SKILLS: Top 3 Terrible Pieces of Advice Women Get in Gun Stores

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With an increasing number of women purchasing firearms, Tamara Keel advises that’s it’s about time the counter staff wises up… Read the story!

Girl gun

SOURCE: NRA Publications, Shooting Illustrated, by Tamara Keel

Every now and again, I get a writing assignment that’s not even work. This is one of those. “Hey, Tamara, would you like to do a piece on some of the worst advice women get in gun stores?”

Oh, honey. Pull up a chair…

I wouldn’t have worked in the gun sales business as long as I did if I didn’t enjoy it, but like all career fields, you get a wide range of quality in employees. You know that one guy in your office who means well but still hasn’t figured out which part of the envelope he’s supposed to lick? Well, his cousin sells guns, and for some reason I have interacted with him from the customer side of the counter a bunch of times over the years. Let me tell you, he has some downright awful ideas about women and guns. Let me share a few of them with you.

ONE: The worst piece of advice I’ve gotten in a gun store…
…is hopefully an artifact of the past. I haven’t heard it in many years, but who knows? Maybe some dude working in a place out back of beyond is still handing it out. Basically, it’s the, “What do you want a gun for? Let your man defend you…” The first time I heard this in a gun store I was dumbstruck. I am standing here trying to give a dude money for merchandise and he’s trying to talk me out of it. That was a unique retail experience.

It didn’t happen often and, like I said, it hasn’t happened for years, but I swear it happened. There was this occasional guy behind the counter who thought I was intruding in his clubhouse, and told me that I didn’t have the defensive mindset or mechanical aptitude or whatever for a gun, because, well, icky gurrrrl.

Closely related to this is the next piece of bad advice, usually delivered by a guy who is affecting the “veteran persona,” which is this: “Oh, what you need to do is load the first chamber with [a blank/snakeshot] because you don’t want to kill anyone. You don’t know how horrible it is…” At which point they gaze off at a far corner of the shop with a 10-yard version of a 1000-yard stare.

I mean, he’s sort of right, in that I don’t particularly want to kill anybody. But another thing I don’t want to be doing is explaining to a judge and jury why I blinded or maimed a person for life when I didn’t think they rated the use of deadly force. Because make no mistake about it, pointing a firearm at someone and pulling the trigger is deadly force, and “snake shot” or “rat shot” is not some kind of harmless stun ray. It’s perfectly capable of blinding and maiming at defensive distances.

TWO: The second-worst piece of advice I’ve gotten in a gun store…
The second most common piece of bad advice I’ve gotten in gun stores is the “cute gun.” This is where the clerk, apparently operating on autopilot, steers you to the tiniest little nickel-plated, pearl-handled .25 or .32 in the case. Apparently he has decided that those are girl guns, and you’re a girl, and so… Obviously a match made in heaven, right? It sometimes doesn’t even matter if you’re in there to get a trap shotgun or a long-range precision rifle, it can take a crowbar to pry the clerk off trying to sell you that little .25, because you’re fighting (or frightening) his automatic programming.

THREE: The most common piece of advice women get in gun stores…
And this brings us to the most common piece of bad advice given to women in gun stores, and it’s one often given with the best of intentions: The lightweight .38 Special or .357 Magnum revolver. If there is a single firearm configuration that has put more novice women shooters off the idea of shooting as a hobby than the lightweight 5-shot .38, I don’t know what else it is.

Don’t get me wrong, the lightweight .38 snubbie has settled a lot of bad guys’ hash over the years, but it’s not really a beginner’s gun. The light weight amplifies recoil and also hurts accuracy, in that a 12-pound trigger pull on a 1-pound gun will really test the shooter’s abilities to keep the sights aligned through the whole trigger press. The sight radius is short, the sights are minimalistic and low-contrast, and the grip is tiny.

