How to Properly Shop For a Gun In Person

How to Buy a Firearm For The First Time

First Time Gun Buyer’s Guide

The first time visit to a gun store can be a little overwhelming. There are so many options, and if one is unfamiliar with any of the gun industry, there is too much sensory input to handle. Many gun shops have high pressure salesman who will ask questions of which one may or may not know the answers to. While some gun salesman are patient and will help walk a newbie through some of the basics, it sure pays to know a little bit about the process. Having any knowledge will make it much harder to be taken advantage of, or worse: ending up with the wrong firearm for the desired application. That said, there are many things to consider and a few critical areas to become familiar with in order to make your first experience in a gun shop more pleasant.

Things to Consider Before Shopping For a Gun

One of the most important decisions to make when purchasing a firearm is the purpose, or the gun’s application. The intended purpose of the gun may significantly change the type of firearm that is the most appropriate recommendation. There are a few common applications for a firearm including:

  • Home defense
  • Concealed Carry
  • Target Practice
  • Game Hunting
  • Service Weapons
  • Collector’s Gun

Depending upon the intended application, a recommended firearm may be heavier or lighter, bigger or smaller, and dramatically change in caliber and cartridge. Home defense gun choices may include revolvers, shotguns, and other reliable firearms. Concealed carry guns are usually smaller and pack a smaller caliber round. Target shooting firearms typically have lower recoil, especially for a first time shooter. Depending upon the type of game being hunted, there are a wide range of rifles that may be recommended. Service and collector’s guns are usually very specific in desired application and criteria.

Doing some research on the desired type of gun ahead of one’s first visit to a gun store will go a long way. If a handgun is desired for home defense, understanding that a good grip will help prevent any grip slippage when in a high-stress, home-invasion situation. Finding a gun that can be reliable, such as a revolver, is imperative. If the gun is only going to be handled once in a while, it’s important it does not need to be cleaned as often. It should be easy to load and reload, with viable home defense cartridges.

The law is also important to review for your local region, state, and country (even if you are located in the United States). Some local laws may prohibit certain types of firearm purchases, while others may only require an additional permit or license. Check out the Traveler’s Guide to Firearms: Understanding All 50 States in order to get a better idea of what is legal where you live.

Pro Tip: Need help finding the right firearm for your application? Try asking our forum(where Mark Doberman is available for Q&A as well)!

Training for Firearms

It is very common to take a training course for a firearm before purchasing one. It is possible to get information on local training programs by calling the gun stores ahead of time, or by calling a local gun range or gun club. Many gun clubs offer firearm training and safety courses themselves. There are also many training programs and guides available online for gun education and information. It is possible to learn a significant amount about the gun being considered for purchase before handling it for the first time. Understanding the firearm and having basic firearm training is a fantastic way to become a more educated and better prepared firearm consumer. This includes taking gun safety courses.

Guide to Buying a Firearm [For The First Time]

Doing a little research and understanding a few things makes buying a firearm a lot less stressful. This is the ultimate guide to buying a firearm for the first time!

Preparatory: Understand Your Local, State and National Gun Laws

No matter where one lives, understanding the gun laws applicable to that region is important. This may not always be the first step. For example, one may decide to choose a type of gun (rifle, semi-automatic handgun, etc.) before reading into laws more applicable to that gun. This includes looking into concealed carry and open carry laws, as well as any required educational courses required to possess any particular permits or licenses. Some states require guns to be transported in cases, locked boxes, or in the trunk of a vehicle. And remember: most states and federal law prohibit any convicted felons from possessing or owning a firearm or ammunition.

Step 1: Read About The Best Firearms For The Desired Application

After a desired application has been identified, it is wise to read about some of the best guns for that particular application. If there is any misunderstandings, or help is required, there are many gun enthusiasts available to help answer questions. Oftentimes people buy a revolver, a reliable semi-automatic handgun, or a home defense (or hunting) shotgun for their first firearm.

It is also important to remember that many guns are worn and handled very differently. Some guns require two hands while others require only one hand. Some require special holsters. Concealed carry guns are worn extremely differently than open carry guns. Shoulder holsters, ankle holsters, shotgun straps and many other devices have been designed to help carry the wide array of firearms in existence. Try locating your desired gun in the gun directory and check out some of the corresponding parts that fit that firearm to get a better feel for how it will be carried.

Step 2: Read About The Corresponding Ammo For The Gun

Once a firearm is selected, the next step is to read a little about the ammunition that is commonly paired with the gun. Ammunition can be made many ways and for many different applications in itself. Purchasing a home defense firearm becomes more complicated after understanding that some cartridges will penetrate barriers far easier than others. For example, hollow point rounds are typically used to put targets down easier and for stopping power; Meanwhile, full metal jacket (FMJ) rounds will penetrate a lot of barriers (flesh included) and can create additional liability if used for home defense.

