When we talk about gun control, what we usually talk about are background checks, automatic weapons, waiting periods, and, of course, the good guys and the bad guys. These conversations are usually headed off by legislators, pundits, and activists. Rarely are they discussed from the perspective of people who work in the industry, but even rarer do those discussions make their way outside of the industry. While many turn their eyes to Capitol Hill, in towns across America, guns are being sold and bought in federally licensed stores across the country. People own those stores, operate them, and earn a living through them.
Sometimes, these stores exist as an amalgam: equal parts training facility, shooting range, and store. Others, like the one that Eric Ward owns and operates out of Houston, Texas, solely operate as a training facility and federally licensed firearm vendor. Here, the father of one who didn’t discover gun culture until his early 20s, talks about his passion for his store, the thrill of educating patrons, and why his son won’t be coming to the store very often
I actually didn’t have a lot of exposure to firearms growing up. I’m from Louisiana. The state is known as “sportsman’s paradise.” But growing up, we were not around guns. We did a significant amount of fishing. My dad had hunted prior to us being born, but the whole time growing up, until age 18 or so, we didn’t have experience with that or exposure to firearms. I started my own journey with that a little bit later on in life after moving out of the home.
I’ve been involved in the firearms industry for approximately five years now. One of the things I enjoy most is educating individuals who do not have prior knowledge of how firearms operate. We enjoy helping people find what’s best for them. We look at firearms as tools. There’s a tool for every use. When we think about the concept of kitchen knives, there’s a kitchen knife for all kinds of uses. You have a chef knife, for chopping and dicing. That’s not something you would use a paring knife for.
Fundamentally, owning a gun store has to do with a sense of responsibility.
You’ll find the people at firearm stores are very nice, very professional, very cordial, and probably very helpful. When people come into that retail space, these are people that are primarily coming in for training. We train between 40 and 60 people a month and approximately 1/5th of them end up purchasing a firearm. We have retail stations set up. They can come in, view the products that are behind our glass case. We take the products out and after showing that they are safe and clear, we allow students to check these products out, and take a look at them. Many students will end up renting firearms from us to help them decide what’s best for them.
A lot of times, people come in and they say, “I want a gun!” Okay. Well, what kind of gun do you want? What’s the tool for the use here? Education of good people is probably one of my favorite parts of the business. You don’t get into the firearms sales business to get rich. The profits are not what you may think they are. So it is something where you do get a certain amount of personal satisfaction from helping good, law-abiding citizens empower and protect themselves.
It’s a lot like trying on clothes. You try on a bunch of different ones. You look at color, you look at how things fit. You look at different sizes across different brands. It’s very similar with a customer who looks at a firearm. They may want to see how the gun looks in their hand. If they’re going to have their license to lawfully carry concealed, they’re going to need a holster. They’re going to need certain types of clothing to cover that holster. It’s a buying process not much unlike when you go shopping.
Only a certain percentage of business owners know about inventory management. And unless you sell firearms, you’re completely unaware of the innumerable laws, regulations, record keeping requirements that people actually have to do to be able to purchase a firearm. We can’t sell guns to criminals. We can’t sell guns to people who fail background checks. Every single time someone purchases a firearm from us, we do a background check. You have requirements to show your address. You have requirements to prove your state provided ID.
Is enough being done? No. Enough is not being done. We have places right now where good people are vulnerable because of anti-gun laws.
Is enough being done? No. Enough is not being done. We have places right now where good people are vulnerable because of anti-gun laws. There’s a reason why mass shootings take place in school zones, because guns are not allowed there. There’s a reason that mass shootings happen at businesses. We need to have laws that allow law-abiding, well-trained individuals to be able to carry their firearms concealed. That type of approach, I feel, would mitigate bad guys doing what they tend to do.
Do you have family members that taught you how to cook at a young age? When you’re taught how to cook, and you ask your parent, “Why do we do it this way?” One of the predominant things that tend to come out of people’s mouths is, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it.”
That’s not good enough. That’s not enough to understand the “why” behind something. You need more meat. You need more information. Fundamentally, owning a gun store has to do with a sense of responsibility. I own multiple businesses. Part of my ethos is that I feel that it is important to be able to take care of yourself. Provide for yourself. Produce more than you consume economically and be able to support other people. A fundamental aspect of that is being able to be self-reliant in your abilities, to defend yourself and your loved ones. At a young age, I was starting to figure out more about who I was and what was important to me.
I started learning a lot about guns. I started taking martial arts. I started to really learn how to defend myself appropriately. That’s what launched into the path that I find myself on now — where I’m teaching and educating others, and own businesses. That was a skill set that I developed in the sales and marketing world: teaching and training sales people. It rolled itself over really well to teaching people about firearms as well.
My son has come with us on many occasions to the store, although he hasn’t recently. At 15 months, your son is practically a ninja. If you take your eyes off of him for a second, he’s over in the garbage can or he’s grabbing your keys and throwing them in the toilet or something. I don’t bring my son to the range, not only because of perceived danger but also because you don’t know how other people are acting.
— As told to Lizzy Francis