In short, the little snub is an expert’s gun that gets foisted on novice women shooters because it’s small and light and has a reputation for being effective. I think there’s also this idea that because it’s a revolver that it’s “simpler” and therefore easier for our lady-brains to understand or something. Nothing is more discouraging than being handed a gun that’s unpleasant to shoot and challenging to fire accurately when you’re a novice, especially when you’ve been told it’s the perfect gun for you.

So there are a few of the worst pieces of advice I’ve been given in gun stores, but there’s plenty more where that came from. Hopefully this will become a quaint relic of the past as more and more women get involved in shooting.

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12 thoughts on “SKILLS: Top 3 Terrible Pieces of Advice Women Get in Gun Stores”

  1. Outstanding! I love that “10 yard version of the 1000 yard stare” line. So true.

    I’m 6’ 8” and 300 plus pounds guy, 62 years old, an NRA Instructor, and I’ve been going into gun stores with my Dad and shooting since I was 7, and I’ve see all this and more. There’s something about guns that (in some cases) attracts a certain type of “Camo Commando” who doesn’t know jack about guns or shooting, but is only too willing to foist his Soldier Of Fortune notions onto those he considers newbies.

    My favorites are “Everyone knows the .45 ACP has more knockdown power than the .357 Mag,” “9 mm isn’t an effective handgun round,” and one guy who suggested I drill out hollow cavities in the nose of all my FMJ RN bullets. “Uh, why can’t I just buy a box of hollow-points?”

    When I was in my 20’s and 30’s I would try out a new gun store by deliberately going in and looking clueless, and ask an obvious (dumb) question and see how they responded. If they were patient and respectful and answered the question I went back. If I got the above know it all attitudes, and what I call “gun lore” BS, I went somewhere else.

    Again, great article, thanks.

      1. Ha ha! That’s so funny Superman! And so incredibly off the point, and doesn’t address my content at all! But I’m sure you’re used to that.

        Hot air rises, and $h&; floats. You should change your fake name to Jimmy Olsen.

      2. By the way, what is it about these kinds of threads that attracts trolls whose sole contribution is to demean other posters trying to make legitimate points? Don’t you have anything else to do?

        I imagine you’re one of the types of gun store clerks the author mentions, and that’s why my comments irritated you?

  2. There’s another factor to this:
    The customer standing off to the side who can’t stop himself from interjecting his “expertise”. There just as bad as the idiot counter guy. Whatever they own is absolutely the best….for everyone.
    I always begin with “what are your specific needs for this purchase?” “do you have any firearms experience”
    And the husbands who always want the “little” gun for the ladies, like a Ruger LCP, Taurus TCP, etc. First thing I tell them is the lack of control due to the size. There are quite snappy for someone with no experience. She’ll hate it. And no, the 12ga shotgun is not a better choice.

  3. I worked the counter for 7 years. Sometimes I was fighting someone else’s “programming” of a potential female customer. It’s a fine line with any new customer, regardless of gender, between assuming they know enough and assuming that they know too little. It takes skill to figure out how much they know without offending them. Add-in the gender bias and this can get really, really tricky. The absolute worst situation is when a lady would bring in a patronizing blow-hard know-it-all male who really didn’t know anything. I can’t tell you how many times I wished that gal had had a female friend who did know enough that she’d brought with her because usually there was no salvaging that situation.

