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"What's the first gun I should buy to protect my home?" (answering customer queries)

A gun dealer is confronted with dozens of questions during a business day. In order to be successful, you've got to be ready with answers to each and every one of those questions, but perhaps none are more difficult than questions regarding home security and self defense. These customers are asking you for advice on the safety of their family, their property, and their lives.

Are you ready to answer these questions? Just as a pharmacist must give advice on potentially dangerous medication and a lawyer must advise his clients on potentially dangerous legalities, you must help your customers weave their way safely through the tangle of defensive firearms and the use of lethal force. This month, Massad Ayoob, author of several books on the defensive use of firearms and expert witness in hundreds of defense shooting cases, tells us how he would answer the question, "Which gun should I buy to protect my home?"

How do you handle the first-time, self-defense customer? You know the one I'm talking about -- you see them all the time. "I want a gun to protect my house. Which one do you recommend? Which one is best?"

Good Lord! That's like going into a hardware store and saying, "I'm going to do some home improvement and repairs. What's the best tool to buy?" The clerk's reaction would be: "Well, are you going to cut wood or pound nails first? See, if I know that, I'll know whether to sell you a saw or a hammer."

You do not, however, want to turn this new shooter away. Program your salespeople to ask a few questions. "Are you the only person who'll be using this gun, or is there a chance it might wind up in the hands of a petite female or an elderly grandfather?" "Do you have any experience shooting a gun, and if so, what type of gun are you familiar with?" And, most important, "How much are you willing to spend?"

No Gunshop "Commandos"

The sort of salespeople who've given the industry a bad name -- the ones that ace firearm instructor Ken Hackathorn has christened "gunshop commandos" -- often give advice that hurts the industry, hurts the dealer, and ultimately ill-serves the customer. Advice like, "Hey, little lady, what you need is this 12 gauge shotgun and a few boxes of double-aught buckshot. That'll stop a charging grizzly bear, and it'll darn sure stop any ol' bad guy that comes after you."

So that "little lady" purchases a mean-looking, 8-pound, pistol-gripped, 10-shot, riot gun and a couple boxes of 3-inch magnum buckshot rounds. The first time she fires it at the range, she is unlikely to hit anything at all, but her hand and arm may be numb for an hour. She'll be more afraid of that fiercely kicking gun than she will of any intruder. After all, the gun has already hurt her, which puts it ahead of the burglar on the intimidation chart.

There are other problems with this advice. Most shotguns are much more manageable by big, strong men than by petite females. Second, heavy shotgun rounds can make men with muscular shoulders get a little wet around the eyes, never mind people with less upper body strength and little muscle to pad the shoulders. A Short Magnum 12 gauge round fired from a light combat shotgun has about the same recoil as a .375 H&H Magnum elephant rifle.

This customer is going to think, consciously or subconsciously, that you caused the pain in their shoulder or hand. Are they going to come back to you for more advice or purchases? That's about as likely as a second dinner date with Jeffrey Dahmer.

Giving Customers The Right Gun

Consider this: A handgun of reasonable power that fits the person's hand is the best starter gun for male or female, young or old. Where does this wild idea come from? Well, it's more than just my opinion.

Before launching the "LadySmith" program, Smith & Wesson conducted an extensive market poll of customers who were considering their first handgun purchase. Do you know why all of the first LadySmith guns, and all but one since, were revolvers? According to the survey, the customers felt that a wheelgun of manageable size was easy to "administratively manipulate," which is a fancy, marketer's way of saying that it was easy to load, unload, and visually check for bullets in the cylinder. It was also easy to fire -- no safeties, decockers, slide releases, etc.

The merchant who is unaware of, or who simply does not listen to, the collective voice of his buyers is doomed. The Smith & Wesson survey is the collective voice of the first-time gun buyer.

The handgun is a far more versatile defensive tool than the shotgun for personal defense, in the home or on the person. Being smaller, it's easier to lock up and feel safe with. It can be tucked it in a pocket or waistband when answering a late-night knock on the door. In an emergency, it can be taken out of the house for protection on the street, which is something your customer can get a license for in some jurisdictions.

As an added benefit, the handgun also draws the defensive-minded shooter into shooting. How many accessories are you going to sell to a first-time buyer of a defensive shotgun? A box of ammo, a cleaning kit, and maybe an elastic shell holder to fit on the stock. The guys who buy the Choate accessories and the recoil reducers are your regular customers, already involved in the discipline, not the first-timers.

The first-time handgun buyer, on the other hand, walks in practically programmed to buy a holster, a cleaning kit, a gun rug, a lock box, some speedloaders or spare magazines, and beau coup ammo. A gun that doesn't hurt is a gun that's fun to shoot, and a gun that's fun to shoot is one your customer will shoot often. That means more skill and real-world safety and confidence for the customer, and more return business for you.

Few ranges are set up for combat shotgun work. Most are acceptable for practice which is relevant to self-defense pistol work, which means that the customer has more opportunity to practice. He or she wants to try, and buy, ammo, accessories, and ultimately, more guns.

The customer and the dealer move along together as the shooter develops, expanding his or her accessory collection along with the defensive skills. It works out ideally for both seller and customer.

A customer who buys the wrong gun -- an intimidating weapon he or she can't shoot -- loses faith in the whole sport. The customer who buys a gun they can shoot well tends to progress and purchase more. Before you know it, they'll be ready for a combat shotgun to augment their handgun collection, and all the accessories that go with it.

That's why starting the new shooter with a medium-power revolver that he or she can easily master and grow confident with is a foundation to a successful, long-term relationship between loyal customer and trusted gun dealer.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Publishers' Development Corporation
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Ayoob, Massad
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Feb 1, 1993
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