New Handgun Owners

Who Are These First-Time Gun Customers?

Many of the vast number of customers who converged on gun shops in recent years are first-time gun buyers, and the majority of these newly minted firearm consumers (more than 53 percent) initially purchased handguns.

Semiautomatic pistols topped the list, accounting for 34 percent of first firearms purchased — while 19 percent of initial gun purchases were revolvers.

These and many other important facts came to light in a report released by the NSSF in June, profiling consumers who purchased their first firearm in 2012. The 56-page “NSSF Report: First-Time Gun Buyers” includes extensive data on all types of initial firearm purchases, but more than half of consumers who purchased their first gun in 2012 selected a pistol or revolver.

Getting his first shots on target, this customer will be back to your store for add-on purchases.

Key: Fit, Quality, Value

The NSSF report focuses on consumers between the ages of 22 and 65, both men and women, with sample sizes corresponding to regional purchasing trends. The research indicates the top three reasons for initial firearm purchases were home-defense (87.3%), self-defense (76.5%) and the desire to go shooting with family and friends (73.2%).

Self-sufficiency also ranked high on average (69.6%), and higher among women (76.7%), who are highly motivated to purchase handguns for personal defense.

First-time handgun purchasers spent between $515 (revolvers) and $550 (pistols) on their firearm of choice, the report shows. In addition, they spent nearly as much — an average of just over $500 — on accessories.

Nearly a quarter of first-time gun buyers bought at least one additional firearm (handguns remained popular choices) within a year after their initial purchase, averaging even more ($581) on those subsequent purchases.
Of specific firearm features driving the sale, the report indicates the considerations ranked in this order:
• Best for my particular use: 89.9%
• It fit my hand/body the best: 86%
• It was high quality: 85.4%
• Most practical: 82.5%
• It was the highest quality: 79.8%
• Best value: 77.4%
• All other gun features (brand, caliber, style, etc.) were secondary to fit, quality and value.

First-time gun buyers (43.6%) made their purchases at local gun shops, providing
dealers the initial sale and opportunities for follow-on profits.

Local Gun Dealers #1

Independent firearm dealers ranked highest for locations where first-time gun buyers made their purchases (43.6%). The importance of local gun shops to first-time gun buyers, prompted this response in the report’s summary narrative: “[It] is important those interacting with first-time buyers be knowledgeable about guns and gun safety, but also friendly, informative and engaging … Building strong relationships with first-time buyers is beneficial to retailers.”

Mass retail store purchases by first-time gun buyers ranked second in the report at 33.6 percent, giving local gun shops a 10-point edge. Online retailers only garnered 4.5 percent of first-time firearm sales, according to the report. Again, the majority of all firearm sales were handguns.

The overwhelming majority (93.5%) of first-time gun buyers also bought accessories at the time of their initial purchase. Gun-cleaning kits ranked number one in accessories (74.5%). Hearing protection was close behind, with 64.3 percent of new consumers making purchases, followed by eye protection (61.5%). In addition, 58.5 percent of first-time customers purchased gunlocks, while 44.3 percent bought gun safes.

Obviously, safety and security are on the mind of today’s firearm consumer.

Women are a growing force in handgun ownership, and are more likely
to rely on family and friends for information and instruction.

Training Opportunities

The NSSF report indicates that nearly half of respondents received some kind of firearms training from a family member or friend, and nearly a third took one or more classes from a professional. Nearly 38 percent of new gun buyers took training classes for handguns, with more than 22 percent completing concealed carry permit classes.

The report points out that first-time gun buyers who are “motivated by a desire to be social” are most likely to engage in new shooting activities. It also notes new consumers purchasing handguns for home- or personal-defense may be open to classes in hands-on (tactical) pistol shooting to gain more experience in defensive tactics.

Of those respondents indicating they participated in shooting activities, the majority (84.3%) report enjoying target shooting, and planned to continue this type of shooting. It’s important to note this involves first-time gun buyers of all types of firearms. However, the greatest potential for increased levels of non-hunting shooting activity was in hands-on (tactical) pistol shooting, the report indicates.

Two-thirds of those surveyed said they planned to take one or more training classes within six months of purchasing their first firearm. The top training planned:

• Professional training to learn gun usage and safety: 29.4%
• Concealed carry permit class: 25.5%
• Training from family or friend:15.7%
• Class in shooting sport: 14.2%

Dealers can profit from additional training by offering a variety of classes and workshops for new handgun owners, with safety instruction as the top priority. This type of follow-on support enhances the buying experience for the customer, which according to the report, “builds customer loyalty and sets the stage for a potential lifetime of shooting activity.”

This provides dealers selling to first-time handgun buyers an opportunity to involve these consumers in more shooting activities, or simply ensure they are better prepared with basic firearm and safety knowledge. The sooner new handgun (and all firearm) owners receive solid instruction, the better. As their enthusiasm continues to peak, so does the potential for follow-on sales.

While some gun stores hold their own classes for beginning shooters, another way to help new handgun owners learn the basics of firearm ownership is through NSSF’s First Shots program. For more information about how to bring a First Shots course to your area, visit

Gender, Age, Family

The NSSF report indicates — and it’s no surprise — men tend to buy more guns, including handguns, and spend a bit more than women on their first firearm purchases. But women are a growing force in handgun ownership, especially for personal-defense and self-sufficiency. Women tend to spend just as much on subsequent gun purchases as men do, the NSSF report shows.

The data indicates women are more focused on “practicality and utilization for self-protection” in making their first firearm purchases, and they have a higher interest in obtaining concealed carry permits when compared to their male counterparts.

As to the top three reasons for purchasing an initial firearm — home-defense, self-defense and a desire to go shooting with friends — women outpaced men in their responses in all three categories. While the report looks at all firearm initial purchases, the three top-purchasing motivators gravitate toward handguns.

The report indicates women more readily rely on family and friends for information and instruction, while men rely more heavily on manufacturers’ websites when doing their purchasing homework. Both genders pay significant attention to retailers’websites, as well. New women gun owners appear to be more safety-conscious than men, the report said, but men tend to take more training classes.

Those aged 22-34 have a propensity to spend more on their initial firearm purchases than their older counterparts, but the 55 to 65-year-old age range spend nearly as much on the subsequent guns they buy as the younger generation, the report shows.

Another important insight offered in the report is nearly 60 percent of first-time gun buyers say they wanted to teach their children how to use firearms, indicating the next generation should have significant exposure to firearms ownership and the shooting sports.

These handgun- and accessory-buying trends the NSSF report uncovered spell good news for the independent firearms dealer.

The “NSSF Report: First-Time Gun Buyers” offers a great deal of additional information useful to gun dealers and others in the industry. The report is free at
By Greg Staunton

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One thought on “New Handgun Owners

  1. john pittman

    i was a printed copy subscriber for several years before becoming ineligable as i was not an ffl. i am in the process of starting a small business and would really like to resume a subscription. i plan on eventually becoming a ffl holder though it could take a year or so. this magazine regularly publishes excellant firearm’s market oriented articles. thanks.


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