The Jack Reacher of a ‘mom and pop’ gunshop
By Brett Milam
Editor’s Note: This story originally ran in the Outdoor 2017 special publication.
When walking into Gunslingers Outpost in Bethel, the man behind the counter is something of a gun scientist.
Except, that man and owner, Michael Salvatore, isn’t using beakers or microscopes. He’s all about guns and the way to shoot them safely and effectively.
There is a certain science to it and perhaps even an artistry behind hitting the target.
Salvatore would know: He spent decades accruing experience at the largest sheriff’s office in the world: LA County in California, which encompasses nearly 18,000 employees. He spent time overseeing detectives, with the surveillance apprehension team and going after the various entrenched gangs.
Salvatore’s liking of guns was instilled early on, he said. He started hunting when he was 12. His dad was a reserve in the sheriff’s office.
“I’ve been around guns my entire life,” he said.
In 2005, Salvatore retired and moved with his wife to Bethel, where he became a CCW certified firearms trainer out of his home. After doing it for years, those he had trained and his own family encouraged him — or in his words, prodded him — to open his own gunshop.
So, he did in April of 2013. And he named it after his own mythos: a gunslinger from California, hence Gunslingers Outpost.
Salvatore is exactly that, one of those old school “gunslinger” cops — the kind of cop that’s still thinking tactically because those types never really stop. At all times. He’s the kind of guy that when he sits down at the local Frisch’s, he knows exactly where the exits are, who is in the dining room at the time and what his exit strategy is, should things go haywire.
In other words, he’s Jack Reacher (the character Tom Cruise played in the movie based off the best-selling Lee Child novels), if Jack Reacher settled down in a small community to start a “mom and pop” sort of gunshop.
“I look at this as being a hometown shop and giving people good customer service,” Salvatore said. “Most people, if they can, prefer to do their business locally.”
Although Salvatore doesn’t strike the imposing stature that Reacher is depicted at (6’5, 250 pounds). Instead, Salvatore is approachable, kind, but still with a firm gunslinger’s handshake.
That’s the kind of businessman he is, too. Someone willing to admit when he doesn’t know something and then research and get back to you. Someone willing to point you in the direction of a trainer or a website selling cheaper ammunition. Someone willing to let you put your gun on layaway for six months if you don’t have all the monies upfront.
In other words, someone who puts customer service front and center like a mounted buck. In other words, he runs the sort of business that begets loyal customers and encourages new ones by pure word-of-mouth and the reputation he’s built as someone trustworthy and loaded with integrity.
Customers especially like the one-on-one service they can expect at a place like Gunslingers Outpost. That’s also how Salvatore tries to stay competitive with Internet markets and the like.
When walking into the store, a sign across the top is a George Washington quote, “A free people ought to be armed.”
Featured in the center top of the wall above the long guns is a gun not for sale: a Uberti, the replica Old West style gun that was gifted to Salvatore from a customer. The customer, Salvatore said, used the gun in Old West competitions until eventually the innards of the gun couldn’t take anymore shooting.
No old school replicas will be found at Gunslingers Outpost, however, nor any military-grade weaponry. Salvatore said he’s interested in modern day weapons for the general public.
“I specialize in customer service,” he said. “I want a good reputation after the sell. It makes or breaks a business.”
Imbued within all of that, though, is still a passion for teaching and educating others about guns.
“Hope one little thing I passed along, God forbid they’re in a life threatening situation, my thing can their life,” he said.
That education, like his tactics, is always “on.” Throughout his interview with The Sun, he’d toss out safety snippets, like the most vital one, “Never put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.”
Another way to think of Salvatore is being Bethel’s own Dave Grossman, the world-renowned expert on mass shootings and the man most famous for training police throughout the country with his seminars on “killology” and “bulletproofing the mind.”
Salvatore has attended his seminars and devoured his books. It’s that sort of psychological application to the use and handling of guns that carries Salvatore over the firing line into something of a scientist or an artist with guns
But for the Vietnam veteran, humility is perhaps the most beguiling aspect to such a reputation though, as he won’t call himself an expert and despite his decades of experience, still believes there is much to learn.
“I’m always trying to stay up on the new features,” Salvatore said, of the rapid-pace of the gun market. “It’s overwhelming.”
One of the trends he’s seeing is a propensity from gun owners to go with more compact guns, which are better for concealed carry since it’s a little less weight and doesn’t have as much printing.
“Carrying a gun is never going to be comfortable, but it’s about safely protecting yourself and your family,” Salvatore said.
His hottest seller is probably the Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm, he added.
Aside from guns, which sit under the glass and on the walls, there are purses designed for concealed carry, pepper spray pans, blue pen cleaner, gun holsters locally sourced from Middletown and much more.
“My budget won’t allow for everything, but I try to stay within the area,” Salvatore said.
Compared to California and its extensive restrictions and regulations, which are constantly being altered, Salvatore said he likes the state of Ohio and its gun laws.
“I’m grateful that having come from a state that’s very restrictive, that a state recognizes a God-given right to defend yourself and your family,” he said.
The process in Ohio is rather quick and easy, too. After a customer selects a gun of their choice, they fill out the 44-73 form, but that form doesn’t mean the gun is now “registered” in Ohio, Salvatore stressed. All the FBI knows is whether the gun is a handgun, long gun or other (like a receiver for an AR, for example). There is no further identifying information given to the FBI.
Then it goes through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system, which itself is typically a quick process, returning results of either proceed (the gun sale is okay), delayed (for perhaps three days, usually) or denied (the gun sale cannot happen). The FBI never gives a reason to the gunshop owner why a sale may be delayed or denied, Salvatore said.
As for Salvatore’s favorite gun, it’s the one he wears on his hip, permanently emblazoned with the store’s logo on the aluminum grip: Kimber 1911 .45 ACP. It’s the sort of gun that comes with a history, based on the model John Moses Browning crafted 100 years ago, which was often used during trench warfare in WWI and for many decades thereafter.
“It’s just a very reliable platform,” Salvatore said. “I like the round. Most people say it’s like getting hit by a freight train. It’s just more weight going down the range.”
Salvatore also prefers handguns to long guns, as he believes there is more technique involved in the shooting of a handgun.
“Not everybody can be a crackshot with a handgun like they can with long guns,” he said.
Salvatore does have other hobbies, like riding motorcycles, but with the shop’s operations, he doesn’t really get a chance to get out there much.
“It’s tough. It takes time away from things, like riding motorcycles and other hobbies,” he said.
The weather hasn’t helped, either. And Salvatore said he still likes to get out and shoot in his free time on the gun range he has.
“I’d like to do it more often,” Salvatore said, adding that he likes to get out there once a month.
But this gunslinger knows how to keep his skills sharp when he can’t get to the range: dry firing.
“You can still keep your skills sharp without getting to the range,” he said.
It’s all about the repetitive practicing of one’s breathing skills, sight controls, handling and all the rest of it, Salvatore said.
During the interview with The Sun, different customers came in, inquiring about this or that or just telling stories about their family or work. All of them seemed like they knew Salvatore well, as if he was family himself.
That’s just the sort of reputation the gunslingin’ California transplant has.
Gunslingers Outpost is located on 118 East Plane Street in Bethel. To contact the gunshop, call (513) 734-GUNS.