When federal agents swept through Dodge City Shooters Supply in 2006, seizing hundreds of shotguns, rifles, and pistols, Rick Dodge thought his business wouldn’t last another 90 days. “I essentially lost my job,” Dodge said of the government’s decision to revoke his federal firearm license after undercover agents found that one of the store’s longtime employees was secretly stealing guns and selling them on the street.
More than five years later, Dodge City is still standing at the base of San Marcos Pass. In fact, the store is gearing up to expand its services, thanks to a large contingent of loyal patrons and an expansive inventory of ammunition, reloading supplies, pellet guns, and archery equipment that’s unrivaled anywhere in the area. They even offer black powder gear for the old-school muzzle-loaders. “I carry everything for the gun but the gun,” Dodge explained as he stood in the 15-year-old Calle Real shop, flanked by a stuffed bear and surrounded by the mounted heads of deer, elk, and bison, the trophies of many a hunting trip.
Not wanting to dwell on the events that led to the federal crackdown but wishing to set the record straight after past media reports misrepresented him and his store, Dodge recently took time in between helping customers pick out boots and ear protection to explain what happened. Back in July 2006, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) traced the serial numbers of guns confiscated in various statewide raids back to Dodge City. In the ensuing investigation, authorities figured out that a part-time employee — who was a Santa Barbara County probation officer at the time — had forged the paperwork for nearly two dozen guns and smuggled them out of the business, making it look like they had been sold legitimately. The guns were then kept at a downtown boat-supply store before being distributed on the black market.
To confirm the employee’s nefarious dealings, plainclothes ATF agents posed as interested buyers and bought several guns from the man before arresting and prosecuting him. As they looked deeper into Dodge City’s bookkeeping, however, authorities discovered Dodge hadn’t kept some of his records up to date, which violates Gun Control Act code. “I take blame for not being stringent enough with my paperwork,” said Dodge. The onetime UCSB soccer player and former co-owner of Far West Gun & Supply said he never meant to deceive firearm regulators but was admittedly negligent in conducting the necessary spot-checking and back-checking of his stock, an issue he was cited for in 2002, as well.
It wasn’t some genius business maneuver that allowed Dodge City to survive, but a basic cutback of overhead costs: The store is now run almost entirely by Rick and his son, Kyle, and a continued commitment to the needs of hunters, target shooters, and gun enthusiasts in general proved the saving grace. “I don’t make a living selling you ammo,” said Dodge of discounts and deals he offers to repeat customers, “I make a living selling you all of your ammo.”
By next summer, Dodge hopes to divide his shop space in half, maintaining the gun products and adding a line of safes in which to keep firearms and valuables. Called Santa Barbara Safes, the new section will carry wall, floor, and free-standing safes, all customizable and ranging in size and price. Wrapping the conversation back around to his customer base — some of whom stop by just to play with the store mascot, a behemoth of a black lab named Buddy — Dodge closed out the interview with appreciation for those that let him keep Dodge City going despite its setbacks. “Kyle and I just want to say thanks,” said Dodge. “We’re all about the customers. We’re a people store.”