About a mile and a half from where I grew up there was a gun shop. This was before Wal-Mart and the Internet. I was in that store every weekend either looking at guns and gear or listening to folks who knew stuff about guns and gear. I almost always bought something ... even if it was just a hunting magazine. I was in that store at least once a week.
Oh, it was so interesting. It was a place where you could actually look at and touch the stuff you had seen in magazines, and in those days they would let a kid look at and touch a gun. Well, at least me. They knew me. It also had a smell. I can't describe the smell, and it's a smell I've only found in gun shops; something like a mixture of gun oil, tobacco, old men and freshly cut walnut. It was fabulous!
Back in those days, if you needed to know anything about guns or if you needed to get a gun fixed, you went to a gun shop. You could walk in carrying an uncased rifle or pistol and folks wouldn't look at you like you had two heads.
You could step up to the counter and ask for a box of cartridges for a Mosin-Nagant and they'd hand them to you and never raise an eyebrow. Try that now at most places that sell guns and someone will scream "TERRORIST!" and run for the door.
Advice was given freely and it was generally good advice. This was when the guy behind the counter—and the guys who hung out in front of it—knew something about guns. In fact, you'd probably get more advice than you bargained for, and from several sources.
Times have changed. Today, most guns are sold at stores like Wal-Mart. There is some good in this, but mostly it's all bad. You see, stores like Wal-Mart will let anyone work behind the counter in sporting goods and they don't even have to know the difference between a pistol and a revolver. I know this for a fact because my neighbor, who at the time had never fired a gun, was hired to work in that department. And she did without training or assistance for a good while.
Stores such as Wal-Mart also broker deals with manufacturers and distributors to keep prices low. I've heard guys say, "I can buy that same gun at Wal-Mart for $100 less." But that's not exactly true. More than one gunsmith I trust who has worked on guns sold by Wal-Mart insists the quality isn't the same as the guns he gets. I'm not really surprised. With the buying power big-box stores have, they push manufacturers hard on price and manufacturers deliver them a lot of product. If they can get by with a lesser grade, it means more money for them.
My point is that those big-box stores have killed the gun shop. It's almost extinct, and those that are still alive are on life support. And that's nothing but a crying shame. Gun shops are a treasure trove of knowledge and stuff—stuff you can't buy anywhere else.
Go to Wal-Mart and ask for a scope mount for a Winchester Model 100. They won't have one, but even more importantly, the guy or girl behind the counter won't know that two front bases for a Remington 700 will work in a pinch. Ask them what rifling twist a rifle has in it or what rifling twist you need to shoot heavy bullets out of an AR-15 in .223 Rem.. They won't know. Ask them the difference between a .223 Rem. and a 5.56 NATO. They won't know that, either. Ask them for some .32 H&R Magnum ammo for your Ruger SP101 in .327 Federal Mag.; for starters, they won't have it, and then the clerk will tell you that ammo will not work in that pistol. (It's a revolver and not a pistol by the way.)
So, I propose we all make a resolution for the New Year: Don't buy anything firearm-related from anything but a real gun shop. I know, I know ... you'll have to pay a bit extra for everything you buy—probably about 10 percent. But I'll almost guarantee, before the year's end, the person running that gun shop will save you that much money with good advice or by helping you with a gun problem and not charging you a single red cent.
Maybe now, even more than before, it's important the gun shop makes a comeback. Times are ... um ... I guess you could say "tactical." Even if the geek at the gun counter in Wal-Mart knows you can shoot .308 Win. ammo in a 7.62 NATO rifle, it's unlikely he'll be able to explain to you the difference in a scope with 1/10 MIL or MOA adjustments, or that he'll be able to explain the advantages of different defensive handgun sights. And I wouldn't ask him for any concealed-carry advice because he's probably never carried a gun.
That old gun shop I used to go to when I was young is long gone. Luckily, Dove's Custom Guns is only about 10 miles from where I live now. Jerry Dove, the owner, is a very knowledgeable gun guy—tactical or otherwise. He used to shoot professionally, he builds custom guns, works on any gun, runs the local shooting club, and is one of the main honchos for our local youth day at the range where more than 250 kids are introduced to shooting every year.
I'm betting that within 50-100 miles of where you live you can find a gem of a gun shop just like that. That's where you should be shopping, seeking advice and participating in your local gun culture. I know, it will cost just a little more. But if we all don't work to save these endangered businesses, they will be gone forever and Wal-Mart will be our only option. That is until they decide to stop selling guns.