How good are we at welcoming newcomers to the gun community?
As you’re probably aware, gun sales skyrocketed in 2020, by some estimates doubling 2019’s totals nationwide. With all these new gun owners, that means new members of the gun community. For those of us who have been here for years, how do we welcome all the new folks and make them feel at home? What about those people who are considering first-time gun ownership but have not yet pulled the trigger, so to speak? How do we help them make the leap?
Intentionally or unintentionally, we tend to be an intimidating lot, with the male-dominant stereotype of bravado permeating outsiders’ perceptions. So how we approach these two very important groups is critical to building the gun community.
Although there has been a significant spike in new gun owners, not everyone is ready to, shall we say, pull the proverbial trigger on purchasing a gun yet. But they like the idea and are leaning that way. How do we as gun community ambassadors encourage them to bite the bullet (sorry) and buy that first firearm?
It starts with not being a jerk. While that may seem obvious, let me explain. There is a general sentiment among many outside of the gun community that gun owners are arrogant know-it-alls who don’t welcome newbies into this inner circle, an elite club that only lets guys who can name every caliber ever made starting in 1936 slip past the bouncer. While it is certainly true that gun owners tend to be a bit overly opinionated – if you don’t believe me, just ask an innocent-sounding question and sit back and watch the fireworks – it is a good rule of thumb to hold your tongue around newcomers who might not know carrying with an empty chamber is a bad idea. It took you a long time to get to where you are today, so cut the new guy some slack.
Instead, be encouraging. Ease a prospective gun owner into the idea by inviting them to the range. Offer to pay for the ammo, bring the guns and eyes and ears, and answer all their questions to put their mind at ease. Talk them through the experience before you set foot on the range, especially if it’s indoors, where the sounds are louder and the environment can be a bit intimidating.
Don’t show off. Remember, they are already nervous enough. The last thing they want is to feel like you’re pressuring them to be Annie Oakley or Jerry Miculek the moment they pick up the gun. Let them shoot more than you do. You’ve done this a thousand times, but to them it’s all brand new. Be patient. Help them feel comfortable around guns and around gun owners.
Once your friend, neighbor, or loved one has purchased a firearm, it is time to introduce them to the fun and fellowship that we call the gun community. Understand that new gun owners do not have the head full of knowledge the rest of us have gathered over the years. They don’t know the subtle differences between a 9x19 and a 9x18 or that AKs and ARs shoot different calibers. So be easy on them. They’re intimidated enough just awkwardly holding their new gun, much less conversing with someone who wants to impart words of wisdom they aren’t ready to hear yet. Their day will come. It’s just not today.
Understand that since they are new they likely do not know very much about guns in general and might need a starter course in firearms ownership, such as a beginners class at the local range. Keep in mind they probably don’t even know what to ask, so help them by suggesting some courses taught by someone you know or can recommend. This should be done in an encouraging way, with a genuine desire to help.
It is best to not try to teach them yourself, especially if this person is your significant other. You’ve heard the saying “familiarity breeds contempt,” right? Well, the better you know someone, the easier it is to push their buttons or for them to push yours. Remove that obstacle by letting someone else teach them to shoot.
New and prospective gun owners alike love a good party. And the gun community is known for throwing a good party here and there! Invite these new and potential gun owners along to events, especially ones sponsored by local ranges or shooting clubs. It’s a great way to introduce them to the awesome people they will be seeing a lot more frequently from now on, as we often end up hanging around together. Many times these events include an opportunity to try a variety of guns and get to know the local community a bit better.
These events are especially important to the most underserved segment of the gun owner population: the ladies. Often local ranges will have a Ladies Night style event just for female shooters. My local range, for example, hosts “Girls Just Wanna Have Guns” once a month, where the ladies get to shoot guns downstairs at the indoor range and then enjoy wine and cheese while they hang out upstairs for the remainder of the evening after the guns are put away. We also host a monthly “Guys & Guns” for the men, featuring full-auto firearms followed by either beer or whiskey from a local company.
The overarching theme here is to be nice and welcoming. Whether talking to a prospective gun owner or someone who just bought their first, remember: we want them to stick around and become a great ambassador for the community. It all starts with our first interactions with prospective and new gun owners and how we present ourselves and our fellow gun owners.
David Workman is an avid gun guy and a contributing writer to several major gun publications. In addition to being an NRA-certified RSO, David trains new shooters on basic handgun skills and CCW requirements and is a strong advocate for training as much as you possibly can. “Real life shootouts don’t happen at a box range.”
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