I Bought My First Gun In a Pawn Shop…Here’s How That Went

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Ruger P89DC
Courtesy Dury’s Guns

By Garrett Owens

Surely designed to withstand doomsday, the exterior of the store is blood red cinder blocks. The windows are barred and it’s located just on the other side of the tracks from our sleepy, happy town.

In bright yellow paint, “Don’t be a Victim” and “Second is our Right” is enscribed on the exterior leaving little to imagination as to what lies inside. “Not a place you want to bring the family,” reads the only online review I found.

The stale smell of cigarettes welcomes you at the door. There’s a mishmash of metal shelving forms the store’s aisles, containing God knows what. He contents having sat untouched so long that a thick layer of dust outlines their positions.

A Macho Man Randy Savage cardboard cutout is superimposed with Obama’s face. The eyes are painted red with devil horns. “I Sux” is in written in the duct-taped speech bubble that’s attached. The effigy blocks the main isle, forcing one to wander around before entering the heart of this beast.

An impressive collection of half-empty plastic soda bottles intermixed with remnants of spent chewing tobacco adorn the countertops and all spaces originally designed for office equipment or supplies. This is Ol’ Pappy’s Pawn and Gun.

Reaching the main sales floor, homemade wooden racks reaching to the ceiling proudly display almost every variant of AK, AR, bolt-action, rimfire, autoloading, single shot, centerfire, left-hand rifle and shotgun available. These guns, needing good homes, are neatly lined up by barrel length, resembling a church’s organ.

An Ol’ Pappy’s employee, semi-auto pistol strapped to his hip, takes a long inventory of his rifle-placing handiwork as he blatantly ignores my arrival. Moving up and down the row, he slightly adjusts each gun’s barrel to the left or right, perfecting this long-barreled gun display.

The glass pistol display case sits in front of the rifle wall, the top almost opaque from years of accumulated nicotine. It contains a hodgepodge of handguns organized by what I can only guess to be luck.

I try not to make eye contact with the gruff long-haired fellow behind the case while doing my best impersonation of a regular.


In all honesty, I’m not a typical gun enthusiast. I voted for Obama both times. I’ll choose vegetarian quesadillas over a steak dinner and I like my beer locally brewed and served in the appropriate glassware.

As I scan the display counter, I quickly spot an opening next to a customer who is intently taking aim at various points throughout the store with a snub-nose revolver and I step in beside. Squinting hard through the foggy glass, I get my first look at the goods inside.

“What-er-ya out for?” the gruff, long-haired fellow slides over and barks at me, obviously trying his best to seem inviting and interested.

“Don’t you usually ask what are you in for?” I reply, head down hoping he would pick up on the prison joke and break the ice. I felt his stare before he came back with a stern “No,” creating a wall of tension all of the bowie knifes in the place couldn’t slice through.

“Umm. I’m just checking out what you guys have. Interested in a XD 9mm…have one?” I mutter, finally lifting my head to make eye contact. In my countless hours of online research, I had decided that was the pistol for me.

“No,” he says immediately, turning to walk down to the other end of the display to help another customer.

Phased and shaken, but not completely deterred, I stick my hands in my pockets and bend down to get a better look at their inventory. Black, gray, blue, pink…every color is represented. Revolvers next to striker-fired, next to guns with hammers.

As I carefully scan the case, I start to wonder how it came to be that each particular gun is now here. Where did these guns come from? How far have they travelled? What is their story? How many are family heirlooms pawned in times of hardship?

Contemplating the pistols’ origins, one catches my eye. It’s stainless steel with a full-size frame and a hammer. A paper tag stringed to the trigger guard states, ‘$299 – Comes with box and 2 mags.’ I try to look past it, but am consumed by the gun’s presence. All other pistols in the case disappear.

Enamored, I stand up straight and look for the gruff, long-haired fellow and muster, “HEY… I’d like to check this one out.”

