Insurance agent/gun dealer Aaron Merchant shoulders an M-16 rifle equipped with a silencer at his new shop, Merchant Firearms, southwest of Chandler Boulevard and 48th Street in Ahwatukee Foothills.
Only a limited number of the guns are allowed to change hands among private buyers, he says. This one would cost you about $16,000. But you can rent it for use on a range for $75 an hour.
"My 5-year-old shoots it," Merchant said. "I have to help her hold it. Her favorite one is a .22 with a silencer."
Merchant, a 37-year-old Chandler resident, has been working as an agent for Farmers Insurance from an office at 15410 South Mountain Parkway, northwest of 40th Street and Chandler Boulevard in Ahwatukee, for more than a decade. He also maintained a side business in guns, for which he has had a long-time enthusiasm.
"I've been buying, selling and collecting for close to 20 years now," he said. "Really it was just the physics of making a piece of lead go from point A to point B accurately."
In August, that side business had grown to the point where he launched a separate venture: Merchant Firearms.
"It just grew rapidly," he said. "Demand is always increasing."
While a couple of chains like Big 5 Sporting Goods, at Ray Road and 48th Street, sell long guns like shotguns and rifles in Ahwatukee, Merchant's inventory runs the gamut from concealable handguns to 50-caliber rifles, one of which he said he sold for $4,200 this month.
"I'm the only ‘mom and pop' style of gunshop in Ahwatukee," Merchant said.
His most popular model is the Sig Sauer P238, a handgun carrying up to seven shots with a price tag of $525 and up.
"It's small, light and easy to conceal," Merchant said.
Shotguns for home defense or for target shooting are also popular, he said.
"There are a ton of target shooters here in the state," Merchant said.
He sells additions such as silencers, as well. The shop normally sells between 75 and 100 pieces a month of various types.
Merchant said many people have come in after the mass shooting involving U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, (D-Ariz.) in Tucson earlier this month to see the model of Glock handgun used by accused shooter Jared Loughner.
Children sometimes talk their parents into coming to the store to see the models used in many popular video games, he said.
"They can name them by model, pretty much verbatim," Merchant said.
Lately, many customers have come in to buy large magazines capable of holding more than 30 bullets at a time because they worry about new government restrictions, he said.
At mid-morning on Friday, the shop had several visitors coming in and out, including Phil Waszak, a local truck driver who collects old lever-action rifles. Waszak said he came in to browse.
"Whatever strikes me," he said. "I've got a lot of guns at home."
Another customer, Ahwatukee resident Toby Crabbe, who works for Terminix, described himself as a precision target shooting enthusiast who came in to buy a new grip and some other items.
"It's more like a hobby, shooting. I just enjoy it," he said.
Merchant said he rents out many of the models, including the larger machine guns, for birthdays, bachelor parties and corporate events for $75 an hour per gun, with package rates available, for use on area indoor and outdoor ranges.
"It equates to a round of golf in the winter," he said. "We have instruction to show them how it works."
He said he'd like to open his own indoor range in the Ahwatukee area because shooters now have to go all the way to ranges in Mesa or Scottsdale.
Merchant said he also offers classes on handgun use and applicable laws. Potential gun buyers must pass an FBI background check, unless they've already been licensed to carry a concealed weapon, he said.
"We want to help them get educated," Merchant said. "Most people who are afraid, it's because of a lack of education."