Something more to consider is the number of rounds available in each magazine (or cycle). A revolver may be a reliable home defense firearm, but they are low in rounds and can make accuracy and cartridge choice much more important. A semi-automatic handgun can come in impressive magazine capacities. For example, the Springfield XDm runs a 19 round standard magazine and the Glock 17 can hold 17 rounds in its double stack magazine.1The price of the ammunition is also something to think about. If the ammo is going to be used for target practice, it makes more sense to select cheaper ammo (and possibly a firearm that can use cheaper ammo). If the purpose of the firearm is for big game hunting, very large caliber ammo will be a better choice.

Step 3: Determine the Gun’s Storage Location

Depending upon the household structure, various storage systems may make more sense. The law can also dictate how firearms are to be stored within certain regions. Some states require trigger locks placed on handguns. The following states are known for having stricter laws on trigger locks, especially when it comes to handguns2

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island

There are other factors to consider when selecting the storage location of a new firearm. If there are children in the home, the firearm should be securely locked. Many responsible gun owners choose to purchase a gun safe or gun lock box by which to store their firearms. If the gun is for home protection or self defense, and there are no children in the home, many owners choose to store the gun near the bedside.

Many gun owners keep their firearms and ammunition in separate storage locations for increased safety. If the firearm is being purchased for home defense, the gun and ammo should both be located in easy-to-access locations. It is strongly suggested not to store firearms on top of cabinetry. Never store the firearm in the household while it is loaded. As tempting as it may be, or as smart as it may seem, it is never a good idea to store a loaded firearm in the house.

Step 4: Get a Thorough Understanding of How to Clean and Maintain the Gun

Whether the firearm is being used for home defense, game hunting, or target practice, it needs to be well-maintained according to the gun’s suggested maintenance routine. Every gun is different and may have varying cleaning and maintenance procedures. For some people, taking a gun apart is a nightmare, and so is cleaning the gun on a regular basis. For these people, the revolver or shotgun may make more sense for home defense, as they are much easier to clean and require less maintenance. Other people feel more comfortable taking their guns apart, keeping them clean, and putting them back together. These people may prefer more complicated firearms, such as semi-automatic handguns or rifles.

Step 5: Call Ahead

If the desired firarm has already been selected, it is reasonable to call the gun shop ahead of time to ensure they have it in stock. There would have been little sense in reading about one particular gun to end up showing up to a shop that does not offer that model. In the event no gun shop has it in stock locally, it can still be ordered. It is possible to order a gun online to a shop that has an FFL, and collect it at the shop once it has arrived.

Step 6: Visit the Gun Shop – Proper Gun Shop Etiquette

Whether a desired firearm has been selected or not, showing up to the gun shop is the next step. Taking into account how one appears to the shop, salesmen, and any other patrons, is an important part of making a good impression when purchasing such a responsibility as a firearm. In other words: showing up looking like trouble or an otherwise irresponsible person may cause the shop to deny the sale. If the shopping patron seems nervous, the shop employees and patrons will become nervous as well. While there are some pretty reasonable reasons for being nervous when purchasing a firearm, especially someone’s first firearm, keeping a cool head is important in making a good purchase decision and maintaining a smooth transaction. Try to remember: gun shop clerks regularly see nervous people, as well as actual criminals, who come to purchase firearms. In fact, the clerk can probably tell fairly easily whether or not a patron is a criminal based upon past experiences. So be cool and tell the clerk what gun or type of gun is of interest, and go with the flow.

Beyond maintaining a responsible demeanor, it is also important to understand any personal firearms being brought into the shop need to be handled responsibly. Just because the firearm is already owned by a patron, does not make it okay to swing it around or point it at anyone. Many gun shop clerks are careful to protect themselves, the shop, and other customers; and typically gun shop clerks open carry themselves. Always keep your finger off the trigger when handling any firearms in the shop. Never point the gun at anything, unless it is a sanctioned target and intended to be shot. Additionally, it is imperative to know what is behind any targets being fired upon. Usually, a shop will have a designated practice for allowing a patron to “test aiming down the range.” To discover the safe practices for investigating the firearm, simply ask the clerk if it is okay to perform each action (e.g. “can I aim the firearm at the wall?”, “can I dismantle this part of the gun?”, “can I try the trigger?”, etc.).