I think that’s what you should say. Or do I take a number and wait? The gruff long-haired fellow at the end of the counter perks up and is now headed my way, leaving his other customer mid-sentence.

“There’s a couple hundred guns here, you’re gonna need to be more specific.”

“It’s the only one…I mean that one, right there. Price is $299,” I say.

“Oh, the P right there?” he inquires. Pulling an circular array of keys from his pocket, he instantly fingers the correct one, unlocks the back of the case and pulls the gun from its temporary glass holding cell.

“This is a great piece and ain’t gonna last long here.” He cycles the slide a few times and locks it back. Handing it over to me without emotion, a stone cold stare.

Now I can count the number of times I’ve handled a gun on one hand. Spending countless hours online reading everything every pro and vet has to say on what caliber is best for the beginner, the best gun for my money, its stopping power and so on made me believe I was a true gun pro. But when push comes to shove, I’m helpless. This is new ground, a new frontier and I am diving in head first.

I take the pistol from him like a new parent taking their newborn from the doctor for the first time. Scared and unsure, I hold the cold piece of steel in my hands, admiring the raw power it exudes, pretending to know what I’m looking for or at.


Ruger P89DC
Courtesy Dury’s Guns

It seems like what a gun should be. Heavy, made of metal, with a trigger, a barrel and a place to hold on. Without cycling the slide, checking the sights, internals or gripping it like it was hot, I offer the gun back to the gruff long-haired fellow behind the counter, still cradling it like a newborn baby.

“Cool, thanks.” I say. Nervous, I could feel myself starting to break a sweat.

“You know, this ain’t gonna last in here,” he says, yet again, looking at me and cycling the slide, outwardly confused about my interaction with the pistol.

“These P’s are pretty sought after and in this condition, you just ain’t gonna find another like this.” He places the pistol on top of the case and shrugs off the awkwardness of the situation I just created.

Now I’m running on full autopilot, just pure emotion and adrenaline. Without a thought, I put my hands back in my pockets and bend back down to take another gander at the inventory behind the foggy glass, not looking at anything in particular, not really sure what I am doing.

I calculate what my next move should be. Run out the door? Inquire about purchasing? Ask to look at a few more guns?

Finally, I make my move. Quickly coming to a full attention, locking eyes with this gruff long-haired pawn shop denizen used gun salesman, I state with authority, “I’ll take it.”

Wait, what? I just said I’ll take it. What caliber is it? How does it work? How old is it? Who even makes this thing? Before I fully realize what I just did, he fires back.

“Good choice, you ain’t gonna find another like this,” confirming my decision like a true used article salesman and now wearing a shit-eating smirk.

Returning from my blackout state due to the insane rush of adrenaline, I have a pen in my hand putting my John Hancock on the 4473 form. Passing over my driver’s license along with the 4473, the gruff long-haired fellow gathers the documents and stuffs them in between a few of the spit bottles and grabs the pistol from the top of the counter.

“NICS gonna be a minute,” he states with his back to me then heads off to the stockroom.

Standing still and in full recovery from the adrenaline debacle gun purchase, eyes glued to the gruff long-haired salesmen, I can see him fiddling in the back and snickering with his cohort. A combination of smoker’s cough, laughs, and snorts emanates from the back room.

Breaking my stare, a few gentlemen come wandering from behind the shelves of preowned junk, take a half-assed glance around the main store area then quickly file right back out from where they came in.

Looking around again, I notice another customer at the end of the store who is intently taking down an AK he’s been gawking at since my arrival, pulling tools from the shelves to aid his endeavor. Above him a bright red sign with white lettering reads, “DO NOT FIELD STRIP WEAPONS.”

Suddenly an Ol’ Pappy’s employee taps me on the shoulder, reaching from behind the case.

“You Garrett?” he asks.

“Yes, are you Nick? I ask.

“Who the heck is Nick?”

“The guy helping me out said that Nick was going to be a minute.”

