Gun Store Protocol: How to Safely Navigate This Tricky Environment

Gun stores require certain protocols beyond your typical retailer.

You may have seen this sign circulating around social media. It’s been around for years. The original version appears on the front door of Top Guns gun store in Terre Haute, IN. The story goes that store owner Steve Ellis was frustrated by customers constantly violating what he considered common sense protocols when they entered his store: setting loaded guns on the countertop, muzzling employees, unholstering guns in the showroom, etc. It needed to stop. So he decided to state the rules very clearly on a sign emblazoned across the front door and in stands in various spots throughout the store. As so many brilliant ideas start, he sketched the original list of the egregious violations on a napkin at dinner one night and then turned it into the signs that remain today.

What should you do when walking into a gun store? This can be especially confusing if it’s your first time. So, let’s look at some basic protocols to keep you and everyone else safe.

Guns Not Out

Would you be concerned if you saw someone walk into a store carrying a gun in their hand? How would you react? Chances are you might be a bit uneasy or even tempted to draw down on him, depending on his behavior. At the very least, you would notice something might be wrong.


Avoid drawing attention and guns in your direction by carrying any guns you bring into the store in a case or bag. This is especially true if you plan to present the gun to a store employee, such as a gunsmith.

When it’s time to pull the gun out of the case, tell the store employee exactly what you are doing, or have the employee pull it out, so they feel more comfortable.

Guns Unloaded

Before you walk in the door, any guns you bring in and intend to handle or give to someone else need to be completely unloaded, including all magazines for semi-autos.

When you hand over a semi-auto, remove the magazine and lock the slide back, so everyone knows it’s empty. Ideally, this should be done before you walk in, but if you forget, at least do it before you hand the gun over.

If you’re handing over a revolver, open the cylinder so everyone can see the chambers are empty. Remember, spent casings look like live ammunition at first glance, so be sure you unload the revolver of spent casings before bringing it to the store.

Holster Up

There is one exception to the “guns not out” rule: a gun in a holster. Most gun stores have no issue with customers carrying guns in holsters. It is completely safe, and so long as your state allows open carry, it will likely not be a problem. The issue arises when you go to remove the holstered firearm.

If, for some reason, you need to unholster a loaded firearm that you didn’t plan to pull out in the showroom, inform the employee you are talking with before you do anything. Ask him how he wants to handle getting the gun out of the holster. Often, he will let you take it out yourself, so long as you obey all the safety rules.

Once the gun is safely out of the holster, point the gun in a safe direction, remove the magazine, and rack the slide to clear the chamber. Lock the slide back and hand the gun over to the employee grip first so that he can handle it properly.

For revolvers, open the cylinder, remove all the ammunition (pro tip: use the ejector rod), and hand over the gun with the cylinder still open.

Mind Your Muzzle

All the gun safety rules apply all the time, including in the store showroom. Even though the gun you are handling is empty – because you and the store employee both checked it, right? – treat it as if it is loaded. Please don’t point it at the employee or other customers.

If you want to look down the sights, find a safe direction where nobody will get hurt if it accidentally goes bang. Typically this is down because most stores don’t have a thick, bullet-stopping wall in the showroom, but they might have a concrete floor.

Safety for All

Remember, gun store employees are typically armed and on high alert because it’s a gun store. Lots of bad things can happen. Follow these protocols and minimize the chances of those bad things happening by being as safe as possible.


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David Workman is an avid gun guy and a contributing writer to several major gun publications. As an NRA-certified instructor, David trains new shooters on basic handgun skills and CCW requirements and is a strong advocate for training as much as possible. “Real-life shootouts don’t happen at a box range.”






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3 thoughts on “Gun Store Protocol: How to Safely Navigate This Tricky Environment”

  1. I greatly appreciate and agree with everything David said in this article. My son and I took a CCW class with him last year. He was extremely thorough, knowledgeable and gave us an excellent education! David knows firearms education and I always look forward to his insights. Thank you for hosting this informative article on your website. Common sense goes a long way!

  2. It was kind of you to say how Every gun safety regulation is in effect at all times, even in the store’s showroom. even though the pistol you’re holding is empty. Do not aim it toward the personnel or other customers, please. I’ll tell my father about this as he mentioned wanting to buy a vintage flintlock handgun when we talked yesterday morning. Your advice is beneficial since he wanted to make sure that the purchasing process would go as smoothly as possible.

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