There's something happening in America, and it's been happening for a long time. The last of the mom-and-pop operations are disappearing, plowed under by the acre-square monoliths on the edge of town, so big they've got their own horizon, often staffed by people whose know-how is limited to how to get to the bathroom. There are, thankfully, a few survivors. One of those in North Little Rock is Don's Weaponry, your friendly neighborhood gun store in Rose City.
Love 'em or hate 'em, guns are beautiful little gadgets, oiled and machined and gleaming, designed to make what's essentially an explosion in your hand no more painful than smacking your fist into your palm. They've got a lot of guns at Don's, everything from tiny Derringers to the political football AR-15 rifles to giant military machine guns displayed (though not for sale) up next to the ceiling. Unless you're a nervous sort when it comes to firearms — and we don't blame you if you are, as the philosophical weeds on the subject are deep and getting deeper by the year — browsing through the wares, hunting trophies, antiques and accessories on display and for sale at Don's is a good way to spend an afternoon. They even let a reporter from the local lefty rag do some looking, and were very nice about it.
Don Hill is the owner and proprietor of Don's Weaponry, and has been in business at 4116 E. Broadway since 1986. Hill said he's been fooling around with guns since he was a kid but really became interested in firearms during a stint in the Army. A lifelong hunter, he was in the medical business for over 30 years, but when a conglomerate bought his employer and his division was phased out, he took it as a sign he should open his own gun shop. He started with a small store behind his house in 1973, selling to friends and via word of mouth. Forty-one years later, he's still selling shooting irons.
Hill said that the big-box stores like Bass Pro and Gander Mountain have killed off many small gun shops, but he usually beats them on prices and always beats them in service. "Their prices are quite a bit higher than mine," he said. "We have been a customer-oriented store ever since the day I opened. We're going to give a customer the best price we can and still make a living. We're going to give you good values on your trade-in. We buy estates. We buy bankruptcies. I've bought out seven other gun shops since I've been in business. ... My people here are all highly knowledgeable. I don't hire kids off the street. With my guys, I think the least any of them have been with me is probably 10 years."
Hill said that when people come in looking to buy a gun, his staff tries to guide them to what they need instead of what they think they want. That starts with asking them what they plan to do with it: home protection, hunting, target shooting or concealed carry. Then, Hill said, come questions like the buyer's familiarity with firearms, whether they have children in the house, whether they live in an apartment, and the surroundings of their home.
"If a guy comes in off the street and says, 'I want that gun right there,' I usually stop him, and say, 'Whoa.' As a general rule, he'll buy it and then come back in two weeks and say, 'I don't like it.' ... We try to sell a person what they need. A lot of the time, we end up having to sell him what he wants, but we try to guide you in the right direction."
Helping narrow down the choices is a full-service firing range in the basement, which allows prospective buyers to rent and try any of over 50 handguns for $5 each. Range fees are $12.50 per person, and you have to buy the ammo, but — as Hill points out — spending $50 and an hour to test drive a pistol before you buy it is a lot better than paying $600 and having buyer's remorse later. Don's also offers comprehensive handgun safety classes that include range time and information on when a person can legally use a handgun in self-defense.
A longtime member of the NRA, Hill is happy to talk about the politics of guns if you ask. He's very old-school in his thinking on guns, saying that he doesn't really understand the point those carrying rifles into Home Depot and Target are trying to make, and adding that he'd never open-carry his own handgun in a holster on his belt. Too easy for someone to walk up and pull it out of the holster, you see. He's a big proponent of gun safety classes for those who purchase firearms ("You take somebody who has never been through a carry class, and he gets the John Wayne Syndrome, you know? He's liable to shoot somebody 100 yards away.") and would like to see the State Police doing more to make sure concealed carry class instructors are actually teaching safe and legal firearm use.
As for his shop, Hill said he's not planning to try his luck up on the freeway anytime soon. Though the fortunes of Rose City have changed since 1986, he said he's never had any trouble there. Besides, he owns the building.
"Why should I move?" he said. "Why should I go pay $3,000 a month in rent when I'm rent-free here? That's one of the reasons I can sell the guns at the prices I do. I don't have a big rent payment."
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