“No shit. My name’s not Nick, it’s Jay-Jay and Ol’ Pappy, he owns this place. Been running it 22 years. He was referring to the background check. It’s called a NICS.” He starts to break a smile. “Let me guess, you ain’t never been around here?” he asks, now full-on giddy.

“No, Jay-Jay. I’ve never been in the store. In fact, this is the first gun I’ve ever purchased,” I say, feeling rather trusting at this point.

“Huh, Ol’ Pappy back there said he got a stranger. Guess that’s you,” he says. “Well, Garrett, background’s good, let me double in with Ol’ Pappy and we’ll get you all squared up.”

Jay-Jay then heads back to the stockroom. A few minutes pass by before both Jay-Jay and Ol’ Pappy appear from the back room, Pappy carrying a black plastic case. They walk right up to me, both with smiles like Christmas morning. Ol’ Pappy puts the case in front of me, turns around and grabs a small red, green and white box and places it beside the black case.

“Here you go. Your new pistol. Just gave her a good wipe-down,” says Ol’ Pappy.

I turn the case to face me and notice the top of the cases is molded with the name “RUGER.” Popping it open, the gun sits neatly inside, one magazine in the pistol now, with the other magazine sitting perfectly in its molded holding spot. Next to it is a factory magazine loader. There’s not a scratch on any of it, and hiding in the top cover is an owner’s manual.

I take the pistol out of the case and have another good look. “Ruger P89DC” is neatly etched into the stainless slide. Flipping the pistol over I notice “9mm x 19” stamped into the barrel. Well, I’ve got that part figured out. Feeling lucky I look over at Ol’ Pappy and Jay-Jay.

“You know, this is the first gun that I’ve ever purchased or owned.”

“Oh, we know. Ain’t but get a stranger in here about twice a year,” Ol’ Pappy fires right back. Both of them let out a laugh.

“We appreciate not having to do the price dance. Saves us a lot of time,” Jay-Jay pipes in.

“For your commitment to fair pricing standard set forth by this establishment, here’s a half box of plinking ammo to get you started.” Ol’ Pappy takes the pistol from my hands, places it back into the box, takes the tag off the trigger guard and closes the box.

Almost in unison Jay-Jay holds open a plastic, “Thank you for Shopping” bag for Ol’ Pappy to load. Ol’ Pappy places my new pistol and the small green, red and white box of ammo inside. He knots up the bag handles and offers it over to me.

“That’ll be $299 for the gun, $7.99 for NICS and $24.42 to Uncle Sam,” Says Ol’ Pappy while pressing the register keys, shit-eating smirk and all.

“We take cash, cash or cash.”



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  1. At least you wound up with a fairly decent handgun. I never cared for those rugers but I have to admit that they always work when you need them to.

      • I bought a new P89DC in 94 at a pawn shop. Put countless thousands of rounds downrange. Even carry it during the colder months. Still as solid and reliable a firearm as any on the market. It may be a TANK, but I wouldn’t trade it for any of the plastic fantastic firearms out there today.

      • I love the P series, except for the plastic ones. The triggers kind of suck a bit, but the most accurate pistol I ever shot (or the best grouping I got with a pistol), was a solid stainless P85 MKII. And it was ridiculous reliable. Never jammed once.

    • I’m assuming the article’s photo is of a stock image, and not the author’s actual property? I mean, the serial number is fully visible.

      • Who care he’ll never shoot it. He voted for Obummer twice. Maybe his girlfriend can show him how it works.

        • Just the fact that he’ll never shoot it is a good thing. I would rather he takes some basic instruction, but another gun owner is a good thing. I would be happy to go to the range with him and a few others that are more savvy than I, to show him proper safety procedures.
          My family and I own a few weapons and if I never have to use them, I will be happy. They will have done their job, just being there, hopefully keeping the bad guys away.
          Remember that most people vote to keep their pocketbook in line, I try to be an informed voter. I am not going to vote to bankrupt myself, after that, I am going to vote to keep my family safe.

