Gun shops are still the best way to buy a firearm, a new study finds.
But they’re increasingly seeing a push for more efficient and secure means of getting their hands on a gun, like online transactions.
“If you’re going to buy guns online, you have to have a place to store them,” says Michael J. Miller, a firearms expert and the author of “The Gun Shop Owner’s Handbook.”
And there are plenty of places that already do.
A survey of gun retailers conducted in 2016 by the firearms trade group Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence found that most stores use online-only payment methods, which can be less secure than traditional credit cards and require the user to provide a social security number, among other details.
Most also offer a credit-card-like “pay by check” option that can take minutes or even days to process.
Still, the study found that about half of all gun shops are using online checkout methods, and many have been using those to sell guns for years.
Some of the largest gun stores, like Wal-Mart, Walmart, and Target, have expanded their online business to include credit cards, as have more traditional brick-and-mortar retailers like Walmart and Target.
“The only way to get a gun is through online,” says Matt Vickers, executive director of the Brady Campaign.
“And we know that guns are very expensive, especially in the United States, where a lot of people don’t have a lot to spend on them.”
The Brady Campaign report found that online sales have grown in the past five years, but the percentage of online sales in 2015 was still higher than the national average.
Online sales grew at an average rate of 8 percent, while the national rate was 6.3 percent.
The trend is expected to continue, Vickers says.
“People are really getting the idea that they’re more comfortable with online transactions, that they’ll buy less if they have to go through a brick- and-mortard retailer,” he says.
And that’s a big reason why many gun retailers still offer online checkout, even as other payment options, like cash, have emerged.
“Pay by check is an effective method of getting guns,” Miller says.
But online payments are far more secure than cash, and even in some cases, the payment method can be more secure for gun owners than cash.
“It’s going to be much easier for people to buy the guns online,” Miller adds.
Some gun stores are also seeing more aggressive marketing campaigns to persuade customers to use the checkout option, including the introduction of a special promotion called “The Gunslinger,” which has people wearing gun emblems in stores and on billboards.
“Some of the guns we sell are just as good as other guns that are sold online,” said Paul Kocher, who runs the company Gunster, which sells guns online.
“But it’s the guns that people are going to pay a lot more money for, so they’re going online for that.”
Still, many online-buyers aren’t buying guns at all.
A 2016 survey of about 1,000 gun buyers in the U.S. found that nearly a quarter of respondents said they didn’t buy guns at gun stores.
“I’ve seen people who don’t even own a gun in the store,” says Scott McBride, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which advocates for gun control.
“We are seeing more and more of the online buying of firearms, and there are a lot people who want to buy firearms but are unwilling to spend the money to do so.”
“It doesn’t help that there are other avenues for gun sales that don’t involve gun stores,” says Miller.
For example, online sales are likely less secure for those with access to credit cards.
The Federal Trade Commission has been cracking down on the practice of “swiping” or swiping cards at gun shows, which is when a person purchases a gun online and then signs a payment authorization form.
But in a recent survey of more than 1,400 gun owners in the country, only about a quarter said they had used a credit card to buy at a gun show.
That number includes about 10 percent who said they’ve used a debit card.
“There is no real benefit to buying guns online from a financial standpoint,” Miller argues.
“A lot of the time, people are just buying guns because they feel they need a gun for a certain reason.
They want to protect themselves, they want to defend themselves, and they just don’t feel like they have the ability to go to a gun store.”
A lot of online buyers are also reluctant to spend more than a few hundred dollars on a firearm because they can’t find the gun online, or can’t figure out where it’s located in the catalog.
The Pew Research Center says there are now fewer than half as many gun stores online as there were in 2000.
And online gun sales are growing more slowly, according to the Pew Research study.
In 2015, the average online transaction