Arizona Insurance Agent Finds His Fun, and Second Business, in Guns

July 6, 2011

Some insurance agents pick up a golf club or tennis racket when they want to have fun and work off a little stress. Aaron Merchant of Ahwatukee, Arizona grabs his handgun.

Merchant, a Farmers Insurance agent, says he only fires at targets, either in the desert outside city limits or at indoor shooting ranges.

“It’s just plain fun,” said Merchant, a Chandler father of four who says he put pistols in his children’s hands as soon as they could hold them steady. “It takes skill and practice just like any other sport. It requires a tremendous amount of muscle memory.”

In 2008, Merchant turned his hobby into a small business, selling firearms in a small space inside his insurance agency in the Phoenix suburb of Ahwatukee. A year ago, he had enough business to open a storefront, Merchant Firearms.

Family-focused Ahwatukee might seem like an odd spot for a gun shop. Phoenix requires no special zoning or use permits for gun shops, so residents were surprised when Merchant Firearms opened in a strip mall within walking distance of four schools and the city’s Ironwood Branch Library.

But Merchant said he has received no complaints. Officials from nearby Horizon Community Learning Center and St. John Bosco Catholic School say they have received no gripes from parents about the gun shop.

The store does not let anyone younger than 18 — the legal age in Arizona for buying a long gun — in the door who is not accompanied by an adult, Merchant said.

But Merchant believes children should learn about shooting and firearm safety as soon as they are old enough to handle a gun.

“I like shooting for kids because they are actually out doing something,” he said. “It’s not like video games, where they just sit in front of a TV.”

Merchant said his customers primarily come from the Phoenix metropolitan area, but an occasional buyer will drive in from Maricopa or even as far away as Holbrook. His typical customers are professionals who, like Merchant, enjoy target shooting for stress relief. About 20 percent of his customers are women.

Merchant said he expects his business to gross $1.5 million this year. He also has a busy online business and he started a program in which he searches for rare and collectible guns for connoisseurs, he said. The store also offers shooting and gun-safety classes, which Merchant suggests for all beginner gun owners.

“We have fun here,” Merchant told The Arizona Republic. “We aren’t a high-pressure shop. We don’t sell the cheap Saturday night specials that some stores do. Those stores have a different clientele from the one we attract.”

He said he knows of only a half-dozen customers who have ever used their guns in self-defense and none was at home when the incidents happened.

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