      • The photo is attributed to Dury’s Guns. A full service firearms website. They sell firearms, including class 3, provide training, gunsmithing and auction services. So it’slikely a stock photo.

  2. This is a repeat. I didn’t believe it the first time and I’m sorry I read it again.

  3. “Now I can count the number of times I’ve handled a gun on one hand.”

    So, obviously it’s time to do some journalizming & foist some newly-found expertise on the unwashed Trump supporters.

    • Reminds me of virtually every college freshman. They just got told something by a professor, that they assume is secret knowledge no one else has, and they parade themselves around every setting they find themselves in saying, “Uh, well, did you know that …”

      I typically respond with something like, “Yes, yes I did know that, when I was twelve, like everyone else who doesn’t live in your particular bubble.”

  4. Almost got a P-89. Buddy got a used P-85 & discovered it was recalled. Sent to Ruger & fixed free of charge. I bought my black rifle at my favorite pawnshop. Runs great. Nowhere near as goofy as this rerun story…

    • Damn straight. Sounds like my kind of pawn shop.

      Yeah, this is a repeat from years back. Decent price on a solid 9mm.

      For a first gun, it’s just about ideal, IMO…

    • For a work of fiction, it gets the ‘feel’ of a newbie visiting dirt pawn shop for the first time fairly accurately.

      Shops like that are fairly common in rural Florida…

  5. I’ve been very happy with my Ruger p89. With its 17 + 1 capacity. And I equipped it with a laser grip.

  6. I once purchased a stripped LRB AR-15 receiver from a Class 3 pawn store. Because of demand at the time price was high but it included a counterman who knew his gun stuff.

    • this actually pretty spot on to my first experience. Olde West Gun Room in El Cerrito, CA. old random stuff everywhere. grizzled old dude behind the counter, his buddies getting a laugh from me not knowing anything. in the end it worked out well, I got my first piece and I was warmly welcomed to the POTG club.

  7. I’ve read this here or someplace else years ago. I think it’s all lies and exaggeration.

  8. The first gun I ever bought was from a pawn ship when I turned 18. It was a norinco SKS that had been ‘Sporterized’ with a dragunov style stock and detachable magazine. For years I bought most of my guns second hand from pawn shops. But I also ended up buying a lot of guns that turned out to need a lot of work to make them usable. In the long run I ended up becoming a pretty decent at repairing broken and incomplete guns.

    • A pawn ship and you bought an SKS. On a pawnship I’d have thought theyd have kept it in international waters and would sale anything you could imagine.

  9. I can summarize for those of you who don’t want to read the whole article:

    I, a newbie, bought a mid-grade Ruger P series in 9mm for a decent price and then decided that it was such a monumental experience that I should write a whole story about it. The End.

  10. I’ll choose vegetarian quesadillas over a steak dinner and I like my beer locally brewed and served in the appropriate glassware.

    Dude, get to the point. No one actually cares that you prefer extra, extra, extra large rubber objects.

    • So basically, I’m a snowflake and want to make up a fictional tale to have published in Slate. If I actually bought the gun, I turned it in at the latest gun “buy back” hosted by my upscale, liberal community. But, since I once entered a gunshop I’m now qualified to pontificate on gun “reform” since I’m an inside to the gun culture.

      • WP won’t let me post what I was going to post, which wasn’t an allusion.

        To girthy back-door intruding objects inserted with vigor and excitement.

  11. Not me. I’m not afraid to admit I overpaid about $50 at Cabella’s and was the guy who didn’t consider a whole lot about it. Sold it about a month later for something smaller, concealable, not in FDE, and in 9mm…

    *puts on flame resistant suit
    Yea… it was a .40 too…

  12. WTF ? This has to be the worst article TTAG has ever published. An Obama lovers day in a crusty old hawk shop. This guy helped wreck America by putting a Kenyan Communist in office and TTAG prints his garbage and pays him an authors fee.

