Behind the Gun Counter: Gun Store Bingo 2

As I’ve said before in blog posts and on Gun Owners Radio, I spent about three and a half years working at a gun store here in Virginia. That time taught me a lot, not just about firearms, but about how the industry works and how customers think. My coworkers and I had a variety of memorable customer interactions, both good and bad, that we eventually started writing down for a laugh. The list quickly turned into a bingo card, then multiple bingo cards, and Gun Store Bingo became a popular pastime at our store. I decided to post a Gun Store Bingo card last November, and given how much positive feedback it received, I promised I’d bring you all another one. Some of these entries are frustrating, some are humorous, but if you’ve ever worked behind the gun counter yourself, I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of this. As before, keep in mind that each of these entries just references something memorable that happened more than once at work, not necessarily a customer doing something stupid, so don’t feel bad if you as a customer have asked or done one of these things. I’m not trying to make fun of anyone with this blog post.

Do I need a background check? – We began to receive this question with increasing frequency in the summer of 2020. Although it may seem irritating, I didn’t really mind when someone asked this, because it meant he or she was a first-time buyer ready to take responsibility for the safety of his or her family.

Complains about prices – I can help you select the appropriate firearm for your use case, I can help you find the appropriate ammunition for that firearm, and I can tell you the restroom is beyond the display case to your right, but I can’t help you if you just want to complain. Even when I was the manager on shift, I didn’t have the authority to set prices. Much like Cheaper Online Guy from the previous bingo card, the Price Complainer is a customer we can’t really help. Even if one’s complaint is perfectly legitimate, there are plenty of better ways to voice it than by giving sales associates a hard time.

Do you own any guns? – This was easily answered by pointing to the Glock on my hip. It’s just a weird way to ask the good question of what guns the salesman owns. Sales associates are employed to sell products and may receive a commission for doing so, so they may try to sell firearms and accessories they themselves would not buy. Conversely, some salesmen will push their preferred brands to the detriment of other perfectly reasonable options. As a customer, it can be a good idea to find out not just what the people behind the counter recommend, but why they make those recommendations.

Complains about “made in China” – Many optics, particularly reflex sights, are made in China, and that fact doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on their performance anymore. You can get everything from airsoft-tier crap all the way up to some really solid professional-grade scopes that all say “made in China” on the box.

“Them hollows” – Hollow-point handgun ammunition. Please do not talk like this in a gun store, or really anywhere. I guess some people talk like this because they want to sound like gangsters in a cool way, but it really makes them sound like gangsters in a “please get out of my store before I call the police” way.

“Shave the firing pin” – A nugget of fudd lore, the ancient “wisdom” of (usually) older (usually) men who have no idea what they’re talking about but want to sound confident anyway. Depending on which fudd is flapping his gums, either all semi-automatic firearms or just ARs and AKs are evil and wicked because they can supposedly be converted to full-auto by “shaving down the firing pin.” I can assure you, filing down any firing pin is a great way to turn your gun into a paperweight until you replace the perfectly good firing pin you have now mangled.

“Do you do transfers?” – This is a common example of laypeople communicating in an unclear way because they don’t know any better. In plain language, a transfer is any time a firearm changes ownership. When people ask this question, what they really want to know is whether the shop or private dealer in question facilitates private-party transfers, which must go through an FFL in some states, including California.

Interrupted while eating – One of the frustrations of working retail, whether or not in a store that deals in firearms, is having to sneak a quick bite in during the slow part of the shift, which in my experience usually comes around 2:30 in the afternoon.

FRTs – Forced-reset triggers are one of those pieces of gear, like binary triggers, intended to simulate something approximating automatic fire without running afoul of the NFA, making them highly desirable to some people. Our company never bought them, which means our stores were safe when ATF’s thugs went around busting down doors and ransacking stores who did.

Marine lost PMAG – The gun store where I worked is the nearest one to a particular training area (if you know, you know) where Marines often lost loose gear on field exercises. During some parts of the year, practically every Sunday would have a Marine shuffle through the doorway with the telltale glum look and uncomfortable bearing that signaled us to direct him to the crate full of Magpul PMAGs, NSN 1005-01-659-7086, before he even had to open his mouth. I swear, if you could get a long enough police line out there one morning, you could fill a truck with the amount of dropped military gear you’d find.

Canik mags – Canik is a Turkish defense contractor which produces heavy machine guns and 30mm autocannons. We unfortunately can’t get those on the U.S. civilian market, but Canik also produces a family of pretty decent pistols based on the Walther P99 and imports them via Century Arms. Canik TP9s used to be a smoking deal when they were cheaper, but even now that the prices have come up, they aren’t bad guns for the money. We sold a lot of them at the shop, but there seemed to be a perpetual shortage of spare magazines. Maybe they didn’t import enough, or maybe they didn’t contract for their OEM to produce enough, but whatever the reason, we could only ever get one or two TP9 mags in stock at a time and they were always crazy expensive. As a result, people were constantly asking for them and it was frustrating to have to tell them we were all out.

Beam – Slang for laser aiming device used exclusively by wannabe gangsters. See “them hollows” above.

“What’s a good gun for a woman?” – It sounds like something well-meaning but uninformed older men ask when handgun shopping for their daughters, but I’ve also fielded it from women who didn’t know where to start. The thing is, there’s no one gun that works for every man or every woman—it all depends on the individual shooter. Anyone looking to buy a gun, regardless of sex, needs to make the purchasing decision based on what he or she can comfortable handle and shoot, not whether or not it has a pink rubber grip. In fact, Smith & Wesson made an “NL” version of their model 3913 Ladysmith because so many men wanted the slim, concealable single-stack 9mm without the feminine connotation. Women have smaller hands on average and usually dress in tighter clothing; in my experience, they tend to gravitate toward slim midsize autoloaders with longer grips, such as the Glock 48 and SIG Sauer P365XL were perennial favorites. For older women (and men too!) with arthritis, the Smith & Wesson Shield EZ and Equalizer were hot sellers. Regardless of sex, anyone with limited shooting experience should stay away from J-frame revolvers and tiny subcompact pistols as they are more difficult to handle.

