The Army and Air Force Exchange gun counter grand opening Feb. 9 marks the extension of the Hill Air Force Base main store and includes an additional 1,485 square feet of camping, hunting, fishing and gun accessories as well a wide assortment of ammunition.
The Hill AFB Base Exchange expansion joins 13 other AAFES sites in offering firearms, ranging from handguns to hunting rifles. The counter sells weapons during slightly restricted hours from the rest of the store, Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., when federal background checks can be conducted.
Customer response has already been enthusiastic.
"It's been great, they love it," said Michael Elrod, store manager. "We're seeing a lot of retirees coming in through word of mouth, especially. I had one guy tell me as I was walking out his gun after purchase that he was going to e-mail all his retiree friends to 'come on down.'''
Don Sydlik, Utah Exchange general manager, sees the new addition as just one way that AAFES is expanding its services to appeal to another segment of the population. "Like GameStop, it's changed the demographics of the patrons. GameStop brought in the younger, 'gamer' crowd and now we've opened up another market that we've never had before."
In addition to the fact that their purchases are tax-free, he said, "We do carry the military style weapons to allow them to own an equivalent to their military weapon, and unlike a lot of retailers off-base our stock selection does include handguns."
The addition of an armory, or vault, was installed for the security of weapons. Customers can enjoy their shopping experience with the knowledge that security and safety regulations are being followed.
He says that while accessories and stock assortments remain somewhat limited, unlimited ordering of all legal firearms is possible at the counter. "You can't keep in stock every model and make available - there are just too many of them." So far, the bulk of their sales have been handguns and assault-style rifles.
"All of our policies of price matching apply - we'll match any competitor," Sydlik said.
In order to purchase a weapon, customers must first pass a background check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The legal age to purchase hunting rifles and ammunition is 18; handguns and other weapons, 21.
The Utah AAFES division leader sees the opening of the counter as just one way that AAFES is working to keep the quality of life on-base up as it progresses off base.
"Just recently we added the Firestone Complete Car Care store, GameStop, diesel fuel (pumps at the gas stations) and now the gun counter," Sydlik said.
Concealed carry permit classes are conducted on base and are available through the Hill Rod and Gun Club.
Transporting a weapon from the store after purchase must be done in accordance with base regulations. All customers are advised to familiarize themselves with those requirements. In short, if customers live in base housing they have 24 hours to register their firearms in accordance with base housing regulations, if they live in the dorms they have to register with the armory, and if they live off base such items have to be immediately transported off base after purchase.
The ribbon cutting was well-attended and three prizes were given away as part of the festivities: a Springfield XDM handgun, a Springfield XD handgun and a Mossberg 590 shotgun. The drawing was extended from the weekend through Feb. 9 to accommodate the grand opening.
Holsters, safes and other accessories are also available for purchase at the site.