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March 19, 2020

Protecting Your Firearm Business and the Public During a Crisis


By NSSF Security and Compliance Team Members

An emergency or crisis can erupt at any time, and it is your greatest responsibility as a firearm retailer to maintain your inventory in a way that prevents any threat to public safety. This includes your firearm sales and compliance practices, especially when it comes to dealing with a surge in demand, as well as securing your inventory if it must be left unattended.

It’s Not Too Late to Put a Plan in Place

The best time to design a crisis plan is before you need it. Although that may not always be the situation for all our FFLs today, it’s not too late to create a plan and kick into high gear with basic protocols to protect your business, your inventory and, most importantly, your staff and the public.

The first thing to consider when an emergency occurs is the increase in concern for personal safety. With this, we typically see a rapid increase in sales, which can lead to a depleted supply chain. This increase in demand can certainly help every retailer’s bottom line but it can also result in hoarding, straw purchasing and unauthorized reselling.

What can you do? First, create a plan for you and your staff based on local activities or directives from your local or state agencies. Next, plan for the safety, protection and continuity of your business and employees. Finally, if your plan is to continue business as usual, keep in mind that your inventory will become more valuable and desirable to those who cannot legally purchase and acquire firearms. That means that if you must cease operations temporarily, your guns need to be adequately secured.

If you’ve attended any of the past NSSF®-ATF workshops or attended SHOT Show®, you may have been introduced to the physical and operational security tools and education NSSF has developed for our firearm retailers. The most valuable and immediately useful tool is the Security Self-Assessment available from the Operation Secure Store® initiative. You can download this for free at OperationSecureStore.org. NSSF’s security experts, along with ATF partners, created this for our FFLs based on recent history and trends we’ve been studying across the country.

Operation Secure Store training workshops conducted across the country have touched more than 2,300 FFL retailers, distributors and manufacturers since the program’s creation in 2019. This training focuses on the premise that creating multiple layers of security to slow down criminals attempting to access and pilfer inventoried guns after store hours provides for greater deterrence and improves law enforcement responses in making apprehensions. The Operation Secure Store program includes video training as well as downloadable documents and tools, and it’s all free to NSSF members.

If you are located in an area where an ongoing crisis mandates business closures, it is critical that you assess your physical security systems and programs and do your best to immediately upgrade or add security layering. In the most extreme cases, you can consider contacting your regional ATF liaison to discuss remote storage of your firearm inventory until local commerce returns to normal. Remember, it is unlawful to store firearms off licensed premises without approval, so make the call before moving any inventory.

A Plan for a Plan

The following guidelines can be incorporated into your crisis planning to prevent unnecessary firearm theft during an emergency situation and address surges in demand.

Before a crisis:

  1. Analyze your safety and security plan for yourself and your key employees. Do you have the necessary personal safety supplies, equipment and resources available to manage through the expected duration of the crisis?
  2. Review your staffing and communication plan with staff to identify individual roles and responsibilities and back-up plans.
  3. Review and implement any plans and recommendations you may have already received from local authorities and agencies.
  4. Discuss minimal operating duties and expectations for the staff and business and plans for security if a business shutdown occurs.
  5. Document your crisis process if possible. A plan is always better executed when guidelines and instructions are put in writing.
  6. Test your burglar alarms, security camera systems and back-up power supplies and check that your alarm call response list is current.
  7. Purchase additional chains, security cables and commercial-grade padlocks for extra security on doors where appropriate.
  8. Discuss how to secure and protect your bound books for retrieval and reference after a crisis. This should include having a back-up storage process for electronic acquisition and disposition systems.