Draws on you – I like to joke that I’ve had so many guns pointed at me that if someone tried to mug me, I would probably try to sell him his own gun. Most of the time it was from a customer exercising bad muzzle discipline with the unloaded firearm I had just handed over. I don’t think I’ve ever had a loaded gun pointed at me, but I can think of a few occasions when an overly enthusiastic customer was eager to show off his carry piece and failed to realize the poor etiquette of drawing a loaded handgun in a public place. Please, please don’t be that guy.

Asks for free stuff – Similar to the Price Complainer, some customers will try to bargain for the sales staff to “throw in” a box of ammo or an extra magazine with a sale. Nice try. Do you ask for a free stick of butter when you buy your groceries?

Obvious straw purchase – For the uninitiated, a straw purchase is when someone who can pass a background check tries to buy a gun for a prohibited person. This is highly illegal in multiple ways and everyone who sells firearms knows to look out for it. You can often get a read on whether someone wants to make a straw purchase just by engaging the customer in conversation, as would-be straw purchasers tend to behave awkwardly and show that they know nothing about firearms. Here are some blindingly obvious telltale signs I have actually witnessed:

  • Two people walk in, one looking at all the guns and the other tagging along passively, then the second one asks for paperwork while the first watches over his or her shoulder. They are often boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife, or father and adult son.
  • A slight variation on the above, but the prohibited person goes back to the car to wait for the obviously clueless straw buyer.
  • Another variation: two people enter the store, the first one looks at the guns and asks for paperwork, but the second watches closely over his or her shoulder and may try to “help” the buyer fill out the forms.
  • One person rapidly browses our inventory while talking loudly on the phone, often on speaker or via a Bluetooth earpiece. The would-be straw buyer often describes the inventory and may even read off prices. In the most brazen cases, the customer may take pictures or even be on a video call. Even if it isn’t a straw purchase in progress, this kind of behavior is still rude and disruptive to the other customers and staff. Where I worked, we forbade unauthorized photography and videography and we would refuse to deal with a customer who was on the phone.
  • Someone calls the store and asks the prices on several firearms either in an awkward tone (because he or she is reading off a list) or while obviously receiving instructions in the background.
  • The customer asks to handle a firearm, handles it limply and awkwardly, but asks to buy it anyway. This type of straw buyer ignores our attempts to show proper technique and gaffs off our attempts at friendly chatter.
  • A car pulls up and parks with two people in it but only one gets out and enters the store while the other waits outside.

Tries to walk behind counter – Yes, I have seen this happen multiple times. Would you walk behind the counter at a jewelry store to handle a piece without asking?

Kid touches/licks windows – Another general retail complaint. It is always irritating having to do one’s job with young children running around the store or knocking things off the pegs, but that kind of behavior is even less acceptable in a store that deals in potentially dangerous merchandise. Kids smearing their faces all over glass display cases isn’t dangerous per se, but it’s always a minor annoyance to have to go around and clean all the glass afterwards—especially if we just did that because we’re getting ready to close!

“Glock forty” or confuses model with caliber – Similar to “Glock caliber rounds” from last time. As I said back then, knowing what firearm you have will help the people behind the counter to help you. It certainly doesn’t help that Glock’s sequential model numbering scheme has no relation to chambering, so whenever we discussed Glock pistols with customers or pulled them out of the case, we made sure to state both model number and caliber (for example, “this is a Glock model 45 in 9mm”).

M240 parts – I swear I’m not trying to pick on military personnel in this blog post, but I personally answered two separate phone calls from 0331s asking if we had any M240 gas regulator plugs. Sorry, unlike with the missing magazines, your friendly neighborhood gun shop can’t save you from getting chewed out this time.

Wants to buy gun as gift without recipient hereI wrote a whole blog post on this! Go check it out!

Wants American-made, buys foreign-made – Fun fact, the company called Springfield Armory has no relationship to the genuine article—the company’s founders bought the name and logo to pull a fast one and get free cachet from people who didn’t know any better. It’s slimy corporate stolen valor. That made it all the more hilarious when someone extolled the virtues of the “good ol’ American-made” Springfield XD (designed and produced entirely by HS Produkt in formerly socialist Croatia) or Springfield 1911 (from IMBEL of Brazil).

Customer states they have a “9” when asked about make and model – Noticing a theme here? Remember, if you know what gun you have, it will help the staff at your gun store to help you. This one usually comes up when talking about holsters and magazines; both are generally specific to each make and model of pistol, not the caliber more generally.

“What Glocks y’all got” – Several times, I either answered the phone or was put on the phone with someone who, no joke, wanted me to list off every single Glock pistol we had in stock and its price. Generally speaking, the staff at your local gun store are happy to help answer questions on the phone; it saves them time and effort just as it does for you. Even if you have a complicated question or series of questions, the employee on the other end should either be able to answer it or put you on the line with someone who can. They are, after all, paid to know these things. It is impolite, however, to waste an employee’s time by asking him or her to read you the contents of an entire display case and do your shopping for you when he or she could instead be helping other customers with more pressing needs. Furthermore, a question like this is a sign of a possible straw purchase, as mentioned above. If you’re looking for one or a few firearms in particular, just ask for those, and the employee on the phone will be happy to oblige.