One day as you walk into your local gun store you see a Help Wanted sign. You’re struck with the idea of working a gun counter. What is it really like? Well, here is one man’s opinion based on his years at a local gun store. While keeping in mind that no one person’s experience is truly authoritative and that stores range from small shops to large corporations with a variety of company cultures, here is an unvarnished look at what it is like to work behind a gun counter.
I started working at a gun store while I was in college. My bank account was looking a little thin, and I needed some extra cash when one of my roommates told me about a local shop that was hiring. I applied and was hired for a part-time position which became a full-time position over the summer. I ended up staying on through law school and keeping a very part-time relationship with the shop once I started into my career.
So, what is it like?
At its core, working in a gun store is still just retail. Most of the job consists of dealing with customers. Some of those customers are great, some of those customers are awful, and the vast majority are somewhere in between. There are also typical retail tasks like stocking shelves, pricing merchandise, cleaning, and trying to figure out how to get an antiquated computer system to charge the correct prices. The pay is generally unimpressive, and the nature of retail includes weekend shifts and working on many holidays.
Gun stores are also quite different from other retail businesses in some important ways. The regulatory environment being what it is, a major part of the job is paperwork. Firearm sellers in the United States must have a Federal Firearms License, often abbreviated as FFL. Whenever an FFL transfers a gun to a customer they must complete ATF Form 4473, and if you work for an FFL you will gain an intimate understanding of that form. Some shops still use paper forms while others have gone digital. In either case, the 4473 is a core part of the experience. ATF likes to change this form, and from time to time you will have to re-learn what goes where on the latest iteration of the form.
In addition to the 4473, there other forms like Form 3310.4, Report of Multiple Sale or Other Disposition of Pistols and Revolvers, that you will use on a regular basis. To add another layer of complexity, some states have additional forms to fill out or licensing that must be verified. You will also have the fun experience of spending hours with a customer and getting them exactly the gun they want and all the accessories they need, only for the customer to fail the background check and leave the store empty handed.
Keeping an accurate inventory is more important for an FFL than the average retail business because ATF Industry Operations Investigators perform audits to make sure the records and inventory are correct. Dealers who perform poorly in these audits can lose their licenses, so it is critical that you are thorough and accurate with your paperwork.
Any retail job involves dealing with customers and that is true of a gun store too, but the typical clientele of an FFL is a different subset of the public than a consumer electronics or clothing store. You will have interactions with normal people who just need some ammo, militia types, conspiracy theorists, complete amateurs, people with questionable hygiene, preppers, legitimately cool people who know more than you about guns and are fascinating to chat with, collectors, cops, hunters, and everyone in between.
The main draw of working in a gun store are the discounts available to gun industry employees. The shop itself may give you a price break on some things, but the real perks come from the manufacturers. Many of them offer programs to buy guns, accessories, or optics at a steep discount (though many of these programs are suspended at present due to the current market pressure).
Other manufacturers offer sales incentive programs where selling a certain number of their products gets you a free gun or optic. If you have ever been pressured to buy a specific brand of scope or handgun, an employee seeking those last few sales points to get a free gun may be to blame. However, these programs help make up for the pay scale, which is comparable to most retail positions. Some of the large chain stores prohibit their employees from participating in these programs, so keep that in mind when you are looking at a potential job.
Working at a store with an attached shooting range is a double-edged sword. You will have opportunities to shoot all sorts of guns that you would never otherwise get to experience, but you will have to deal with the whole spectrum of customers while they are all using loaded firearms. This is even more true if your range rents out machine guns.
One of the best parts of working a gun store is the camaraderie with coworkers. Many of your coworkers are people with similar interests, and some of my coworkers have become good friends. Many gun store employees work part-time because the pay is not great, but they want to keep their access to discount programs.
Another benefit of working for an FFL is how much you can learn about guns. Many manufacturers have sales reps who will call on the store. They can be a great resource for answering your questions about their products. Some of your coworkers are also great sources of information.
All in all, working in a gun store is a unique experience, but it is not for everyone. It can be a real challenge for introverts to talk with strangers all day, and if you are not a patient person the difficult customers can get to you. But if you can deal with the challenges you will meet some awesome people, learn more about guns than you knew was possible, freely carry a gun at work, and have opportunities to add discounted guns to your arsenal.