Personal Defense: Arming New Gun Owners

The personal-defense business remains at the top of the industry’s sales statistics. This market segment, while always historically strong, has grown exponentially in recent years. Most recently, personal-defense sales surged following the tragedy in Connecticut.

Citing fear as a major motivation, more gun owners are purchasing personal-defense firearms, ammunition and related accessories to protect themselves, their families and those around them. A significant number of these personal-defense customers are first-time buyers, many of them women.

“We are seeing a growth in newer shooters, definitely leaning toward home defense. They didn’t have as big a concern about that in the past, but now they are thinking, ‘OK, it’s time. We probably need to get at least a handgun and maybe a shotgun for home defense,’” said Bill Cates, manager of Rocky Mountain Shooters Supply in Fort Collins, Colo.

Cates, a former police officer, and his sales staff of mostly former law enforcement personnel, are keenly aware of the needs of their customer base.

“There’s much uncertainty out there, and I’m seeing people expanding on their purchases of the last four years,” Cates said, pointing out that many of those firearms were just stored away by consumers.

“Now, they are getting them out of the drawers and safes and are thinking, ‘I need to shoot this thing. Now it’s time to maybe amp up the ammo purchases.’ We’re even seeing more sales of things like freeze-dried food,” Cates said.
Rocky Mountain Shooters Supply has an onsite range, and holds classes to provide their customers the knowledge, confidence and skills needed to make informed decisions about personal- and home-defense firearms.

“Our range is a large asset. We have concealed-carry classes here, which I instruct. We’re getting a lot of calls for that, as well. We do a women’s-only course and a coed class. We have a steady increase in women shooters and women interested in self-defense,” said Cates, a 30-year industry veteran and 15-year manager of Rocky Mountain Shooters Supply.

Many dealers throughout the country report a surge in younger adult customers, many of them women who are interested in owning firearms and learning to use them for personal defense. Cates confirms he has seen growth in the younger and the older generations in his customer demographics. Interestingly, the number of customers he refers to as his “middle-aged” clientele seems to have leveled off.


Remington’s Model 870 is the most-recommended shotgun at Rocky Mountain Shooters Supply.
This model, the 870 Express Tactical, has an 18 1/2-inch barrel and expanded shotshell capacity.

Preferred Defensive Firearms

Today’s firearm consumer tends to do his homework before buying, but many first-time customers need advice on what to purchase. With the impressive array of models, sizes and caliber ranges, what personal-defense firearms does Cates recommend for his customers in the Fort Collins area?

“I’m in favor of revolvers for self-defense among women shooters. The small Ruger LCRs and J-Frame Smith & Wessons are our number-one-selling revolvers right now. In semiautomatics, we go from the Glock 19 down to some of the newer introductions, like the Smith & Wesson Shield. Those are popular, if we can keep them in inventory,” Cates said.

“In shotguns, I point most people toward the Remington 870, typically in 12 gauge. Those pump shotguns are hard to beat for their reliability. I can get most ladies, unless they are small-framed, into a 12 gauge. A light, 7/8 load is effective, even in 12 gauge, for home defense,” Cates said.

Cates is careful to steer his customers away from high-powered rifles for home defense, reserving his defensive rifle recommendations for more experienced shooters. He advises all dealers to do likewise.

“I would caution against selling newer shooters .223 rifles for home defense. Sometimes people come in and inquire about that as a home-defense gun. We have to educate them on the pen etration of those types of rounds versus a shotgun or handgun caliber. Sometimes they just don’t understand that. They hear somewhere that they need an AR-15. It has its purposes, but not in a suburban area,” Cates said.


Smith & Wesson’s J-Frames are among the best sellers at Rocky Mountain Shooters
Supply. This Model 638, in .38 S&W Special +P, has a 1.87-inch barrel.


Hornady’s Critical Defense is available in .32 NAA, .32 H&R (.327 Federal), .38
SPCL (Critical Defense Lite), .30 Carbine and .410 Triple Defense 2 1/2 inch.

Ammo, Carry, Safety

Consumers have become more aware of the need for good personal-defense ammunition, along with the need for range time, according to Cates.

“With every handgun purchase, it seems we hear, ‘Give me a box of range ammo and a box of self-defense ammo.’ That’s usually the starter point. Our number-one-selling handgun ammunition for personal defense is Hornady Critical Defense. Federal Premium Hydra-Shok has always done well for us, too,” Cates said.

“In shotgun loads, I’m not pushing the buckshot stuff like I used to. I am a former police officer, and No. 4 buckshot was what we carried in our duty guns. That’s not necessary for home defense. I usually recommend a No. 6 shot or another lighter load for home defense. All our good-quality American brands — Winchester, Remington, etc. — sell well,” Cates added.

Every firearm purchase provides the opportunity for add-on and accessory sales.

“In handgun accessories, everything is leaning toward concealed carry. We move a lot of inside-the-pant holsters. Women’s handgun purses are popular. Any means of concealed carry right now is the popular trend,” Cates said. “Crimson Trace lasers are also good sellers for us, probably more for the ladies than the men.”

Cates says first-time purchasers of defensive firearms consider safes and locks more of a necessity than an option.

“Our safe sales are better than they have ever been — and not just small handgun safes, but larger safes, too. People are starting to think about protecting their investment. All that stuff they’ve bought over the past four years, now it’s time to lock it up,” Cates said.

A safe is a smart purchase, since firearms are among the top four items targeted for theft by burglars, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Of course, responsible firearm owners with younger children instantly see the need to keep their guns safely secured.


New for 2013, Bianchi’s Model 100T Professional Tuckable inside-the-waistband
holster has a C-clip that enables it to be worn with a tucked-in shirt.


Galco’s Wisteria Holster Handbag has a side-entry compartment that will
accommodate most small- and large-frame defensive handguns.

Demand Remains High

The seemingly continuous surge in firearms sales has presented challenges for dealers in meeting their customer’s needs for defensive firearms — primarily in having inventory on hand.

“We continually battle the manufacturers’ inventory in certain products. Anything that hits the industry magazines as the latest and greatest, that’s what people come in looking for. I think the manufacturers put a bit of a feeler out there to see the take on it, and if it’s good, they’ll produce it. Sometimes it’s a little too good, and then we can’t meet demand for the product,” Cates said.

The bottom line for dealers in the personal- and home-defense segment of their business: Expect consumer demand to remain high.

“We hope to ride the wave, and we hope it’s not going to be a short one,” Cates said.
By Greg Stauton

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