== Before you go ==

Dress right

What’s the weather going to be? Is the show indoors or outdoors? If indoors, is it air conditioned (i.e. comfortable or cool) or not (i.e. warm or hot and stuffy)? If it is outdoors, take appropriate items such as a hat, sunscreen, etc. Wear appropriate clothing that will keep you comfortable. This includes a good pair of shoes because you will be walking – a lot. Before you get dressed, have a shower and use some deodorant. You will be spending the day in close proximity of a lot of people. This is not the time to be stinky . . .

Take cash

If at all possible, take cash with you. Cash is king at gun shows because it will help you get a better price for two main reasons:

* Some vendors won’t charge you tax if you pay cash.
* Some vendors won’t charge you an extra 3-4% credit card surcharge if you pay cash.

Wear a backpack

Take a backpack with you. It lets you transport anything (well, most things) you buy and keep your hands free.

Bring a dolly or hand truck

If you plan on buying ammo, bring some kind of dolly or hand truck. Hauling hundreds or thousands of rounds of ammo by hand around the gun show for hours and then back to the car is a pain in the ass. A doohickey with wheels makes it a lot easier.

Bring water

Bring your own water. Either wear a hydration carrier or put a few bottles of water in your backpack. It keeps you hydrated and feeling better while walking around for hours. It also helps suppress hunger so you’re less likely to eat overpriced junk food at the show.

Look for a coupon

A lot of gun shops have coupons for upcoming gun shows for a buck off of the entry fee. Alternatively, you can often either get the coupon directly online or even buy your ticket online for a reduced price. Spend five minutes online before you go to find the coupon or buy a ticket.

Take your cell phone.

It is really helpful to take a cell phone, especially a smart phone. It lets you

* find your spouse or buddies if you get separated
* do research online about prices/features/markings/etc.
* take photos of items, price tags/booths

Take your wallet

Make sure you bring your wallet with your cash, credit cards, valid driver license, and concealed carry permit if you have one. Forgetting your wallet entirely or one or more of these items can quickly turn it into a bad trip.

Prepare your sale

If you are an individual visiting a gun show and want to sell a firearm, first understand the law and be sure that what you are doing is legal in your state or city! Law enforcement visits and monitors gun shows. Don’t get into trouble! Do your research before you go.

Assuming it is legal to sell your item, do the following:

* Clean the item, for pete’s sake! Nobody wants to buy something that’s filthy. You’ll greatly increase your chances of selling the item by making it as presentable as you can. Twenty minutes of elbow grease can mean many extra dollars in your pocket.
* Print a legible sign in large letters. Do not handscribble on a piece of cardboard. Type it out on a PC, use a very large font, print it, stick it to the wall and stand 20 feet away from it. Can you still read it? Does it attract attention? Make it good. Attach the sign to your backpack and the front of your shirt for maximum exposure.
* If it’s a firearm, ensure it is unloaded.
* Look through your closet and see if you still have the box, paper work, manual, original parts you replaced/upgraded, any accessories, etc. – anything that makes the item more attractive to a potential buyer.
* If the item is heavy or you have multiple items, consider putting them on a dolly or hand truck for easier transporting.

Get a sitter

If you have babies or toddlers, do not take them to the gun show – get a sitter! They have no place at the gun show, they won’t enjoy it, they will hate the noise, they will make your experience miserable, they will piss off other visitors. Not appropriate.

A couple of months ago, there was a couple that brought their two toddlers pushing them through narrow isles packed with people in a double stroller! Unbelievable!

Get a buddy to come with

Depending on your personal preferences, you might enjoy going by yourself. However, a lot of people like going with friends and making it a social event. Consider inviting a friend to make the outing more fun. Also, if you are planning on buying something but are not very comfortable/confident about it, bring along a knowledgeable friend you can trust to help you out.

A buddy can help you spot the item you are looking for, help you find the best deal, and and act as your conscience if you’re about to do something stupid.

Plan your arrival

If you want to buy ammo, go on the first day and arrive at least an hour early to get in line. What little ammo is to be had right now, sells out within the first few hours.

If you don’t need ammo, but are hoping to buy guns or other items, go on the first day but arrive an hour after opening time. This way you avoid the initial rush but are still early enough to have the full selection.