  13. Joe Biden Now Wants To Limit Your Self-Defense Ammo Based On Recreational Justification.

    • Biden, 8 bullets in a round? 1 bullet in a round? WTF?

      Colin, less ammunition, fewer bullets – not less bullets.
      Don’t you edit?

  14. My P-85 was the worst gun that I ever bought. I’ve bought a few over the years. I inherited a Jennings from my dad when he passed and between the two of them It’s a tossup which is the worst I have ever owned. At least the Jennings is way more accurate and eventually was made to shoot reliably with a bit of tuning. I never could make the P-85 hit better than the broadside of a barn at 10 yards. At least it always went bang and like that lump of Jennings it could always be used as a backup kudgel at hand-to-hand range when it ran out of pew-pews. Mine didn’t come with a second magazine because Papa Ruger didn’t believe in non-LEOs having extra hi-cap mags back when he was alive.

  15. “In all honesty, I’m not a typical gun enthusiast.”

    You arent an enthusiast at all. You walked into a pawn shop and bought a cheap pos, congrats.

    Couldnt finish this one. Cringe and self-importance at every paragraph. Zero expertise worth exposure to a wide audience.

    • “Enthusiast” -in a cringe n00b way. Before the internets there used to be a certain type who read every single issue of soldier of fortune but had zero hands-on experience and no service experience either. That’s the kind of enthusiast we are reading about here transposed into the modern information age.

      There is more access today to more information but on the whole the value of this “book learning” hasn’t changed all that much in it’s quality for all the massive increases in the quantity available. YouTube experts abound…

  16. I own several great Ruger firearms. The P89 and P94 I had weren’t great, so I sold them. I’ll pass my Ruger rifles and revolvers on to my sons.

  17. If I was charged for a background check I would turn around and leave the store. None of the pawn shops or gun shops in my area charge for a background check. They do charge you if you are ordering a gun from online and need the gun transferred into your name.

    Pawnshop’s can sometimes be a real trap. Few Pawnshops will take a second hand gun back that has a problem with it and the former owner may have dumped it on the pawnshop because there was something wrong with it and he would not think of sticking it too one of his friends in a face to face sale.

    In the old days before the internet pawnshops often sold rare guns that they had no idea what they were worth. That is a thing of the past with today’s internet. Good deals at pawn shops do happen but they are rare these days. I often hit one pawn shop once a week on my way to our .22 bench rest matches and many times I have gotten better deals at the local gun shop just up the road from the pawnshop and they will take back a gun that does not function that was bought used. They sometimes sell the same second hand gun far cheaper than the pawn shop does.

    As far as the Ruger handgun sale, the buyer did not know much about the sorry history of the Ruger “P” series. It is no longer made today and for a good reason, they were not very accurate and also they were a failure in the market place and the model submitted in the U.S. Military trials failed early in the tests. Bill Ruger could not figure out how to fix its problems so he hired two outside engineers to redesign the gun and the first thing they did was to get rid of the swinging link lock up and substitute the Browning cam lock as found in almost all 9mm handguns today. How much better this model was I cannot say.

    I must say I still laugh when I recall the prostitute gun writers glorifying the Ruger “P” series when it was first marketed, especially about how it was indestructible. The prostitute Gun writes really got egg on their face when the Ruger miracle gun failed big time in the U.S. Military test trials. The bad publicity as well as the recalls may have doomed even the later redesigned model.

    I did get a fairly good deal once on a Japanese Arisaka that was mismarked as a 6.5mm. When I pointed out to them it was the garden variety 7.7 they pulled it off the shelf to reevaluate its worth and a week later they told me they still had not got around to finding out what is was worth so I again made them the same offer and after some dickering I walked out with it. No, it was not a steal but the price was lower than what it was worth.

