This is the second post in a series that essentially comprises a newbie’s guide to Texas Gun Shows. In part I of the series, I discussed shows in general, promoters, circuits, organization, show selection, and preparation. Now, you’ve arrived at the parking lot or facility for your selected show. What’s next?
Parking areas at gun shows vary in terms of security. At Tyler, I was pleased to see two cops patrolling the parking lot on bicycles. At the old Lewisville or Mesquite shows, you don’t see any sign of security. The promoter is under no obligation to provide security in any parking area. The event is an advertised gun show, and any bad guy with the intelligence of a twinkie knows that gun shows mean people with guns and money in their pockets. Those are both good scores, so be careful and maintain a high level of awareness.
If you have a CHL, there are two options for your carry. All Texas gun shows post 30.06 signs, so you can not carry into the show. No mags. No loose rounds. You are welcome to formally check the gun before entering the show (we’ll cover that shortly) or leave it securely stowed in your vehicle.
I recommend that you arrive before the show opening, especially for a show that you have never attended. Yes, that means standing in line. The line, however, is your last opportunity for pre-show intel. A lot of really cool people attend gun shows. I’ve had some very enjoyable conversations that have helped pass the time while waiting under very adverse weather for a show to open. I also receive good information about firearms or accessories with which I have little familiarity, and pass along recommendations to others. This is your chance to pick up some information about the show from others who have attended the same show in the past. Then, in the future, you might have the opportunity to pass along intel to someone else.
Strike up a conversation. Ask questions. Inquire about the show in general. If you are looking for something in particular, ask if anyone knows vendors who sell that product. Ask about those particular vendors. Ask, and ask some more. In the worst case, you get no new information at all and that’s no different than standing in line with your mouth shut.
There may be more than one line at a gun show. Some promoters, such as Premier, separate people checking guns from the general-entry line. In fact, I almost always check a gun when I attend the original Ft. Worth gun show. Premier often has a three-line setup (one left and right for gun checks, and the general-admission line in the center). If you arrive relatively early and check a gun, you might get moved up front to one of the two gun-check lines. Promoters that offer online ticket sales (again, Premier is an example) often have separate lines for these purchases, since there is no need to collect money. You are stamped and moved right into the show ahead of general-admission.
For shows that have a single line, it will split at some point as people who check guns need to be vectored through the check process. A good promoter will have staff moving through the line, telling people with guns to check to move over to one side. If not (take the recent NTGC Mesquite show), then it’s kind of up to the attendees to ‘figure it out’. So, don’t stand behind someone with a firearm in their hand if you have none to check because you’ve just backed up the line by standing behind someone who is not waiting to pay; they are waiting to check their firearm.
Some shows, such as Market Hall, have a large number of people processing tickets and are pretty good about splitting people checking firearms into a separate line. So, they can move a large number of people very quickly. If you are not interested in being one of the first group of people on the floor, it can be to your advantage to wait. I did this at the early January show. Some people waited in a very long line for over an hour just for the show to open, then additional time to make it onto the floor. I waited inside my warm car inside the parking garage. Yes, the long line just got longer. And longer. And longer. Once I saw the line start to move, I exited the car and got in line. About fifteen minutes expired from the time I locked the car until the time I stepped on the floor. Of course, I gave up a positional advantage by allowing a large number of people in ahead of me, but I wasn’t interested in purchasing a firearm during the frenzy of that time, so it made little difference. On that particular day, I valued saying warm and getting inside quickly.
It may sound silly, but line management can be an important part of your overall show strategy. I think about it and plan around it for every show I attend.
If you decide to carry a firearm into the show, it must be cleared and DO NOT bring any ammo on your person. Most all checks are performed by law enforcement, so hand the firearm to the officer. Do not manipulate the firearm in any way. Do not lock the action back. Let the officer do his or her job, which is to inspect that the firearm is clear, and then wrap a colored plastic tie around the firearm in a way that prohibits the gun from firing. The officer will hand the firearm back to you, and then you proceed to payment (if you have not done so in advance, which I highly recommend if offered by the promoter).
There are no formal security checks. You won’t pass through a metal detector or be wanded. I’ve been asked a few times about my backpack and whether or not I have a gun or any ammo. I always politely answer no and then offer the bag to the person to manually inspect. No one has ever taken me up on that offer.
But, don’t let that lull you into a feeling that there is no security on the floor. You will almost always find a significant law enforcement presence at all gun shows. Many of them are attendees. The promoter also pays for space rental plus very hefty insurance costs, so they are interested in protecting the integrity of the show. Many of them have personnel on the floor whose primary responsibility is security.
Vendors also want to protect their very significant level of inventory on the tables. You will see some that open carry. If the truth be told, I suspect you would find that many of them have a little something-something in easy reach in the event of an ‘incident.’