During a crisis (open for business):

  1. Prepare for a sudden increase in customers and purchases, particularly those in the personal-defense realm. This should include discussing the need for setting or limiting conditions for sales, limiting/extending operating hours, maintenance and use of business systems including POS, security cameras and alarms and availability of operating supplies.
  2. Keep staff security and safety in focus. Make available to the staff any personal protection equipment (PPE) that may be warranted based on the crisis.
  3. Contact your vendors to place orders for critical items and ask what their plans are for continuing operations. Place additional orders to prevent disruption in your supply chain if possible.
  4. Secure your firearms and ammunition. You may opt to restrict access to display firearms and high-demand ammunition.
  5. Be prepared to limit customer purchase quantities to avoid hoarding.
  6. During a crisis, a firearm often becomes an essential part of a personal survival plan. Good customer service would include selling the appropriate ammunition with each firearm. Your first-time customers will expect that ammunition is available for each firearm purchased.
  7. Ensure all procedures for 4473 reviews are maintained. In times of increased sales and customer traffic, this may mean designating a particular staff member or manager, if possible, to perform an extra review of all 4473s.
  8. Secure your inventory receiving area. Loading dock bay doors should be closed and locked unless a shipment is in the process of being off-loaded, and carriers and their loads should be verified for authenticity before permitting unloading.
  9. Maintain timely acquisition and disposition of firearms via your A&D book.
  10. Ensure all firearms you’re selling are “received” correctly before sale. This means verifying purchase orders against shipments and having incoming firearms properly logged in your A&D book. With the latter, take the extra time to verify that all serial numbers are taken from the firearm themselves, not the box they came in or the invoice.
  11. During a crisis-induced increase in gun sales, expect delays with the NICS system. If warranted, create store signage to inform your customers of these special circumstances and others such as “All firearms sold at the discretion of the business owner,” “Ammunition limited to one box per customer,” etc.
  12. Beware of straw-purchase attempts. Qualify your new and unfamiliar customers by establishing the purpose for the purchase, determine their level of knowledge and familiarity, and remain vigilant.
  13. Show one gun at a time. You may incur many new customers during a crisis so, review all new-customer protocols with your staff. One best practice is to always request and hold a valid photo identification before showing firearms to an unfamiliar customer.
  14. Create a team codeword or phrase that alerts other staff to suspicious customers or situations.
  15. Be ready to close and cease operations if determined by local authorities or crisis circumstances.
  16. Use caution and stay alert when arriving at or departing from your business. Travel in teams or groups to ensure personal safety, avoid dangerous situations and deter criminal activity, and perform a perimeter inspection when arriving each day by driving around the premises and looking for signs of forced entry or vandalism.

During a crisis (closed for business):

  1. Use signage on your front and rear doors to inform the public that “All guns removed and secured after hours” to deter burglary attempts.
  2. Ensure burglar alarms and cameras are functioning properly.
  3. Expect some level of possible civil unrest. Secure your firearms efficiently and out of public view if you must discontinue operations and vacate the premises.
  4. Wipe down showcases each night so that latent fingerprints can be gathered after a burglary.
  5. Notify your vendors to discontinue shipments until further notice.
  6. Create email, website and voicemail communications informing customers about the status of your business, whether closed or operating under limited hours
  7. If you have to vacate and secure your firearms until business can return to normal, relocate all display and stock gun safes to main entry areas of your facility, including front doors, emergency egress doors and receiving doors, to act as barriers and establish an extra layer of protection against burglary attempts.
  8. Consider removing firearms from easy-to-access areas including glass display cases and wall racks and store them inside locked stockrooms and gun safes. Display and stock gun safes can easily be converted to be used for unplanned long-term secure storage.
  9. Use braided steel cabling and high-grade steel padlocks to lock and secure guns in place if they cannot be moved to a vault or other secure area.
  10. Park extra vehicles in front of vulnerable areas, including front doors, glass windows and receiving areas where bollards are not installed to deter smash-and-grab burglaries.
  11. Have a plan for quickly responding to every burglar alarm notification.
  12. Advise local law enforcement about your firearms and location security plans during any evacuation periods.

A few hours of preparation can go a long way toward protecting your business and community, and it can help secure the prosperity of your business once a crisis subsides. For more information on how to protect your business, contact NSSF’s Security Consultant Team at 855-335-6773.