    I found several guns at this pawn shop I was looking for for years. One was a Polish Radom which sat in the shop for 6 months because at the time it was priced at top buck but when they did not sell it they finally came down on the price a bit and after some haggling I bought it. Again it was not a giveway price but it was in such nice condition I finally succumbed to temptation and bought it. It proved to be a super accurate pistol. As a comparison I found a rare Radom that was slotted for a shoulder stock at a gun show but alas it had a professional re-blue, but I bought it at half the price I paid for the original finish Radom at the pawn shop. It too had outstanding accuracy.

    Another rare gun I wanted since I was a boy was a Winchester 1906 pump .22 but this one was “not” the usual gallery gun chambered only for .22 shorts rather it was chambered for shorts, longs and long rifle. It was in fairly sad shape so I got it cheap. I stripped it down and replaced some parts, and replaced all the wood and spent weeks taking off the rust. I begged a buddy of mine who no longer blued guns to fire up his tanks and re-blue it for me. He said “Man you did one hell of a job restoring the gun, as when it came out of the tanks the bluing rivaled by far the original bluing that was on it when it was factory new”. I have had people offer me tripple what I paid for it but It did cost me money for the bluing and repair parts and of course the several weeks labor restoring it. Its not for sale anyway. It brings back sweet memories of my youth when I used to pay 50 cents to shoot the Winchester gallery guns at the amusement parks in the “good old summer times”. Sadly after millions of rounds were fired out of these old Winchesters the man who own the shooting gallery replaced them all with Remington Nylon 66 Rifles. The Remington guns worked but they all looked like a real piece of plasticky shit. I have had several friends down through the years who owned these Remington Nylon 66 rifles and they all said they worked quite well. I never owned one and never will.

    I also found an FN .25 acp 1906 and I had wanted one of these for well over 55 years simply because my Father carried one in WWII as a hide out, back up gun. This gun was about as mint as you could get and it was well worth the price. Again it was not a give away price at the pawn shop.

    Such is the life of a gun collector addict. You never know what the next deal will be but today after the covid pandemic good deals on anything are getting to be almost non-existent. Its not a question of price but a question of even finding any collector grade guns for sale period. The good old gun buying days are now “gone with the wind”. Anyway I really do not need anything, I only convince myself that I do.

    • Mister Gun Control Champion wants us to believe he owns guns. You were doxxed, dacian. You haven’t been alive to search for a gun for 55 years, jerry p. of canton ohio.

      Your father, up there in Hartvill, Ohio, was the gunsmith. And he wasn;t old enough to serve in ww2.

      You are a pathological liar that is to mentally ill to pass a background check.

    • I disagree here. Some people collect one type of firearm or firearms made in a certain country. Many people like vest pocket pistols made in Europe before WWII – with or without Nazi markings.
      Many of these guns have been handed down, fired a few times, have the original box and some period ammo to go with it. A little cleaning, and some springs will get you what seems to be a brand new handgun.
      Many pawnshops might have this pistol in the case for 10 years. To a collector, he hit the jackpot, to someone that might need firepower will overlook this everytime.

  18. Is new content really that hard to find? This repeat story stinks just as bad as it did when first published. What is the POINT?

  19. Here is a tip. If you show any familiarity with prison life or display any of the mannerisms of having been in a prison, it will ping the radar of any gun shop owner. The selling of firearms is the only area in the US where discrimination is encouraged. IF the shop owner even suspects that you are a prohibited person, they can deny the transaction. No reason need be given.

  20. FTA: “he came back with a stern “No,” creating a wall of tension”.

    Isn’t this typical of a loser Obama-kind soyboy. Makes an incriminating joke and blames the other guy for the tension.

  21. I bought my first semi auto hand gun in a pawn shop in 1980. $200 for a 6 year old S&W 39-2. No background check. I didn’t know what I was buying at the time, but it felt good in the hand, looked solid and was a S&W. It wasn’t until years later that I realized I had purchased a real gem.

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