Payment and Entry
Upon payment, you might receive two tickets, one of which is torn off and given to show staff before you may formally enter the show. Keep the other ticket as that is literally your ticket back into the show should you exit. Other shows stamp your hand. Some shows let you right in and do not stamp your hand until you decide to exit.
Once you enter, don’t stand and gawk. Move off to the side so everyone else can enter. Once you are away from the flow of traffic, then you can stand and gawk. It’s your first show, so no one will blame you
Floor Strategy and Firearm Layout
If you plan to stay a while, restrooms and concessions might become an issue, so note these locations on entry into the facility and the show floor. Some shows have all facilities entirely contained within the show area. At others, you may find that both restrooms and concessions are outside the show area, meaning that you will have to exit and re-enter to use these facilities (Conroe, for example).
Look over the entire floor and try to formulate some sort of strategy. If you are looking for something specific and have some vendor recommendations as part of your advance intel, then search for those vendor signs. Otherwise, I like to start at one corner of the floor and systematically work my way across, one aisle at a time. Walk purposefully without your head on a swivel. You will get a chance to see everything; it does not have to be at one time. This makes you look like a regular, not a newbie, and that gives you a slight psychological edge in the event you were observed by any vendor before approaching one of their tables.
Pay attention to the flow of traffic and you may have to be very patient to see a particular item if the show is packed. A little patience and a little respect goes a long way at any show, packed or not.
As you move from aisle to aisle, you will probably notice lots of guns. And, they are all tied off with plastic ties, just like the one you check or perhaps saw checked. They are very likely to be a different color from guns that were checked by attendees, which serves as a quick visual indicator to differentiate vendor firearms for sale from ones brought into the show.
Firearms are generally laid on out tables on top of their cases, in a row-by-row format. Some vendors may only be able to go ‘three deep’ based on the width of their tables, so they add boards on top before laying cloth over the table in order to add an extra row of inventory. Other vendors have custom, tiered vertical displays (W Guns) so that the firearms are right in front of you in profile view, or they are displayed inside glass cases. Collectables or very high-value firearms are almost always displayed in glass cases or behind tables and out of easy reach.
All firearms displayed by any vendor are tied off through the trigger guards by a security system. There are connections that can be plugged and unplugged in between each firearm, so that the vendor may temporarily turn off the system and remove a firearm for display. If you hear an electronic alarm sound, that’s a sign that a connection has been broken without turning off the system. It could be a mistake (a mis-timing between turning off the system by one person and removing the wire by another) or an actual attempt at pilfering.
Try to make one full sweep across the floor. Even if you see the exact firearm or item you want to purchase, at least look at your options. You may discover a more attractive option, or even find something else that you like better.
As you venture across the floor, you may also see individuals with large signs taped onto their bodies, backpacks, or rifles, indicating items they have for sale. You probably won’t be interested in this for your first show, so let’s discuss interacting with firearm vendors.
Vendors range from licensed FFL’s to collectors to individuals. Now, just because a single person is behind a table, that does not imply that they are an unlicensed vendor and not worth your attention. One of the coolest solo operators I’ve done business with recently is Pat Harrington from Shotgun Blasters. Now, even FFL’s that are small businesses with just one or two people will still have some sort of business identity, such as a sign with their business name, cards, etc. It’s usually the ‘unnamed’ (no sign, card, or other identity) vendors who are individuals or families selling merchandise on their own. I’d recommend staying with actual, identifiable business for your initial show business unless you are experienced and looking for something very particular. If you ask someone for a card and they respond with “we only sell at gun shows,” then politely smile and walk away. Would you get your car serviced by someone who says, “we only work on street corners?” If it’s not important enough for someone to at least become a business, then why give them your business unless you are a collector or highly experienced buyer?
That’s not to say that you should never interact with individuals, just get some experience under your belt first. I’ve purchased some factory ammo from a person I’ve seen at multiple shows. The ammo functioned perfectly and the price was very good, yet I still don’t know his name or if he has any business identity other than Mr. Mystery Face behind a table.
There may be six people behind a group of tables, but most likely only on or two are owner(s) of the business. The others are there to help with sales and/or processing paperwork. They are going to vary in terms of their firearms expertise and people skills. You will encounter everything from the guy who sounds like he’s giving a sales pitch at the state fair to people that are highly skilled but just can’t sell or communicate well to those who have the total package of expertise and silver tongues to convey that knowledge.
Approach everyone with a common attitude of respect, even if you just got blown off or mistreated by the last vendor. Far more often than not, the high road leads much farther than the low road.
