Gals & Gun Shops: Jennifer Kendall's real-life experience with her first gun buy

I have heard all the prejudices regarding gun stores. That anyone working there is a sexist, cold-hearted man who does not even know the meaning of the word equality. I have believed them myself without researching any of the claims. For that, I would like to apologize. I would also like to take the time to set the record straight.

I set out on a mission to see what these stores were actually like for a woman of minimal shooting experience.  I chose four different stores scattered around Southern California and entered each with the premise that I was buying a gun for personal protection in my home. I had a budget around $500.00, but I wasn’t necessarily set on spending that much. I asked each salesman what they would recommend. Here was the result:

The first store which was also a shooting range was not very busy. After explaining my budget and what I was doing at the shop the man behind the counter jumped right into the different guns he would recommend. He steered me towards 9mm semi-automatic handguns. Although I did mention my $500 budget, he began by suggesting a Sig Sauer 228 which costs $864.99. He followed this by also recommending a Sig Sauer 229 at $959.99 and a PO1 CZ 3631 at $669.99. He warned me that I would not want to go any smaller than the CZ 3631 due to my grip on the gun. He explained the need to pass the Handgun Safety Certificate test in order to purchase the gun and also advised me to practice with each suggestion at the range in order to see which gun was most comfortable to me.  There was no laughing at my being a woman in a gun shop and I actually felt very safe and very comfortable handling the weapons and learning about the different options.

The second gun store was much larger. They had an inventory that amazed me and even with multiple other customers were very accommodating.  A very friendly salesman I spoke with had completely different suggestions from the first shop. He steered me towards revolvers instead of semi-automatics and especially recommended I look at getting one with a laser grip for better shooting accuracy.  The two guns he steered me towards were the Ruger LCR-LG 38 spl for $688.95 and the Ruger KSP- 321XL – LG .357 mag for $737.95. He explained that for home protection it would be better to have a gun without a magazine so that it is ready to go without having to load or cock it. He also mentioned that if I did get the .357 mag, I should use 38 spl ammo in it. He also thought that using both guns at the shooting range would be the best way to choose one and referred me to a range just a few blocks away.

I visited the range I was directed to and for the first time I felt a little uncomfortable. There were two men behind the counter and two customers. When I walked in they did have a quick laugh and then asked me “you got somethin’ to sell?” I just turned and walked out. After two friendly experiences in different stores I knew there were places where I didn’t have to deal with the heckling.

When I visited the third shop I was pleasantly surprised at how much more relaxed I felt there after the shooting range experience. Here I was shown a Beretta 92FS for $649.99, a Springfield XD-9 for $499.99, and a Glock 17 for $609.99. All three of these guns are semi-automatics. After the last store suggested a revolver I decided to question why he suggested semi-automatics instead. His answer was that “There is no reason for a pistol unless you want to throw it in a drawer and never use it.” He explained that as long as I was willing to take my new gun to the shooting range and get comfortable with it, he believed a semi-automatic weapon was a better choice. This salesman was the first to go through all the safety features and mechanics of each gun with me. At one point he mentioned that if I was willing to spend $800-$900, instead of $500, that a Sig Sauer, top of the line semi-automatic, would be a great gun for me. That’s when I realized that Roger at the first store had steered me towards more expensive guns than necessary. I left the third store feeling very well informed and even more relaxed about being around gun stores and guns in general.

I checked out one last gun store and again was greeted with a smile. Here, the salesman went very in depth about each guns safety features, shooting accuracy from various distances, and comfort of the grip and trigger in my hand. The salesman was very enthusiastic about each guns capability and the different advantages they provide. He suggested a Springfield XD .40 S&W for $485 because of the ability this gun has to shoot when it is pressed into an attacker’s body.  He also suggested a Smith & Wesson Lady Smith .38 spl +p for $526 and a Smith & Wesson Lady Smith .357 mag for $605. He explained that because a revolver will never jam it is a good choice for protection. Before I left he said that “Getting a firearm right now is very smart.” He explained that the government is going to make it increasingly harder to purchase ammunition.

Each store’s salesman referred me to a different type of gun. Some preferred a revolver and some preferred a semi-automatic. Each store was very different, but they all treated me with the utmost respect and kindness. They all also agreed on one thing: once you decide on and purchase a firearm it is essential that you take it to a shooting range and get comfortable handling it. The prejudices that I bought into were absolutely wrong. As a young woman there are few stores that I have felt more at ease in then these gun stores, that is, once I got used to the amount of weapons surrounding me. ~Jennifer Kendall

Jennifer Kendall is a graduate of Arizona State University and preparing to attend the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Her articles appear at Guns & Patriots.

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The Conversation

  • Deb Ferns says: June 10, 2010 at 12:08 am

    Jennifer, what a great way to approach this new life experience! The details you shared will make it much easier for other women (and I’ll send them your article.) FYI – We use the Smith & Wesson M&P, .9mm exclusively for our Babes with Bullets camps as the interchangeable grips that come with the gun make a great option for a small, medium or large hand. And the M&P is right in the range dollar wise of your proposed budget. Just more “food for thought” for your next shopping trip!

  • NorCal Cazadora says: June 9, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    Jennifer, what an excellent test of both your assumptions and the gun stores! I hope someone in SoCal sends this to a bunch of gun stores and ranges – some will be proud to see themselves, and at least one should be chagrined.

    I’ve dealt with three gun stores in Northern California (Wild Sports in Orangevale, Sportsman’s Warehouse in Rocklin, and Guns, Fishing & Other Stuff in Vacaville, and I’ve found them all to be very friendly and courteous. I do have a friend in the Bay Area who has one store she will not patronize because the staff has been downright rude to her, but it sounds like that’s the exception.

    I think it’s really important to spread the word about this treatment – and to get the renegades in line – because so many women I know feel very intimidated by the whole process of buying and shooting guns for the first time. I think they’d be glad to hear that the industry on the whole welcomes them and is eager for their business.

  • Mike Piccione says: June 9, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Congratulations Jennifer – you made the WON!!