What is a gunsmith?

What is a gunsmith?  If you take a look around, you’ll find a wide variety of opinions on the matter.  Some will argue there aren’t many “real” gunsmiths, while others think assembling an AR parts kit qualifies someone as a “master” gunsmith.  I’d guess most of us think the answer lies somewhere between.

If you actually google the term and look up one of varying definitions of gunsmith, it’ll state something to the effect of a gunsmith being a person who makes factory level repairs on firearms.  That’s a fair definition that I think most of us, including myself find valid.

In the United States, to work as a gunsmith on someone else’s firearms, you are required to have a Federal Firearms License.  In most cases, working on your own firearms does not require a license.  So if you build your own rifles and pistols, does that make you any less of a gunsmith?  What about someone who applied for a license and never worked on a gun, are they a gunsmith?

It gets more complex.  Does a college training program make you a gunsmith?  What about a correspondence course?  If you are an excellent machinist, does that make you a gunsmith?  These are all great questions that are often hotly debated.

Writing about gunsmithing puts me in touch with a lot of guys in the business.  These guys are all over the place.  Some went to trade school, a few are military trained, and others are self-taught.  They all seem to have different opinions on what works, what doesn’t and what a gunsmith is.

In the “trenches” of gunsmithing, the guys who use correspondence courses can’t seem to catch a break either.  Check out this post from Weaponsman.  I publish my gunsmithing posts for free, but if you want to try to make yourself more knowledgeable by paying for one of these correspondence course that charges you for similar material, go for it.

Awhile ago I sat down with Pete Brownell, CEO of Brownells.  A Brownells customer and affiliate for years, I was curious why their product line seemed to be expanding and away from what I viewed as gunsmithing products.  Pete told me they still prioritized the gunsmith, in fact, he mentioned it depended on how you define a gunsmith.  He said:

“How do you define gunsmith? We believe every person is a gunsmith, they just aren’t experienced yet.   If you can maintain your firearm, you are on the path to being a gunsmith. Start with our pool of customers, from people who are hard core gunsmiths and know the difference between a trigger, sear and hammer, and broaden it so that everyone who wants to maintain their firearms is on that path [to being a gunsmith]. We want to up the game, across the nation when it comes to expertise on how to maintain and repair your firearms.”

I can’t agree with him more.  There are plenty of gunsmiths out there, some are just far more experienced that others.  Pete added that his grandfather, Brownells founder Bob Brownell used to say, “show me a town without a gunsmith and I’ll show you a town without guns”. He continued, what we’ve added is, “and I’ll show you a town that doesn’t truly understand freedom.”

Again, I couldn’t  agree more.  What do you think a gunsmith is?