If you walk up to a table and simply start looking at a firearm, then it’s likely that someone will ask if they can help you in a very short time. That’s the best way to start an interaction, so keep your hands off and ask any initial questions that you have. Get a feel for the vendor’s expertise and how they interact with you. I always like to chat a vendor up and end up doing business with people that I feel comfortable interacting with that really know their stuff. I don’t care if costs me an extra ten or twenty bucks. That’s just me and you have to decide what type of vendor interaction best suits you.
Remember that you may only be talking with someone who works for the actual vendor who was simply hired to help out at the show. When you ask a question, you need to determine which of the following categories applies to the person behind the table (this is why advance research is important).
- will tell you anything you want to hear in order to close a deal
- does not know and honestly says they do not know (if they are good, they will ask someone else for help)
- does not know and makes something up on the spot
- knows precisely and gives you a correct, honest answer
You are going to run into the entire gamut of people from the dork that tried to convince me that some piece of s**t off-the-wall firearm was destined to be a collector’s item to people like Austin Davis of Kangaroo Carry or Scott Caylor of Good To Go Ammo who are both very knowledgeable and a real pleasure to interact with.
Although many vendors don’t mind if you pick up a firearm and check out the grips or look at the sights (after all, they know you will want it more once it’s in your hands), it’s best form to ask before picking up a firearm. If, and only if, you’re very interested in making a purchase, you may also ask if you can look at it in more detail. This requires the vendor to deactivate the security system and detach it from the wiring system.
The gun will still be tied, so you can not work the action, test trigger pull, or perform any detailed inspection without further permission. Strictly speaking, the vendor is not supposed to cut the ties once they are placed on the firearm, but they have extras, so the firearm can be re-tied. It is not allowable to display an un-tied firearm.
If a several-hundred dollar purchase is on the line, and you’re truly interested in testing the trigger pull or examining some other aspect of the firearm in more detail, you are welcome to ask. I saw one person at a show that was concerned if a particular firearm (a Glock) was truly NIB (New In Box). He wanted to field strip the pistol and check the slide. Before asking to do so, he slowly laid out a sequence of 100-dollar bills on the table by the gun to indicate that he was serious about a purchase. The vendor did not allow him to field strip the pisol; instead, they did it themselves. The person looked at the slide and noticed the significant presence of the copper lube that Glock uses at the factory (plus no witness marks or indication of firing other than the factory tests). The vendor re-assembled and re-tied the pistol, collected the money, and they began the paperwork process as I walked away from the table.
No one ever lost anything by asking, just do so respectfully and with the understanding that you may get rebuffed. If so, then thank the vendor for their time and move on.
And, once a firearm is in your hands, please don’t forget those four rules of gun safety.
Wow! You just selected a handgun for purchase from vendor XYZ and you take a final look at the price tag. What’s next?
Pricing and Negotiation
Unless otherwise stated by a vendor sign or on the tag/box itself, all firearms are NIB and the listed priced reflects a discount for payment in cash. Some vendors may display the credit card price, but you can typically get close by adding three percent to the listed price if you want to pay by plastic. Remember part I in this series; cash is king at gun shows.
The listed price may be a bit higher than you saw elsewhere on the floor, but some vendors offer additional incentives to ‘sweeten’ the deal, such as free ammo or a free CHL class. Typically, the vendor will make you aware of these during the sales process, but it never hurts to ask just be be sure, “Hey, I heard vendor ABC mention free ammo for gun purchases. Does your price include ammo or anything else?” Even if the answer is no, at least this places you in a negotiating stance and shows the vendor that you are willing to look and consider other options.
There is no problem with asking if the vendor ‘can help you out a bit’ on the price, although again, I recommend that any request you make to any vendor be done with an attitude of kindness and respect, even if it’s not reciprocated. A lot of vendors will work with you as they came to the show to sell product and no one likes to let a serious customer slip by (within reason). Others will get pissed and blow you off (that’s okay, it’s a free country and you are also free to move on). Others already have their prices as low as possible and they simply can’t do anything. You lose nothing by asking.
Pricing at shows is very complex because all dealers want to be competitive, yet still make a decent profit. Two dealers may receive the exact same firearm from the exact same distributor, but separated by a couple weeks. Especially when supply and demand fluctuate rapidly, as they did post-election 2012 and into early 2013, the two dealers may have paid dramatically different prices for the same item. This is why it’s important to scan the entire floor and don’t be afraid to negotiate on price. And, don’t think that just because dealer X had the best price on the floor for item Y at this show that that same condition will carry over to the next show. The dealer might be dumping some inventory to make room for an incoming shipment of higher-margin product.
Sometimes, you will hear the phrase ‘out the door,’ like “I can get you out the door right now for $750.” This applies to any product, not just firearms. What this means is that your total cost – tax included – is the stated price. That’s a ‘right now’ offer to literally allow you to walk out the door with product in hand. It does not mean (as some have implied) that the vendor is waiving sales tax as part of the deal.
