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The man sat on a chair across the table from me, a phone cradled to his ear, hunched over the clipboard in front of him in an effort to block out the din of the packed arena. He carefully spelled out the letters of my name and address to someone on the other end of the line, and went on to fill in other details.
He was reading the words off a federal form 4473 which I had just filled out and handed back to him. I stood waiting in nervous and happy anticipation while the gun dealer ran my information through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.
It wasn’t that I was afraid of anything bad turning up. My background is about as squeaky clean as they come. It wasn’t that I am anti-government, either. It is indeed true that I would rather not share any more information with the government than I have to, including whether or not I drink raw milk or keep farm animals and whether or not I own a gun, but had already resigned myself to the fact that this is the way it’s done.
It was that it was my first-ever gun purchase. Although I am not new to guns — not brand new, anyway — I had never shopped for and purchased one for my own use.
I am not really a “gun person.” But when my husband and I took up homesteading I began to see the usefulness of gun ownership in a whole new light. My husband taught me the basics on his hunting gun — just enough that I might be able to defend myself and my barnyard if I absolutely had to — but I recently began to consider taking it a step further.
The idea of having my own gun crept up on me. It seemed preposterous at first. I mean — me?! Owning a gun?! My husband and I discussed it, and the conversation got serious last summer when livestock predation was on the rise. The firearms available to me were not adequate — they were either too big for my comfort or not accurate enough for the job at hand.
And it wasn’t just the animals that I became concerned about protecting. The world is changing, even way out in rural America where I live. It is becoming the kind of world where we hear about meth labs and opiate addictions in communities startlingly near to us. Violent crimes, home invasions, and robberies are no longer restricted to metropolitan areas.
An elderly lady was beaten in her own home in the next village over from me. Another neighbor had a man walk right into her house — and when confronted, he pretended to have mistaken it for someone else’s home and left. These are anomalies, but that may not always be the case.
I walked into a gun shop one day and began my education. My husband is savvy about guns, but I wanted to learn on my own.
I had done enough research to know I wanted a small shotgun. Between the two generally standard sizes — 12-gauge and 20-gauge — I knew I would prefer the smaller 20-gauge. Shotguns come in an even smaller “410 bore” as well, and I asked some questions that would help me compare and contrast the two smaller options.
Gun aficionados had advised me that a multiple shot is a better choice than single, and that a pump action is best.
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What I learned at that first gun shop is that 20-gauges are a lot more common and only slightly more expensive than 410s, but ammo for the smaller gun is a lot more expensive.
“A lot depends on what you’re going to use it for,” the guy explained. If I was going to do a lot of target shooting, cost of ammo was a factor. If it was strictly for the occasional varmint or for self-defense, or “for the house,” as the salesman phrased it, cost of ammo was irrelevant.
The way he talked so casually about a woman owning a gun for self-defense, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, made me feel less self-conscious about it.
He had a wide variety of actions on hand to show me, as well. The “action” of a gun is basically how the shell — in a shotgun — or the bullet — in a rifle or handgun — gets into the chamber. There was a “break action,” where the end of the barrel snaps open and the shells are loaded into side-by-side chambers, and a “lever action” which loads the shell when a handle under the barrel is flipped forward and back. He also showed me pump action guns, which are generally able to store four or five shells in the magazine and load them one by one when an outer casing on the barrel is slid forward and back. There were single shots as well, which is just like it sounds — one shell is loaded right into the chamber.
There are also bolt actions made, but they don’t appear to be common. There are also semi-automatics, but the guy could tell I wasn’t ready to look at or pay for anything like that. Later in my shopping experience, I did consider the merits of semi-automatics. These are firearms which, once the first shell or bullet is loaded, the next one pops into the chamber automatically as soon as the first is shot out. I found a lot of them on the market, which may be because they are popular, or possibly because they are significantly more expensive — usually about twice the price — and the cheaper choices get snapped up first.
I had to chuckle at the pink camo 20-gauge pump shotgun he showed me, regarding it as a novelty. Little did I know in those early shopping stages that — pardon the pun — targeting women is a burgeoning trend. Pink is in!
As a busy homesteader who rarely leaves the farm, there wasn’t much time to focus on gun shopping. In the eight months that slipped past between the time I first made the decision to purchase a firearm and finally doing so, it seemed to me that the selection diminished and the prices rose a bit.
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Wandering in and out of gun shops intermittently throughout that period of time, I felt that as a woman shopping alone for a gun, I was mostly treated courteously. I did encounter one gun shop owner who got pretty overbearing and pedantic when I told him I was new to guns. Later, when I went back to the same shop with my very knowledgeable husband, the man was less obnoxious.
I live in a state where guns are easily and legally sold between individuals, and I spent some time exploring that option. By the time I started looking at online classifieds, however, I had come to the realization that a regular-sized gun would not suit me. After handling dozens of guns at shops and a few friends’ guns, it was clear that I needed a short stock at the very least, and perhaps the whole firearm needed to be small.
My husband advised me against a couple of brands — not because there’s anything wrong with them, but just not ones he likes. Factoring that into my search for a youth sized model 20-gauge pump action at a reasonable price, within a reasonable driving distance, made for slim pickings in the personal sales realm.
I ended up finding what I wanted at a gun show. I walked a little taller as I carried my purchase out of the arena, my receipt handy in case security had any questions at the door and almost a little crestfallen when they didn’t.
It can be intimidating to consider buying a gun if you are new to them, and difficult to know where to begin. Based on my experience, I would encourage anyone in that situation to give it a try. Do not be afraid to shop on your own, and treat each encounter as an opportunity to learn, but follow up with your own common sense research and evaluation. Give yourself permission to be new, and do not accept being judged for inexperience or trepidation. No one has the right to treat you as if being uncomfortable around guns is a character flaw — we all start somewhere. If you do have someone in your life whom you trust and is comfortable with guns, get that person’s advice before you make your final choice if you can.
And above all, be safe, and get trained. This article is a about the fun and challenges of buying a gun, and not about safety and training. But please don’t interpret that to mean that those things are not important — they are absolutely crucial and should not be dismissed or minimized.
Whatever your style and whatever your choice, may your journey into gun ownership be fun, productive, and safe.
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