Wal-Mart and Firearms

By Dr. James Clary

Not long ago, Wal-Mart announced that they would stop carrying rifles and shotguns at some of their stores to concentrate on other sports equipment. Reading between the lines, I predict that the retail giant will ultimately stop carrying all firearms and ammunition. The reason given by Wal-Mart was the market demand in local stores. I personally believe the decision was made, in part, due to their corporate anti-gun mentality. Of course, I can't prove that, but my daddy told me that if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a duck. (The fact that Wal-Mart is a major contributor to the Brady anti-gun organization might also be a hint. -Ed.)

Wal-Mart's decision is actually good for the sportsmen and I look forward to Wal-Mart's terminating the sales of firearms and hunting/shooting equipment in ALL of their stores. My reasons are both practical and selfish.

First and foremost, most of the firearms carried by Wal-Mart stores are the lowest grade available from the manufacturers, and many are "Wal-Mart Specials." The latter are made for Wal-Mart to sell at a lower price than would be available for a similar model from local retailers. Unlike the shotguns and rifles that Sears had manufactured for their stores by Winchester, et al, which had a lot of extra "bells and whistles," Wal-Mart specials are little more than barreled actions fitted to a cheap stock with even some standard features omitted. If you think I am exaggerating, ask any gun dealer (retailer, wholesaler, or broker) and they will tell you that the Wal-Mart special guns have very low resale value compared to "regular" firearms.

As a point of general interest, the same thing has happened to the fishing rods and reels that Wal-Mart carries. For the most part, they represent the bottom of the product line, with some being made only for Wal-Mart to sell at a really low price. Take a look at the Ambassadeur reels sold at Wal-Mart and compare them to the ones in any regular sports store. It is like comparing a Yugo to a Cadillac.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not slamming Wal-Mart. The merchandizing giant has its place. I spend more than $1,000 a month in their local store on food, videos, pet food and soft drinks. But, never anything to do with hunting or fishing.

So, in addition to the low quality of many of the firearms, what are my other reasons for hoping that Wal-Mart gets out of the sporting arms business? There is a substantial turnover among Wal-Mart associates and you commonly get someone in the sporting goods section that knows as much about firearms and hunting as I know about nuclear physics. That alone does not give me a very warm and fuzzy feeling when listening to their advice. Suggesting that I buy a rifle because, "we don't have many complaints about this here model," or "we sell quite a few of these" doesn't give me a lot of information relevant to my specific needs.

When I buy a new firearm, I want to be able to talk with a knowledgeable person who has some experience in the field. They may not be an Elmer Keith, Bill Ruger or Jack O'Conner, but I want to be able to talk with them about the weapon, ammunition choices and scope options. You won't find that in the normal Wal-Mart associate.

Most importantly, when I purchase a new or used firearm from a local sporting goods dealer I have service, if needed, after the sale is completed. We have several outstanding sporting goods stores in Albuquerque and I do not have the space to mention them all here. Most have on-site gunsmiths and excellent after sale service.

For example, three years ago I purchased a used Ruger No. 1 from Charlie's Sporting Goods in town. It was equipped with a very nice Sightron 3x9 scope, and the price was right, $550. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was not able to take it out for a test fire for two years. When I finally got out on the mesa (lots of open space here in the desert), that .243 was all over the paper. No amount of scope adjustments would bring in into the bull. I changed the scope, mounted new rings and it was still "throwing" bullets from one side of the paper to the other. In frustration, I took it back to Charlie. (Remember, 2 years after purchase!)

Not only did he remember selling it to me, but he walked me back to his gunsmith and told him to check out the rifle out and fix the problem. The gunsmith checked the headspace, bore and scope mounting, decided that they were fine, and then removed the forend. He told me from personal experience that early Ruger No. 1's had a portion of the forend positioned to support the barrel, a bad idea since corrected.

He worked for half an hour, scraping and smoothing out the bedding in the forend, slapped the rifle back together and told me that if it didn't hold to 1" MOA, he'd buy me lunch. Well, it did what he said, and Charlie didn't charge me a penny for the work. Another dealer in Albuquerque, Ron Peterson (a nationally known and well respected gunsmith) has the same policy. Now you know why I prefer small, privately owned, sporting goods stores for my purchases.

One final example of the benefits obtained at locally owned sporting goods stores happened on Saturday night, December 23rd last year. I was in Charlie's a half-hour before closing. I was the only customer left in the store. Charlie and his daughter Val had brought out cookies and pizza for the staff, which I shared, while I tried to decide between a used Ruger M77 for my wife or a new CZ Canvasback shotgun for my daughter. Charlie, naturally, suggested that I get them both, because that way both of my girls would be happy. I still didn't know what to do, as we were talking about some serious money and I had already stretched my budget on other presents. Charlie smiled at me and said: "Ok Jim, $50 bucks more off the rifle (it was already discounted $150 for the holidays), I'll throw in the scope rings and an extra $100 off the shotgun. AND, if the girls aren't happy, bring either or both back for a full refund. Merry Christmas!"

I bought them both and the girls think I am the neatest thing since sliced bread. As for Charlie, every time I go in there he asks about the girls and how they like their new acquisitions. Last time in the store, he told me that if the Ruger M77 didn't shoot like Mary expected he'd trade her straight across for anything he had in the store. Try doing that at a discount store. But, of course, she loves her M77 and it is now part of her arsenal.

For a wide range of ammunition, powder, shot, bullets and accessories you can't beat the local dealer. When I was a kid, over half a century ago, they were the only game in town. Then the large discount retailers appeared on the scene and drove most out of business. But, for those who held on, their day has come again, or will very shortly.

So I for one look forward to the big retailers giving up on the shooting fraternity. They never properly served us in the first place. If you have a local sporting goods store, buy your stuff from them, even if it means spending a few more dollars. The return in service, information and quality will be well worth it. You won't be at the mercy of some corporate executive who could not care less about your sport, and you're gonna need that local specialty store when the big discount store abandons you.

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Copyright 2007, 2016 by Dr. Jim Clary. All rights reserved.