Some people have recommended ‘tricks’ like keeping multiple stashes of money. You want to buy something for no more than $500, but the vendor’s best price is $525. You painfully dig through three pockets to barely scrounge out $500 and then follow up with some woeful story about that’s all the money you have to see if the vendor will take the bait. Well, you’re free to do what you want, but realize that many vendors are pretty jaded. They go to shows week after week after week, year after year. They’ve seen and heard pretty much everything, and most of them will recognize when someone is running a scam.
There are a lot of really cool vendors, though. I wanted to purchase a plate carrier from Infidel Body Armor at one of the Market Hall shows. I knew the exact cost and tried to budget my money across the floor. I don’t know where I lost track of $10, but I checked multiple pockets and was exactly $10 short when I went to buy the item on my way out. I realized that I must have looked like a bozo trying to run a scam, so I apologized for wasting their time and said I would pick it up at the next show (no way I’m paying the ridiculous ATM fee for ten bucks). The guys let me have it for what I put on the table. No scam, just good customer service (now you know where I’m going for the plates).
Post-Purchase, Exit and Re-Entry
So, you and vendor XYZ agreed on price for a handgun purchase. Next up is paperwork and background check. If you have a Texas CHL, then you have already been subjected to a significant background check. As long as your CHL is in good standing, you may purchase firearms without a call into NICS, but you still have to fill out a 4473 form. And, fill it out very carefully and follow the vendor’s instructions to the letter. If you do not have a CHL, you must be over 21 and have valid ID. The vendor will ask you for the required ID (Texas DL, for example) and there is no getting around this. Every gun show vendor I’ve interacted with or been around during a sale has been very stringent about the paperwork and background check. Most all of them are good about making inquiries that might lead to suspicion of a straw purchase.
After the payment, paperwork, and background check, the firearm is yours. Don’t be surprised while toting that box around the floor if someone asks if your gun is for sale. If your backpack is large enough (and you purchased a handgun, not a rifle), then try to slip it inside the backpack. That will make the rest of your floor time much easier. If you do tote the firearm around by its box and stop at a table, be wary of laying or resting the box on the adjacent table; that’s interfering with someone’s ability to sell product or possibly damaging their merchandise.
You may be very pleased with your new purchase and decide to stow it in the car before returning to the show floor. Don’t let your excitement overwhelm your natural sense of caution. You are walking out of a gun show with a box in your hand, towards a vehicle that is likely in a crowded lot or parking structure. What type of story does that present to a bad guy? If you return to your car with merchandise, keep your level of caution and awareness at a very high level. I always carry multiple, non-firearm, self-defense options to a show, especially since I don’t have replica Chuck Norris skills.
If you do not have a ticket or a hand stamp, make sure you get your hand stamped before exiting, otherwise you will not be allowed to re-enter the show.
You may see a sign or hear someone mention ‘show special.’ This is an over-used phrase in my opinion and many times it does not represent a ‘special’ at all. All prices, especially firearms, are considered show-only by the dealer, which means that the price you see is the price you pay right now. Just because you saw a Glock 17 on display from S.A.W. on Sunday for a particular price does not mean that it will be the same price at the next show or even the same price if you walk into their Sunnyvale store on Monday morning.
The intent of the phrase ‘show special is to convey some sort of special pricing on an item that exists only for the span of the show. Sometimes, that really is true. In other cases, it it a gimmick. This is why your smart phone should be a critical part of your show preparation and an absolute required item on the floor. Just read my review of the SmartReloader earmuffs to see on example of a ‘show special’ that was really only a special deal for the vendor.
If you see or hear that something is on a ‘show special’ for $80, then move to an area where you can stand without disturbing traffic flow and check out prices on your smart phone. What’s the MRSP on the manufacturer’s site? What is it going for on Amazon? Your tradeoff is online price and shipping cost/wait time vs. an on-site purchase where you can walk away with the item in hand (and that’s what the vendor wants to capitalize on). At least put information on your side to make the best decision for your situation and desires.
Although your cell phone should be used for internet queries, don’t use the camera. Most all gun shows post warnings against photos, or someone on staff will warn anyone they see attempting to take a photo. Supposedly this is because most vendors don’t like having their picture taken. Yes, there are some who are inexorably locked in a time capsule back in the 1980s or 1990s, but most vendors actually want pictures of themselves and their products online. It’s called free advertising – just visit an NRA show or any large outdoor products exhibition (SHOT if you can find a means to attend). They LOVE phone cameras.
It sucks. It’s honestly kind of stupid. But it’s their show and their rules.
Even if you purchase nothing, a gun show can be quite informative and entertaining. You may find a couple shows a month to be a great way to detox from the day-to-day routine or even become a show addict like me I hope this guide provided you with some useful information and thanks again for making Texas Gun Show Review a part of your day.