If you are going just for fun, not really planning on buying anything, or looking for a cheap bargain, go on the last day. Chances are there will be less people and vendor might be a bit more likely to make you a deal for an item that didn’t sell.

== Parking ==

At some shows you might have to pay for parking at the venue. A lot of times you can park for less by not parking directly at the venue but across the street, or park for free a block or two away in a side street if you’re willing to walk a little bit.

When you park your car, make sure it is empty inside and does not have anything in plain sight that is valuable or might indicate that you have guns or ammo in the car. Put your stuff in the trunk to make your car a less likely target for burglary.

Keep in mind that you cannot carry a loaded gun or loaded magazines into a gun show. Either lock up your carry gun in the car or safely unload it, store the ammo in the glove box, and carry the empty gun with you.

== Entry ==

If you carry a gun, you have to get it checked and zip-tied. There should be multiple safety check stations at the entry where somebody will check that your gun is empty and then zip-tie the action. Depending at what time you arrive, you might have to wait in line a little while for the safety check.

== Browsing ==

Get a rough idea of the layout of the show before you start browsing. Find out how many buildings/rooms/areas there are so you can schedule your time if you only have a few hours.

If you plan to see everything, have a system for browsing. Start at one building/room/area. Methodically serpentine your way through each, using the grid layout to your advantage.

When browsing, try to adhere to the flow of traffic through the isles. Stay on the right, be aware of people around you, and be patient if the place is packed. Don’t storm through the isles like a rhino on speed, and don’t stop in the middle of the isle to have an in depth discussion with your buddy about last night’s game. Be courteous to other visitors.

When you find something you might be interested in, do not buy it immediately – period! The only exception is if it’s the “one-in-a-million unbelievable deal of the century this will never ever happen again and the guy behind me will grab this the moment I turn my back on this and I am dead certain of it and will regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t get this RIGHT NOW!”

Do not buy anything until you have browsed the entire gun show. Chances are multiple vendors have the item you’re interested in for different prices. You can save yourself quite some money if you comparison shop first.

If private sales are legal, be sure to check out the individuals outside the gun show and/or roaming the venue, trying to sell guns. You might get a better deal from them instead.

When you find something you might want, make a note to yourself of the item, its price, the vendor, and the location so you can compare later and find your way back to it if you need to. A camera phone comes in handy for this. If you take photos, either do it inconspicuously or ask politely for permission so you don’t piss people off.

When you find something you are interested in but have questions about it, you can ask the vendor but take the response with a salt lick! It could be that

* the vendor will tell you anything you want to hear to make that sale
* the vendor does not know and just makes something up on the spot
* the vendor does not know and honestly says so
* the vendor does know and gives you a honest and correct answer

Do your research either at home or find a quiet corner and use your smart phone to find the answer before you purchase.

Always ask if you can handle the firearm before doing so. If you got permission to handle it, you should still ask for permission to operate the action, dry fire it, or disassemble it.

When you do handle a firearm, follow the safety rules. Treat the gun as if it was loaded, keep your finger off the trigger, and always point the muzzle in a safe direction.

Treat the vendors and their wares with respect. They went through a lot of time and effort to put their stuff on display there. Try putting yourself in their place. You probably wouldn’t like countless strangers disrespecting your property or wasting your time with stupid questions or pointless arguments.

== Buying ==

When you decide to buy something, consider the following tips:

Inquire

Talk to the vendor about the item. Get a feel for the deal. If the vendor is friendly, answers your questions about the item and maybe even its history where applicable, allows you to dry fire, helps you disassemble, hands you a bore light for bore inspection, etc. it goes a long way to help make a confident decision. On the other hand, if the vendor is rude, doesn’t answer questions, does not allow dry fire or disassembly, or lies to you, then you know it’s time to walk away.

Schmooze

Having a friendly chat with the vendor can help. Of course you don’t want to waste his time or talk his ear off. Establishing a little rapport can be helpful though. Be friendly, polite, respectful, and try to make a quick connection.

For example: today I looked at a German pistol. I mentioned that I am from Germany, and it turned out he had noticed my faint accent and was wondering about it. We had a little chat, established a little rapport, and I ended up getting a better price on the pistol and not getting charged the credit card surcharge.

