­­My first gun was a Mossberg 500. I wanted the same shotgun I carried in the Navy as my home defense weapon. Stationed in San Diego, I headed over to the Marine Corp Recruit Depot (MCRD) Exchange. I knew they’d have what I wanted. Now, 20 years later and in the market for another Mossberg, I no longer have access to my favorite weapons in one central location. Instead of making a map of all the gun stores within a 100-mile radius, the best choice was to head to where all the guns would be in one place: a gun show.

Gun shows range from small venues with only a few vendors to ones with thousands of tables. Some charge an ad-mission fee. In the search for my new Mossberg, I needed to know what was important before going. As a woman, I have learned that when you step into a testosterone-dominated place, you have to have a game plan so you get all your questions answered, the best deal and you’re not dismissed as just a pretty princess with a purse. Here are few things I learned.

Know What You Want: This doesn’t mean that you can’t dream and you shouldn’t get distracted and start drooling over a new Jimenez Arms J.A. 380 when you are looking for a Mossberg 500. It means do your research. Talk to people who have the type of gun you are looking for. Go to the range with it. Read everything from gun magazines to consumer reports to online forums. You should know what you’re looking for and what a fair price is.

Know The Law: The vendors have to be federal firearms licensed (FFL) dealers. You will undergo a background check to purchase. FFLs can only sell firearms to those who reside in their licensed state. You will want to go to a show in your home state. You should also know about your state’s waiting period and rules regarding registration. The NRA’s website has a listing of state laws. Reference that before you go to the show. Also, remember to bring the correct type and number of identifications required.

Money Matters: Gun show vendors often have one price for cash/check sales and a higher price for credit/debit card sales. If you followed the “know what you want” guideline, you should have enough cash on hand to cover the fair price of a gun you want. There’s no point in paying more if you don’t have to.

Purchasing a firearm at a gun show is an exciting adventure. Doing your research before you go in will make the conversations with the various vendors pleasant, informative and less like some you have as a woman talking to a mechanic or a car salesman. I found the Mossberg I wanted and am contemplating the J.A. 380. Maybe I’ll have to hit the next gun show and pick that one up, too. Happy shopping!

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