, effexor, ritalin, zoloft, paxil and many more. Read the Banner newspaper volume 16 Issue 50 wednesday February 13, 2013 . . I think You will be able to see where these children are getting these drugs . what I don't see is why the hell our elected people in our goverment are so blind on this problem . Guns are not the problem Stupid is the problem . Fix the problem . A good olace to start is elected officals from Obama on down .These people work for us If they don't VOTE them out . what do you not understand about WE THE PEOPLE .

  • Jim_Macklin

    “but have they ever had someone rent a gun, buy a box of ammo to go with it, then go into the bathroom and kill themselves?”
    This has happened four times in two different gun stores/shooting ranges in Wichita. Despite other shooters being on the range adjacent to the suicide and while being monitored by video feeds a suicide can be too quick to stop.
    Perhaps gun rental should be limited to “persons known” or people who already own a gun or have a license to carry.
    The sad fact is that people have been committing suicide for thousands of years. Natural cliffs, buildings and bridges, even highways have been the scene of suicide. Often the suicidal put other drivers’ lives at risk .

    Read more:

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