In this 2-part series, Sara Ahrens’ Offbeat takes a look at gun store safety, and what you should expect from the experience of going to purchase a firearm.
Few interactions in my life really get under my skin like purchasing a firearm from a gun store. It’s sort of amazing, given that my profession has placed me in circumstances that would make even the most tolerant individual become annoyed. I suppose the difference among the 2 is that, as a police officer, I quickly learned not to take things personally. I had to learn to get beyond being annoyed with people, or my career would have ended almost as soon as it began.
Purchasing a firearm with my own, hard-earned money is a very personal experience. I don’t take it lightly, because, in my eyes, it’s an investment of my personal safety, and of the safety of my family. I do not claim to know everything there is to know about firearms. As a matter of fact, I will admit that there is far more that I do not know, as compared to what I do. My point is this — I have certain expectations when purchasing a firearm, and they must be met or I will immediately halt and retreat. I will not purchase, and have not purchased a firearm from a store that violates my expectations. My expectations fall into 2 broad categories — safety and service.
When I purchase a firearm, it’s usually to fulfill my need for security. So, why would I ever choose to go to a store that jeopardizes my security? I hold 3 expectations of safety that apply to all gun stores.
Expectation 1 – Store is located in a safe area
My need to feel safe and secure extends beyond the store itself; I also evaluate the store’s general location and its parking lot. Stores that are in unsafe areas are obvious … just look for the signs of crime and blight. I’m not going to get out of my car, purchase a firearm and walk back to my car in an apparent, crime-ridden area. You don’t have to be a police officer to understand that when you walk out of a gun store with any package, a criminal can pretty much predict that whatever you have is going to be something of value.
Expectation 2 – Parking lot is safe by design
Even if the surrounding area is decent, I always pay attention to the parking lot. I have an internal dialog with myself and make mental notes on my level of comfort with the area. My expectation is to feel comfortable getting out of my car. I don’t want to see anything that might make me uncomfortable — like loitering vagrants.
The proximity of the parking lot to the store also is important. I don’t want to walk a long distance with my purchase. I pay attention to the lighting in the parking lot, and scout out potentially dangerous areas within the vicinity. The environmental design of a business lot is very important. When I see dumpsters, especially with fences or bushes around them, I know from my police experience that it is a location where criminals can hide. I can usually look at a location and gauge the security risk.
Expectation 3 – Employees demonstrate safe gun-handling skills
My feelings of safety also extend to the behavior of the employees. If I observe a sales clerk muzzling me or other customers, it is a big turn off. This might sound a bit extreme, considering the design of most gun stores makes muzzling unavoidable at times, but I’ll explain. If an inadvertent muzzle sweep is coupled with an apology or verbal acknowledgement of the action, I can forgive the act. I recognize that it may be difficult to safely negotiate everyone in a store. But, blatant lack of adherence to gun-handling rules, in any environment, screams carelessness to me. It’s an indicator that the person lacks basic knowledge, and etiquette, or worse yet, he or she is complacent. Regardless of the reason, I cannot buy a gun from an unsafe individual.
If a gun store passes my expectations of safety, I can then evaluate its service. I believe that most firearms’ sales to women are lost based on a lack of expected service. My next column will cover my expectations for service at a gun store.
First published Feb. 14, 2014.
Read Part 2, which focuses on what to expect from gun store service.