Physical Security in Gun Retail: Insights from a Formerly Stressed Gun Range Founder

Physical Security in Gun Retail: Insights from a Formerly Stressed Gun Range Founder

As in gun safety, physical security during hours of operation in a gun retail environment is also about layering various procedures on top of one another, to reduce the chances of something bad happening. As someone who founded a successful gun range and retail store, and someone who has served in the US Army Special Forces I've experienced a few “what the heck” moments involving firearms.

Understand that at scale, there will be times when people will do unpredictable things. It’s almost as simple as saying if it can happen, it will. Notice I said “almost.” But when it comes to people, perhaps their unpredictability may be the one predictable thing thus, you have to be prepared for pretty much anything. One memorable incident at my former gun range, "Shoot Center," brought that into sharp focus. What if I told you that one day a new customer walked through the front doors of the store and within 5 seconds of entering, snatched a display AR15 off of the counter, and began to playfully “pretend-shoot” his friends standing 20 yards across the room.

Never in a million years did I ever think a customer would do something so horrifically violative of basic gun safety measures. And there it was, happening right in front of me. As my jaw dropped and my feet began to scuttle me in his general direction, I gave him a verbal command to STOP! 

Naturally, your eyes scan the entrance as folks walk in. Part of what we do is greet everyone who enters the store. This is so they know that we see them and we are paying attention to them. It’s service as well as security. As this particular customer entered the store, he turned to his left and walked towards the range area. As he did, he grabbed an AR15 (the trigger was zip-tied) from on top of one of the display counters and began to aim it from his hip, in the direction of the range check-in counter. He was jokingly "mowing down" his buddies standing in line, who were now had their heads turned towards him, standing near the range counter for check-in. As Murphy’s law would have it, one of my younger and less experienced sales people was nearest to this event and the look on his face was as shocked as mine. He seemed to be frozen in disbelief. I immediately darted across the sales floor and ejected the customer, explaining to him that he should never return. He was younger, probably early twenties, and was someone whom I had never seen before. He was less than cooperative and immediately accused me of singling him out due to his race (we'll save that for another time). In hindsight, I should have spoken to him calmly, observed him, called the police, and had him trespassed from the facility. The  individual you wish to trespass typically needs to be present when the police arrive to affect a trespass. Instead, I was the victim of his continuous verbal threats to assault me, etc. Lesson learned!


Reflecting on this incident, I realized the importance of implementing and reinforcing physical security measures to prevent such occurrences. For a business dealing with firearms, ensuring the safety of customers, employees, and the community at large is non-negotiable.

Consider the following practices for enhancing physical security in gun retail:

  • Access Control: Limiting access to firearms and restricted areas within the store is paramount. Implementing controlled entry points, such as with cypher locks and keycard access systems, helps prevent unauthorized individuals from accessing firearms as well as restricted employee only areas. Of note, Cypher locks are mechanical and fairly easy to change the combination to. I recall our back door in the receiving area being a constant problem. The staff would “prop” the door open so they could remove the daily onslaught of cardboard boxes and store trash. I decided that instead of continuing to stress about employees not following directions (guaranteed to happen), I provided everyone with a simple solution. We added a cypher lock to the “outside” of the door. This way the door would still automatically lock upon shutting (you want this for your receiving area) but now there was also an easy and CONVENIENT way to unlock the door. The inside of the receiving door was equipped with a horizontal reinforced steel bar which we would put in place during the evening hours.

  • Surveillance Systems: I cannot recall a single time in which I ever said to myself, “I have too many security cameras.” I can confidently say that during every single analysis of security footage due to a theft, negligent discharge, intentional self inflicted gunshot or other, MORE coverage angles would have been helpful.  Consider store layout, lines of sight, and high-risk merchandise. It’s also likely your store layout will change so, make the system overlap just like with interlocking sectors of fire (where are my 11Bs at).  Video surveillance systems, strategically positioned throughout the store and range areas, serve as a crucial deterrent to theft, vandalism, and other security breaches. High-definition cameras, equipped with night vision capabilities and motion sensors, provide continuous monitoring and recording of activities. You don’t need to go overboard but, I can confidently say you want enough resolution to be able to identify faces within your store. Place these strategically, at choke points throughout. Think bathroom hall entrance, front entrance, range entrance, etc. Position a camera near the front door exit which is at head level. This will be very helpful with facial recognition and any follow-on investigations. 
  • Firearm Storage and Display: Secure firearm storage solutions, such as locked display cases and safes, prevent unauthorized handling and theft of firearms. I recommend employing some sort of trigger or action lock, on displayed firearms to render them inoperable. I highly recommend at a minimum, heavy duty zip ties be applied to the action or trigger, for any firearms which are displayed on the counter during sales events. In the case of the “hey and spray” customer, in addition to a trigger lock of some sort, I recommend a counter top display which secures the gun to the display and preferably, the display to the case.

  • Employee Training: Regular training sessions on firearm safety, emergency procedures, and conflict resolution give employees tools to identify and address security threats effectively. A culture of attentive service is often the best way to combat potential theft. I highly encourage role-play and a round robin type setting, where employees act out in real time how they would react. This needs to be done with repetition, not in a large group setting where few will participate. 
  • Collaboration with Law Enforcement: Many of our customers were serving actively in law enforcement. In fact, a local Deputy once assisted me with a shoplifter by detaining him on the spot. Establishing a proactive partnership with local law enforcement agencies will get you a timely response to security incidents and enhance overall customer safety. For the most part, our customers appreciated seeing police in our store. Build a relationship. Let them know they are always welcome to post up in your lot at night while they do paperwork. They will appreciate the overlapping security footage your parking lot provides.

Prioritizing physical security measures in gun retail environments is a legal obligation and a moral responsibility. As a former Special Forces soldier and a firearms industry professional, I advocate for the implementation of sound security protocols to safeguard customers and preserve the integrity of the industry. I feel it’s an industry responsibility to adopt proactive security measures and foster a culture of safety. In return, gun retailers will mitigate risk, build customer trust, and help preserve 2A rights. Just as a gun should always be treated as a loaded weapon, in a retail environment, it should also always be treated like something that will be stolen or otherwise violated, if not safe guarded. 


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