A gunsmith is a trained professional who creates, repairs and modifies firearms and may be involved in the creation process from the design of a particular gun to making functional and decorative modifications and customizations. The first responsibility of a gunsmith is to ensure the safety of any firearm they build, repair or modify.
Though some gunsmiths are general practitioners of the trade, many specialize in particular skills or particular types of firearms. Some specialists, like custom builders/designers, stockmakers, checkerers and niche manufacturers work primarily with the design and construction of the firearm, as a whole or in specific parts, such as the gunstock, barrels and triggers.
Other specialists, including gun engravers and finishers, provide aesthetic services to customize guns. These specialists use special tools to engrave designs and patterns or chemical processes to color the metal of the gun. Applying a finish to the metal of a gun also helps prevent rust and corrosion.
Still other gunsmiths specialize in a particular type of firearm. Pistolsmiths are common specialists, but a gunsmith may also specialize in rifles or shotguns. These specialists usually possess a collection of skills, including woodworking, metalworking and other functional and aesthetic gunsmithing skills, that allow them to offer a range of services related to the specialty firearm. These specialists may spend a large amount of their time customizing guns and improving weapons with poor accuracy, handling and appearance.
Sporting goods stores, private gunsmithing businesses, armories and firearms factories all employ professional gunsmiths. The salary for a gunsmith varies with experience and employment setting, but HigherSalary.com lists a range of $25,470 to $48,605 a year, with the average salary of $36,267 annually. Master gunsmiths who successfully own their own shops may bring in the highest income, though the benefits packages offered by larger corporations may not exist. Gunsmiths working under an employer may also reach a higher level of income after years of employment.
As with other professionals who sell and work with firearms, United States gunsmiths must obtain proper licensing from the federal government, as well as comply with local licensing laws. Appropriate recordkeeping is another legal responsibility of the gunsmith, as is the obligation to submit to unannounced inspections by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Gunsmith training can occur through apprenticeships or through college programs that offer professional certifications or associates degrees. Aspiring gunsmiths who are unable or unwilling to attend courses on a college campus can learn the trade via correspondence or online and distance-learning programs.
Apprenticeships offer aspiring gunsmiths the opportunity to learn the trade by working under the supervision of experienced professionals, usually for a minimum of four years. The Association of Gunsmiths and Related Trades facilitates effective apprenticeships by specifying what topics must be addressed in the course of an apprentice’s education, supplying competency exams and outlining the requirements for particular certifications. The organization is also accepting applications for both sponsors and apprentices, as it plans to match apprentices to qualified sponsors upon government review and approval. Apprentice gunsmiths are paid for their work. Though their wages may start as low as minimum wage, their pay usually increases with experience.
Certificate and associate degree programs at traditional colleges and technical schools frequently take two years to complete. Students in these programs may spend significant amounts of their time in machine shops, gaining hands-on experience working with gunsmithing tools and a variety of different types of firearms. Trinidad State Junior College in Trinidad, Colo.; Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz.; and the Pennsylvania Gunsmith School in Pittsburgh, Pa., are three of the most well-known schools offering gunsmithing education. Trinidad State Junior College recently partnered with firearms manufacturer Brownells to open the Brownells – Trinidad American Firearms Technology Institute, which allows students who have successfully completed their gunsmithing education at any school to acquire an extra year of experience working and learning to manage a full-service gun shop.
Online and distance-learning gunsmithing programs allow aspiring gunsmiths who are unable to attend on-campus courses to learn the trade of gunsmithing and earn certifications at their own pace from any location. Ashworth College and the Penn Foster Career School are two prominent providers of online gunsmithing education programs. The programs, which usually require students to complete lessons that include assigned readings and online examinations, have been advertised as possible to complete in as little as five or six months.
Gunsmith training from any source will usually cover basic concepts of gun safety and repair, firearms theory and safe operation of hand and machine tools used in gunsmithing. Instruction teaches students and apprentices important skills, including making specific parts of a gun, assembling a gun, performing work on particular gun parts and working with different types of firearms.