Step 7: Understand the Rules For Selling Firearms

If a firearm is selected for purchase, it must be for the purchasing party. Gun shops will not sell a gun to someone “for someone else.” Instead, they will suggest that the person who is receiving the gun show up to make the purchase themselves (or to be present). Many states allow pistols and other firearms to be transferred in ownership, however, there is typically some legal paperwork to be filed.3Additionally, many shops will refuse sale if they can detect any drug or alcohol use. It is the law, as well as a responsible gun shop clerk’s moral imperative, to only sell guns to sober purchasing parties. They cannot sell a gun to someone under the influence or whom appears addicted to drugs.

Step 8: Filling Out a DOJ Form 4473

Form DOJ Form 4473 is a Firearms Transaction Record. This form is used to determine if one is prohibited from receiving a firearm or not. Besides some basic information, the most important part of the form is arguably the questionnaire. Here are the questions this form is going to ask:

  • Are you the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) listed on this form?
  • Are you under indictment or information in any court for a felony, or any other crime for which the judge could imprison you for more than one year?
  • Have you ever been convicted in any court of a felony, or any other crime for which the judge could have imprisoned you for more than one year, even if you received a shorter sentence including probation?
  • Are you a fugitive from justice?
  • Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?
  • Have you ever been adjudicated as a mental defective OR have you ever been committed to a mental institution?
  • Have you been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions?
  • Are you subject to a court order restraining you from harassing, stalking, or threatening your child or an intimate partner or child of such partner? 
  • Have you ever been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence? 
  • Country of Citizenship
  • Have you ever renounced your United States citizenship?
  • Are you an alien illegally or unlawfully in the United States?
  • Are you an alien who has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa? (If “yes”, do you fall within any of the exceptions stated in the instructions?)
  • If you are an alien, you are asked to record your U.S.-Issued Alien or Admission number (AR#, USCIS#, or I94#).

Some terms and conditions need to be agreed to and some identification verified. It is required to provide two forms of photograph, government-issued ids. At least one must show current residence address.

The form DOJ 4473 can be found directly on the ATF website for further inspection if necessary.4

Step 9: Making The Sale

Typically it is difficult to barter in a gun shop. Sometimes, they will offer a discount if paying in cash, all at once, or for placing an order with enough attachments or accessories. Gun shops that offer used guns for sale may offer a better deal if a patron has something reasonable to trade as a part of the purchase. They will often consider other working guns, magazines or accessories in trade. Many stores cannot accept ammunition in trade, though even private consumers can usually sell ammunition where state law permits. Many gun stores in modern times accept credit card, however, there are still many gun shops which only permit cash sales, so it is suggested to call ahead of time to verify the shop will accept the selected payment method.

Final Suggestions For Gun Shopping & Firearm Shopping Etiquette

Try to keep in mind that the ultimate decision to sell a gun to a customer, falls in the hands of the gun shop clerk. If there is any reason for the clerk to assume there is malicious intent, or that a purchasing party may be under the influence (or otherwise ineligible), they have the right to refuse the sale. Gun shop owners and employees may deal some of the coolest man-made commodities on the planet, but ultimately they are people too. They also remember a time when they purchased their first firearm. Still, because of how dangerous guns can be, there is a certain level of responsibility that is expected out of anyone holding a firearm. Waving a pistol around in the air, pointing a gun at other people, or otherwise portraying careless behavior, is greatly frowned upon and will lead to undesirable treatment!

And remember, practice makes perfect. No matter the application of a firearm, it is always a good idea to keep it regular maintained and log practice hours. Ultimately, practice will make the difference between being accurate and efficient with a firearm.

Disclaimer: Always review all of your local, state, and country laws before purchasing a firearm of any kind. This includes trigger locks rules and safety/carry laws. Armory Bay and authors cannot be responsible for any failure to be educated on your applicable gun laws.


1Mizokami, K.. (June 29, 2018). Glock 17 vs Kel-Tec KMR-30: Battle of the High Capacity Pistols. The National Interest. Retrieved from:

2Giffords Law Center. (2019). Safe Storage. Giffords Law Center. Retrieved from:

3Halek, G.. (December, 27 2012). How to Act In a Gun Shop: Proper Gun Shop Etiquette. Concealed Nation. Retrieved from:

4ATF (2019). Firearms Transaction Record. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from:

About the Author:

Mark Doberman, The Proprietary Gun Smith

The Proprietary Gun Smith is a marksman, expert gun handler, ammunition specialist, survival guru, and lifetime gun enthusiast. He owns (or has owned) nearly every legal firearm and ballistic available, has fired nearly every gun, and regularly consults professionally in the firearm world. He has studied firearms and similar tactical lifestyle for more than 40 years. In addition to writing for, TheProprietaryGunSmith has guest written for more than a dozen other sites and/or magazines in the industry.

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