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Selling guns: where there's no right to bear arms.

With all of the tedious details involved in opening and operating a gun shop here in the U.S., we sometimes forget just how good we've got it compared to our counterparts overseas. In Japan the population is barely allowed to touch a gun, much less buy or sell one. Privately owned gun shops are virtually unheard of.

The same is true for the greater part of the Third World. In some South American, African and Middle Eastern countries, owning a gun is a crime. So just about the time you feel like your rights are being infringed, talk to someone from overseas about running a gun shop.

No Right To Bear Arms

The biggest difference, and the main reason for all the added difficult in selling firearms in other countries, is that possession of firearms has never been a right of the people there. When something is not constitutionally guaranteed, it tends to fall within the will (or whim) of the government. The best that most foreign gun buyers can expect is the rare privilege of owning a single firearm, and that for only a very specific purpose. (Rarely is self defense accepted as a justifiable or legitimate purpose.)

Yet in spite of the seemingly endless obstacles required to operate a gun shop in another country, there will always be determined individuals with enough desire and dedication to struggle through all the regulations and red tape. One such individual is Ole Hojberg of Copenhagen, Denmark.

The mere existence of a gun shop in Copenhagen is a surprise given the limited number of qualified Danish consumers. Scandinavia in general and Denmark in particular are extremely peaceful societies in spite of, or perhaps because of, their notoriously brutal Viking origins. Today, outdoor sports, target shooting, and firearms collecting are consolidated socially unacceptable.

Given the almost suffocating governmental restrictions and regulations, together with the minimal interest in personal firearms ownership, how could a gun shop ever get started or survive? Maybe an even more intriguing question is, why would anybody want to take on the hard work and headaches of running a gun shop in Denmark? The answer is, like most of his American counterparts, Hojberg loves what he does.

In fact, he loves it so much that for the past 17 years he has succeeded in opening and operating not one, but two shops right in the center of Copenhagen. This is a man who has beaten the odds -- twice!

These Are No Ugly Ducklings

Although the shops are near one another and very centrally located in the heart of Copenhagen, they are far removed when it comes to merchandise mix and customer appeal. Hojberg has wisely created two distinct and separate approaches to dealing in the shooting sports industry. One shop, called Hunters' House, is exactly that, a super store for the outdoor sportsman. The other shop, the Arms Gallery, is much more select. Its speciality is quality guns -- from the oldest to the latest.

Hunters' House is packed with everything a customer could ever need on a hunting, camping, fishing, hiking, canoeing, exploring, or any other outdoor trip. It would be hard for anyone to peep through the windows or walk into the shop without finding half a dozen useful items, whether they were a sportsman or not. Even the most hardened anti-gunners would be impressed by the up-to-date outdoor wear the shop carries. There is everything for the fisherman, the archer, even the bird watcher. Variety is definitely the biggest draw for the Hunters' House and the chief reason it does so well. It may be a gun shop, but it's much, much more

Is There A Family Resemblance?

By their appearances, you'd never, connect the Arms Gallery with Hunters' House. Where Hunters' House caters to customers with varied interests, the Arms Gallery is geared to only one group: those who appreciate fine firearms.

Located alongside a quaint canal in the oldest section of Copenhagen, across from the imposing Christiansborg Palace, the Arms Gallery is distinguished by the antique cannon beside the door. If Hunters' House is trendy and flashy, the Arms Gallery is quiet and very discrete. Customers descend a half flight of stairs to enter what appears to be an amazingly compact arsenal of high-powered rifles and mint-condition muskets.

The first thing that strikes Gallery customers is the lack of bars, chains, locks and all other restraints Americans expect to see adorning a gun shop. However, in spite of the strict regulations, this is just another example of the entirely different rules in dealing firearms overseas.

Doing It Differently

When Hojberg and I began discussing some of the basic differences of selling guns in Denmark, I was interested to learn that volume isn't an issue in his case. Only a select number of people have the privilege of owning a firearm in Denmark, and since this limited customer base is allowed to own a single modern firearm, it's not possible to push for multiple sales.

It's not how many you sell, it's how much you sell them for. When a customer is allowed only one rifle, he buys the best that's available. Realizing this, Mr. Hojberg deals only in the highest quality merchandise. Perhaps all of the restrictions and regulations are rather a blessing in disguise. Instead of pressur to deal in volume, Hojberg has only to worry about the quality of his merchandise. This simple strategy makes a difficult job much easier.

The customer must present proof of permission to own a firearm at the time of purchase. For the Gallery staff, it's simple to know exactly who is qualified customer and who is not. After the formalities are out of the way, the focus of the sale is to satisfy the customer with the best pieace of merchandise available. It's rare that price enters into the discussion; after all the trouble it takes to get to this point, price is of secondary consideration.

Hojberg and his staff rarely have to concern themselves with after-the-sale service. Since most sales are highly quality products, it is rare that they fail to live up to expectations. Complaints and returns are almost unheard of.

The Alternative Market

Besides trading in the modern firearms which most of his American counterparts sell, Hojberg has a vast selection of antique guns, swords, crossbows and other ancient European weapons. To U.S. consumers something which is more than 50 or 100 years old is impressive. That's nothing to the average European. They're used to antiques as much as 500 years old.

A huge portion of the Gallery's business is antique collectibles. This is where there is a constant demand, and where the government tends to give in a little. Gun laws in Denmark (and most European counties) are concerned with new guns. According to Danish law, guns, firearms or weapons previous to 1890 are exempt from the sales and possession restrictions. Selling antique guns is not only easier, it is fascinating and quite lucrative.

So who cares about traffic? The Arms Gallery succeeds in its own way, as do all those other overseas gun shops in societies where the government places such heavy restrictions upon the shooting industry. Customers in Austria, Denmark, England, or anywhere else in Europe don't come into a gun shop unless they are qualified and intend to buy.

Owning and operating a gun shop in American can certainly be the cause of a lot of headaches, but our system is easy by comparison. For Hojberg, the payoff is being involved in a profession that he loves, dealing with customers who appreciate quality in the products they purchase, and knowing that without shop owners like him, many Danes would never be able to own guns.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:selling guns in countries where owning a gun is not a right of the people
Author:Rasmussen, Tom
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Previous Article:Dealer beware: is your gun collection illegal?
Next Article:Schwarzkopf Cup 1991.

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