We showcase lots of firearms that you are unlikely to find at your local dealer. It's guns that are different that are fun for us to review and push the mainstream to continually improve. Over the years we've been asked several times how we found a certain gun or heard complaints that local dealers don't have any in stock.
Why Your Local Shop Doesn't Carry Brand X: It's not that your local dealer doesn't like the less-common brands, most of the time it's practically out of their control. There is very little profit margin for dealers in firearms so they're somewhat forced to make sure what they buy will sell quickly. There's a lot of capital tied up in inventory just waiting for the right person.
The challenge is further exacerbated by distributors and even manufacturers who bait dealers into carrying (and pushing) certain models or brands in order to get a better price, or even to be able to carry certain models. Deals like, "sell 10 model Ys per month and we'll let you buy a model Z" exist. As are many other incentives that all push a local dealer into carrying the same basic guns you see everywhere else such as "buy five of these and we'll give you one of those." When a theoretical $500 gun offers only a $25 margin, the idea of a discounted or free gun is very juicy to dealers trying to keep their doors open and employees paid. Don't hate the player, hate the game.
How To Find Something Different: The best way to support your local shop is to ask them if they can special order something for you. Not all shops can, and those who can might not have access to the particular model you're looking for (see above), but giving them the chance is a polite thing to do. If not, don't worry, they'll likely still make some money from the transfer.
The default that we've used most is simply to find the gun at an online retailer and order it. Just like how Amazon killed bookstores, online mega-vendors have lower operating costs and as a result are able to invest more capital in inventory. Because they serve the nation and not a local area they're also more likely to take the risk of holding inventory of less popular items.
Buying Online: Purchasing a firearm online legally is easy. There may have been tough times in the past, but these days it's almost as simple as placing any other online order with an extra step. That step is providing a copy of your local shop's Federal Firearms License (FFL) to the online vendor. This is because although you are paying for a firearm online you aren't fully the owner until you do the same basic paperwork at your local shop that you would for any transfer.
A copy of your shop's FFL needs to be on file with the online vendor because they are legally transferring the gun to your local shop. You then fill out the 4473 to so the local shop can transfer it to you. Getting a copy of your shop's FFL to the online vendor is the only potentially tricky part. If you're lucky the vendor already has a copy, if not you may need to email or call your shop and have them send a copy. Once the vendor has it, they'll keep it on file until the FFL expires. It's that simple. Don't forget, when that gun arrives at your local shop, you've purchased it. If you plan on using this to simply take a look at a gun check the online vendor's return policy first!
Where to Look: This list is far from complete, but here are some online vendors we've bought from and what our experience has been like. These are not paid endorsements, just a list of where we've bought from and what our experience was.
GunZoneDeals: A great place for guns you might not find elsewhere like Grand Power pistols. Pricing is competitive, customer service good, and they generally ship very quickly. The website interface can feel a bit clunky for browsing, so if you know what you're looking for use their search tab. We recommend signing up for their email list as often deals are sent via email that are otherwise hard to find on the site.
Palmetto State Armory: PSA's inventory cycles rapidly, and like the housing site Zillow, they're not afraid to leave sold-out inventory on their site to draw in the clicks. Pricing is excellent if they have the item in stock. Shipping is quick, but we have no experience with their customer service as it's not been needed. Because their inventory is so vast it's not a bad site to cruise around on, just be shop quickly as it's not uncommon for something to be in stock while you shop, but sold out before you check out.
Sportsman's Guide: We've bought from Sportsman's Guide for over a decade. Firearms are a relatively new addition to the site, and the selection varies, some will surprise you. If you're a member of Sportsman's Guide their "4-pay" plan is a great way to take some of the bite out of gun prices by allowing you to split your payment up over four months. Shipping isn't always the quickest, and on some purchases like ammo we've bough "in stock" items only to have the shipment delayed month after month. Gun buys have all been positive, prices are ok.
Atlantic Firearms: A specialist in guns you'll likely not see anywhere else. This is where Graham goes to daydream. All sorts of uncommon firearms and variants including quite a few you won't see anywhere else. Prices are fair for the rarity, but customer service is excellent. They've recently began offering more common choices, but this is the place to go for dream European rifles. Shipping speed is fair. The Zillow trick is also employed by Atlantic Firearms, but more often than not it's for an item they plan on carrying again in the future, or are literally waiting for a ship to deliver.
Classic Firearms: Don't let images of Clint chicken-winging a rifle deter you, this has been a trusted source of all kinds of uncommon guns for over a decade. In the twilight years of Curio & Relic firearms this was a charge often seen on Graham's credit cards. Today they still offer some C&R guns, though as those have faded from the US market they've bulked up their modern firearms quite a bit with everything from the same stuff you've seen elsewhere to the occasional oddball. Shipping speed can be slow as their popularity seems to have outgrown their workforce but in over a decade of buying from them I've only had one negative experience with them.
Global Ordnance: Looking for an Arex or Grand Power? These guys are THE source; seriously, they're the importers. This means they've got the best chance of having inventory if another retailer hasn't bought that particular item. It also means pricing will be slightly higher as they don't want to undercut vendors that buy from them. Shipping speeds vary, but they're upfront about that. Customer service has been good to us (see our own Arex problem experience here ) but I've heard varying stories. Just like anything else you hear on the internet, you've got to take stories like those with a grain of salt unless you know the people involved and the complete story.
Just like that, our sources have been exposed. You now have the same chances of finding something Wonderfully Different that we do, and are no longer bound to shopping the inventory forced upon your local dealer. If you've made it this far into the article we value your opinion, let us know what your experience have been where, and any other interesting guns we haven't reviewed yet that you'd like to see us review.