Haggle

Almost every price at the gun is negotiable. Well, maybe not that $5 bag of beef jerky, but you get the idea. If you ask politely and/or make a reasonable offer, chances are the vendor takes a few bucks off.

Ask whether the marked price is the cash or credit price if it is not obvious. If it is already the cash price, you can try to haggle it down a little bit. If it is the credit price, ask what discount he can offer if you pay cash instead. If the vendor normally charges tax, ask if they can skip that if you pay cash. Note: This does not work for all items.

The worst that can happen is that the vendor gives you a polite “No, sorry, I can’t go lower than that.”

What usually happens is that you get a better price and walk away happy.

Show your CCW

In some states, you can significantly speed up the purchase of a firearm at the gun show if you present your valid and current CCW in addition to your DL because it bypasses the background check. It’s less hassle for the vendor and they usually greatly appreciate it.

== Exit ==

If you plan to come back later or the next day, you can usually get your hand stamped so you don’t have to pay again for entry when you return. This also works if you want to take your heavy or bulky item back to the car, and then return to browse the rest of the show.

 

32 Responses to Alex Byron’s Noobs’ Guide to Gun Shows

  1. “This is not the time to be stinky…. ”

    Jeez there was some guy at the Niles,Ohio show on Saturday that had a 10ft stink bubble around him. I watched as he moved down the isle and you could see nearby victims look up from their items of interest and try to find out who the hell just crapped their pants or something. He was like Moses parting the Red Seas as people went scrambling.

  2. This is a great article.
    Living in CT and they cancelled all the gun shows this year.
    Will have to wait to use this info.

  3. Nice work and loaded with common sense! Forgetting the gun-specific stuff for a second, this guide would work for any major show of any kind anywhere, from antiques to flowers.

  4. Nicely done concise, clear, and comprehensive.

    Plus it’s all the stuff I do, so it proves the author is intelligent and knowledgeable!

    Have to show the GF that stuff about methodically making your way through the whole show in an orderly fashion. Drives her nuts when I do that, but don’t wanta miss any of the good stuff.

  5. I hear you on the baby strollers, for heaven’s sake get a sitter!

    Not sure about anyone else, but a few of the bulk ammo dealers here have their own hand trucks and they’ll cart to your car for you or let you borrow one if you leave your DL as collateral.

    • Only way I am able to come to this show is cuz i brought the lil guy. He’s passed out and they stoller carries everything.

  6. Side by side strollers at any indoor event is just rude! I hate the loud “excuse me” and before you can look they are slamming into your legs with a stroller and a two kids. Kids are not a battering ram.

    • I always ask the parents if their kids are handicapped. When they say, No, I ask them why they want special treatment.

    • At the Orlando gun show, even single width strollers are obnoxious. Some of the aisles are maybe a stroller and a half wide. I’ve personally had to flatten myself against one table so a stroller could squeeze between me and the far table. On another occasion I pointed out how inconsiderate they were being shoving that thing through the crowd. It made me feel better, but I don’t think it did any good, because they either didn’t speak English, or pretended they didn’t.

  7. But… kids are usually free! I took my two boys, who both love shooting, by the way, to a gun show and that was the last time until such time as one of them wants his own gun. For some reason, they found looking at WW2-issue M1 Carbines and stacks of ammo “boring.” I don’t want to lose my little shooters!

  8. Great article with very helpful tips for a new gun show goer. I’ve been going for years and still enjoy it. Its like being a kid in a large toy store!

    Some of the good advice I’d like to re-emphasize is to bring a backpack if possible. it definitely helps keep your hand free and you have a place to store your merchandise and of the few ammo boxes you just bought. Plastic bags and heavy ammo don’t go well. Another thing, leave your kids at home esp if they are small children! I see plenty of parents bring their babies in strollers; its really not a place to bring them to. Large crowds and narrow isles are no place to push that double-stroller!

    • i would like to amend your comment thus:

      if you have kids who are auto-ambulatory and mature enough that you trust them to shoot a .22 a gun show can be a great educational opportunity. needless to say, you need to make sure your entire attention is focused on making sure they behave properly i.e. in the same manner that you do yourself. of course when you actually go to buy something make sure your kid knows to keep his mouth shut and his hands in his pockets.