  4. I disagree with your point number 3 regarding a lightweight 5-shot .38 Special revolver for women, for men, for new shooters, or for someone who wants protection, but is not necessarily a gun enthusiast! You pull the trigger on a revolver, and it will go bang! You pull the trigger again, and it will go bang again! Not always so with a semi-auto pistol. Leave a revolver loaded for extended periods of time, and it will always be ready to put into action! But with a semi-auto pistol, there are magazine springs that can go weak if left loaded for extended periods of time, which degrade the semi-auto pistol’s reliability. In my opinion, semi-autos are more complicated than revolvers, especially for beginning shooters. A new shooter needs to learn to take the clip out and fill it, then reinsert the clip. Semi-autos can jam easier than a revolver because they are more ammo sensitive due to the feed ramp and bullet profiles. You need to learn how to disassemble a semi-auto pistol and clean and lube it proplerly for reliable function. You need fairly strong hands and arms to rack a semi-auto. If you get hurt and don’t have your semi-auto with a chambered round, you may not have two hands available to rack and load it. Shoot a semi-auto with a limp wrist and it may jam. This is a bit much information for any new shooter to digest right away, so the revolver is much simpler for them, and they should be confident with their weapon in a relatively short period of time and training. I am not against semi-auto pistols. I think semi-autos are better for more experienced people who enjoy shooting and practicing a lot, and semi-autos need to be cleaned and lubed in much more detail than a revolver. For people who have limited hand strength and just want a simple and a nearly full-proof weapon for self protection that is low maintenance and not ammo sensitive, then a revolver wins HANDS DOWN in my opinion!

  5. Thanx for this article. I recently went thru this whole scenario at a LGS when my lovely lady friend had rec’d her CCW. First place we looked, the salesman had his favorites, all Rugers. We went to a much larger and better store and the salesman walked up to us wearing his company sjirt, and his NRA instructor patch. When He asked if he could help, I said “absolutely”. I explained that she had spent time with me at my range before the NRA course, but had only shot rimfire SA revolvers prior to that day. He gave me that knowing smile, and I decided to walk away and let him do his thing. About 1 1/2 hours later, after showing and explaining the different guns in the cabinet, she chose the Sig P238. We then rent to the rental counter and bought the 10 for 10 package, 10 rounds,1 target, and a rental P238.
    We transfered to the indoor range, and I again relayed her previous experiences. The RSO, also wearing his NRA patch, took up the task of teaching her all the fundamentals, from loading the mags, the safetys, etc. About 15 minutes of well done info. After shooting this little ‘toy gun’, she turned to me with a smile from ear to ear and said “I love this gun”. We proceeded to the counter, and she walked out with her brand new P238 in camo. That store will continue to get my business, a job very well done.

  6. My wife’s first pistol was a glock 21. This was what she wanted & I agreed it was a great pistol. First store we went to sure as the sun comes up recommend a smaller caliber. I’ve been in sales if that’s what the customer wants sell it to them. She had been shooting my S&W 686 with a 6 inch barrel real well but she wanted her own pistol so away we went. Only thing worse was when I bought my 44, when I asked the guy if they had a holster he said buy it and find out. The manager couldn’t move him out of the way fast enough. Thousand dollars might not be much to some but it is to me. Apparently some people don’t understand customer service.

    1. Good examples, thanks. I don’t think it’s that they don’t understand customer service, but that these wannabe gun store “experts” are more interested in being thought of as “tactical operators” and gun gurus than they are in making the sale. In reality most of those types don’t know the difference between a clip and a magazine, and will just be sources of bad advice and misinformation on anything firearm or self-defense related. Vote on places that employ people like that with your feet.

  7. Excellent article Tamara! I’m sure you could write a book on this subject and it would sell quite well.
    This reminded me of the time a fellow bought a little 38 S&W Airweight for his wife a few years ago and asked me to handload some ammo for her. I told him that he should have bought a steel frame, explaining the importance of firearm weight into the recoil equation, but he thought that he had purchased the best choice for her. I gave him some of my low-velocity 158 grain cast plinking loads that I shoot from my 6 inch S&W 586. I got a call later asking if I could “tame them down a little” that they were too much for his wife “and him” to handle.
    I purchased a pistol for my wife for concealed carry and I stayed away from the BodyGuard and such light, small caliber pistols. I bought her a 9mm Shield. All is well.
    Thanks for this enlightening article for the Rambos…..a lot of them need to read this. Of course many of them will still think that they know better. “It” can’t be fixed.

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