How To Act In A Gun Shop — Proper Gun Shop Etiquette

Don’t act like a criminal, don’t get treated like a criminal. That’s the first rule to remember when you walk into a gun shop. A wide variety of people walk through the doors of just about any gun shop. Some people are pensive, nervous about a potential first gun purchase. Others are worried that their wives or husbands will find out they’re using the Christmas credit card on a new pistol.

  • Gun shop clerks are used to seeing nervous people.
  • Gun shop clerks are also used to seeing overly confident jackasses.
  • Most gun shop clerks are experts at picking out criminals.

Those boys and gals working behind the glass typically carry a pistol on their side because it’s not the nervous nellies or the proud cowboys strutting in through the door they’re worried about.

They’re worried about that shifty character, shooting sideways glances, whispering in his girlfriend’s ear about his next preferred purchase.

They’re worried about the guy on his cellphone, taking gun orders and texting photos of what’s in the case to god-knows-who.

And they’re definitely worried about some young buck thinking he can knock off a gun store with a broken down pistol and some liquid courage.

If you’re not in the gun shop to purchase a gun for a felon, aren’t yourself a fugitive from justice, or looking to rob the place — it’s pretty easy to not act like it.

This article is for those who are nervous about walking in the door of a gun shop for the first time. There’s nothing to fear. Gun store clerks don’t typically bite unless it’s lunch time.

Gun Store Etiquette 101

There’s three basic rules to shopping for a gun in a gun store:

1.) Don’t act like a criminal.

2.) Don’t whip out your gun. 

3.) Follow the 4 Safety Rules while handling any guns.

Those three basic rules are surprisingly difficult to follow for some people.

In case you don’t know the 4 Safety Rules, here they are:

1.) Treat every gun as if it is loaded — until you physically confirm it is not.

2.) Don’t point your gun at anything you do not intend to shoot.

3.) Keep your finger off the trigger until you intend to fire.

4.) Know what is in front of and behind your target.

You’re going to see row upon row of amazing firearms for sale. That’s the point. There’s going to be stickers where gun prices are listed. In the vast majority of cases, that’s the price the store clerk wants for the gun.

Feel free to ask their advice and don’t be afraid to let them know your budget. They’re not there to determine if you’re a bad person or not. They’re there to sell a gun to a law-abiding American who has a right to possess firearms.

What You Say Can Hurt You

The clerk is obliged to follow the rules the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) sets forth for Federal Firearm Licensees. This means that if you say you’re purchasing this gun on someone else’s behalf, they’re going to tell you to come back with that person.

The reason is this: they can’t legally sell you a gun that’s going to someone other than you.

Depending upon your state’s laws, you’re completely allowed to purchase a pistol and then transfer it to someone else in “private sale”. Some states — like Massachusetts — will want to have some legal paperwork for that transaction to legally occur.

Don’t walk into a gun store wearing drug paraphenalia. A tie-die Bob Marley shirt doesn’t count. But if you walk in smelling like you just got done doing bong rips in the car, the clerk is going to be obliged to not sell you a gun.


Because the clerk isn’t allowed to sell a gun to anyone that is under the influence or addicted to drugs.

Even if you live in a state where recreational marijuana is completely legal, the BATF is a federal agency and their friends over in the DEA say marijuana is a Schedule I drug.

Furthermore, the clerk needs to be able to hand a form (DOJ Form 4473) to you and be reasonably confident you can truthfully answer the following questions.

For your convenience, we’ll list them out. They’re all YES/NO

  • Are you the actual buyer of the gun?
    • If you answer ‘no’, the clerk can’t sell you the gun. Simple as that. No ‘if’s, ‘and’s, or ‘but’s.
  • Are you under indictment for a felony or any other crime that could land you in jail for a year or more?
    • ‘Under indictment’ means a jury has decided that there is enough evidence to go ahead with a full blown trial.
  • Are you a fugitive from justice?
    • Is there an active warrant out for your arrest? If there is, answer ‘Yes‘. And take a free trip to a place where you’re guaranteed three square meals a day and your own cot.
  • Are you an unlawful user of marijuana or any controlled substances?
    • i.e. You are taking drugs that have not been prescribed to you.
    • Be warned: medical marijuana cards are under some harsh scrutiny by the federal government.
  • Have you been adjudicated mentally defective or have you ever been committed to a mental institution?
    • When a court adjudicates you’re mentally defective, there’s a court order detailing you as such. Until that time, so long as you haven’t been committed to a mental institution (or psych ward), this doesn’t apply.
  • Have you been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions?
    • A medical discharge, general under honorable, etc., is not dishonorable. A dishonorable discharge is very specific and you’d definitely know if you got one.
  • Are you subject to a court order restraining you from harassing, stalking, or threatening your child or the intimate partner of your child?
    • i.e. Restraining Order or Protective Custody Order
  • Have you ever been convicted in any court of misdemeanor crime of domestic violence?
    • Charged is different than convicted. You can be charged for a crime but not convicted.
  • Have you ever renounced your United States citizenship?
    • This is different than that one time your buddy in college wanted to become a Marxist guerilla in El Salvador and said he hated the U.S. government. Don’t get me wrong, that dude was weird, but renouncing citizenship is a legal process. This is the actual act of renouncing your citizenship by turning in your passport once you are outside of the country.
  • Country of Citizenship (multiple choice question)
    • HINT: If it’s not the United States, the gun sale isn’t going through.
  • Are you an illegal alien?
    • Actual question is phrased differently but the crux is this: if you answer ‘Yes’, you don’t get to buy a gun through an FFL.

There’s a few more questions but the major ones are right up front.

  • Will you be buying the gun for yourself?
  • Are you under indictment for any felonies or serious misdemeanors?
  • Do you have active restraining orders against you?
  • Have you ever been convicted of domestic violence?
  • Are you a legal citizen of this country?

If you say anything to the gun clerk by which he may rightfully infer you fall into any of these aforementioned categories — he can’t, in good conscience, sell you the gun.

Bartering and Haggling For Guns with Gun Store Clerks

So you see the pistol of your dreams sitting in the case. The problem is, it’s more than you are willing to spend. Haggling with the gun store owner from this perspective won’t get you anything. If you pony up all cash, he may give you a very small discount — typically no more than $25-50 depending upon how convincing you are.

There are gun stores that sell used and new guns. If you’re in a store that sells used guns, your best bet to dropping the price of a gun you’re interested is to offer something in trade in addition to cash.

That gets gun store clerks interested.

If you want to keep that interest, here’s what they’re looking for:

  • PRIORITY A: Working guns
  • B: A bunch of working magazines
  • C: Optics, scopes

A + B + C = Biggest discount

If you’re willing to trade in a few working guns, you may just be able to knock down the price to something extremely reasonable. Just magazines or just optics probably won’t get you there unless there’s very high demand for either.

They’re typically not going to give you a whole big discount if you throw in used holsters. And most gun store clerks I’ve spoken with cannot accept ammunition as trade.

You can sell ammunition, though, in private sales. Keep that in mind. Check with your state’s regulations on that.

Trade Smarter, Not Harder

Know the market value of your gun prior to using it as a trade-in.

If you have, for instance, a Sig Sauer P250 full-size and you want to use its trade-in value against a Springfield 1911, you’re likely to only get $100 in trade-in value. Why? Because the market value for a used Sig Sauer P250 full-size is in the $375 range. A gun store clerk is going to need to make a profit off the resale in order to make it worth his while.

Gun store clerks will, at times, tell you to get what you can in a private sale and come back when you have the cash.

So, we’ve covered the wide gamut of basic etiquette tips. There’s always more. If you’ve ever been a gun store clerk, make sure to tell us about your pet peeves when dealing with customers. We’re always curious to hear some of the crazy stories that come up.

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