  9. I passed up a .380 Remington model 51 in great condition for $300 at a gun show one time. I went back to the next one and the vendor had already sold it. I wish I had pounced.

  10. The first two gun show lessons I ever learned were “Bring cash & haggle” and “Bring a backpack.”

    When I first read through this, I thought it was a dumb article, because all this stuff seemed so obvious. Then I remembered I didn’t know anything just a few short years ago. This is good stuff for the guy I was then.

  11. Good article, but you forgot the most important and most often overlooked necessity for a gun show.

    Bring all the necessary identification to buy a gun, even if you aren’t planning to buy one when you go.

    This can be different for different states (at least that’s the impression I get, all my guns were bought in Virginia). In Virginia if you bring your CCP you are good as long as it is good. If you don’t have a CCP you need two forms of ID, one with a picture and both with current address. But you should always bring more than you think you need because some dealers will be squeamish about accepting some things, so more is better.

    Even with a CCP I still bring 3 other forms of ID, lesson learned and observed. I once went to buy a gun and learned from the dealer my CCP had expired two days earlier, it was embarrassing but having to call the wife to bring me some ID while I was guarding the special gun I needed to add to my collection was really bad. In order to get her to do it I had to agree to buy no more guns until I finished the basement, she had me by the nuts and knew it. It took me over a year slaving away every weekend instead of going to gun shows, and a ton of money that could have bought nice guns, all because I didn’t bring spare ID just in case.

    My brother had used his CCP to buy guns in the past, but one dealer was more careful and noticed his street had a slight misspelling, fortunately for him he had two other forms of ID (learned from my misfortune mentioned earlier) and was able to buy the gun he wanted.

    So, if going to a gun show pack more than enough ID.

  12. “Law enforcement visits and monitors gun shows. Don’t get into trouble!”

    If someone indicates it would be illegal to sell to them, they are likely ATF! I’ve experienced it before and there’s a great scene in “Unintended Consequences” that deals with this. Don’t be stupid!

    Private sale examples: “I’m glad you don’t do background checks because I probably wouldn’t pass” or “I just drove in from out of state because private sale laws are more restrictive where I’m from.”

  13. “Keep in mind that you cannot carry a loaded gun or loaded magazines into a gun show.”

    While this has certainly been the norm at gun shows I’ve attended, do the rest of the TTAGers see the irony here? For all those advocating EDC and home carry, it seems hypocritical to argue that we can’t carry in a gun show. So my question: Am I right to assume this is purely a liability issue for the venue rather than something based on hoplophobia? Is it fear of noobs accidentally squeezing off a round at the show and at the very least causing bad publicity?

    • Yeah this is not so much an anti-gun stance just a safety issue really. Don’t need some guy drawing his CCW and “comparing” the size of another pistol or fitting a new holster and then BAM! Even if they went to the show with no intention of looking for those items but just saw something and decided to compare or try it out. Just a lapse in judgement. I could see it happening. Or something like, “Yeah, I like that gun too, see? I carry one for CCW but mine has the chrome slide, etc.” Too risky, besides we don’t need that kind of bad publicity as the media trolls would exploit any accident as an excuse to render us careless and irresponsible.

      WG

      • I tend to think of the rules regarding loaded guns at a gun show thusly; first, anyone foolish enough to commit a violent act there would soon enough find themselves confronted by a ridiculous number of guns anyway, and secondly, since it is a place to compare, examine and generally play with guns, it only makes sense to start with the concept that all should be unloaded. As someone said, it’s like a giant toy store for big kids. . . it’s easy in the crowds and noise and handling so many guns to become a bit confused, which could lead to an AD.

  14. One piece of advice to new sellers: if a buyer says “can I put a deposit on this and have you hold it until I am ready to leave?”, what he really means is “hold this for me and take it off the table while I make sure I can’t find one cheaper, and if I do find another one I will want my deposit back.”

    So if you get that question, your response should be “sure, give me half the purchase price in cash, and please note that it is not refundable. If you don’t pay the balance and pick the gun up by the end of the show the deposit cash is mine.”

    That weeds them out.

  15. the real last step:

    Once home with your new baby, give it a quick clean and wipe down, take gratuitous photos, post on respective forum bragging about what found. Enjoy the lamentations of the women.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *