How to Become a Gunsmith: 5 Simple Steps
Many people just like you would like to find out how to become a gunsmith. Gun collectors, hobbyists, and enthusiasts alike can benefit from learning the craft of gunsmithing. After all, developing the ability to build, maintain, repair, and modify guns—such as handguns, rifles, and shotguns—can lead to interesting and enjoyable career opportunities.
Getting started in the field is a relatively simple process, and it can be especially helpful if you possess a background in machining, metalworking, or woodworking. These areas are intertwined with gunsmithing because they involve many similar tools and techniques. But although having a background in one of the aforementioned trades can be helpful, it certainly is not required.
So if you are ready to discover the art of gunsmithing, then check out the five simple steps below that could help you set out on a new career path!
1. Complete Background Checks
Most post-secondary programs and employers will require you to pass background checks before beginning training or starting a job. These checks ensure that you are legally allowed to work on and possess firearms. So it is best to complete this step first to be certain that gunsmithing is a viable career option for you.
You may be prohibited from becoming a gunsmith if you:
- Are under the age of 21
- Are a convicted felon or have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor
- Have a restraining order against you
- Have been dishonorably discharged from the military
- Experience challenges with substance abuse and addiction
- Are not able to pass a drug test
- Possess a mental health history, such as having been committed to a mental health institution or declared mentally incompetent
- Have violated the Gun Control Act
2. Enroll in a Gunsmith Program
When you decide to become a gunsmith, obtaining an education can be a great help in getting your career started. There may be a number of options for you, from a short diploma program to a two-year associate's degree program. And it is possible to earn an online diploma in as little as four months. So you can establish a strong knowledge base in a short amount of time and around your schedule.
The content that you will cover could vary greatly depending on the school you choose and the length of the program. But you may expect to learn how to:
- Safely handle firearms
- Assess firearms based on their history, manufacturer, physical appearance, and type
- Properly disassemble and reassemble firearms
- Replace or customize firearms parts and components correctly
- Custom fit, install, and modify firearms accessories like stocks and sights
- Work with metal finishes, including applying and repairing them
- Use hand and power tools and other equipment, such as milling machines and welding equipment
3. Get a Federal Firearms License (FFL)
An FFL is required in the U.S. if you intend to work as a gunsmith or take part in any business related to manufacturing, importing, or selling firearms and/or ammunition. Note that the FFL is essentially a business license and is different from the type of license that authorizes you to possess a firearm for personal use.
Under ideal circumstances, it could take approximately 60 days to be issued your FFL from the time that your application is submitted. And once you have obtained your FFL, it will need to be renewed every three years. To get started, you need to complete the Application for Federal Firearms License (ATF Form 7) available through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).
Your application will require you to include the following:
- A signed Certificate of Compliance as well as photos and fingerprint cards of each responsible person listed on the application. (A responsible person is an owner, partner, or person involved in the operation of the business.)
- The appropriate application fee.
Once you have submitted your application, an ATF officer will contact you in order to conduct a personal interview and an inspection of the premises where your business will be conducted. The ATF officer will ensure that the information provided on your application is accurate and that your business location meets all federal regulations, such as being equipped with appropriate gun safes.
It is important to note that you must be familiar with the strict legal and ethical guidelines pertaining to your gunsmith business. And once you receive your FFL and are ready to start working, you must keep detailed records of all transactions. You could be required to produce your records at any time, and failure to do so or incomplete records could result in revocation of your FFL.
As a final step, you will also want to check your local and state laws and regulations because you may be required to obtain additional licenses and permits in order to set up your business.
4. Obtain Practical Experience
Gunsmiths who run their own businesses and offer a variety of services tend to have many years of professional experience, especially those who specialize in customization. When starting out in the field, it is highly recommended to gain as much experience as you can in order to increase your skill level. After all, the more knowledgeable you are, the more likely customers are to trust you with their valuable firearms. Here are a couple of ideas that you could consider in order to obtain experience working with guns:
- Volunteer with a local gun club
- Offer to clean and repair firearms for your friends and family at a reduced fee
- Pick up a part-time job helping out at a gun shop
- Find an established, well-known gunsmith who is willing to teach you the trade
5. Join a Professional Association
Along with gaining practical experience, it is also advisable to establish a professional network of fellow gunsmiths, some of whom may be willing to teach you and help you craft your skills. Below are a few of the more well-known firearms associations to consider joining:
- National Rifle Association (NRA)
- Gun Club of America (GCA)
- American Custom Gunmakers Guild (ACGG)
- American Pistolsmiths Guild (APG)
Discover More About Gunsmith Jobs, Earning Potential, & Career Outlook
Although many gunsmiths tend to open and run their own businesses, there are several other career possibilities for professionals in the field. Some of the places where you may be able to find work include:
- Gun repair shops
- Firearms manufacturing companies and factories
- Sporting goods stores
- Gun ranges
- Law enforcement agencies
- The military
Gunsmiths can also choose to focus on a specialty area within the trade. Here are a few of the more common areas of specialization:
- Checkerer—Work with wooden gun surfaces to imprint grips and/or designs.
- Engraver—Improve the look of firearms by cutting designs, patterns, or other images into a gun.
- Finisher—Protect the metal surfaces of guns to prevent corrosion, rust, and other damage.
- Pistolsmith—Specialize in pistols and other handguns.
- Stockmaker—Create and attach gunstocks.
It is commonly stated that gunsmithing is a labor of love, meaning that most people choose the profession because they love it. That being said, there is potential to earn a decent living as well. According to 2015 data, gunsmith salaries range from $22,011 to $59,854 annually.* And although job outlook data is limited for the gunsmith profession, here are some facts you could consider:
- It is estimated that almost 40 percent of Americans own anywhere from 270 to 310 million guns.**
- There were 8,578,610 guns manufactured in the U.S in 2012, which was an almost 25 percent increase from 2011. (Note that 2012 is the most current year in which manufacturing data is available.)***
- From January to November 2015, the FBI conducted 19,827,376 firearm background checks. That total is used as a measure for the number of individuals attempting to purchase firearms. It represents a six-percent increase over the same period in 2014. And these numbers have been steadily increasing over the past decade.****
- There were 78,853 federal firearms licensees in the U.S. as of August 2015.***
So what does all of this mean for you? Gun ownership is strong in America, and, based on current trends, it appears that ownership is growing. And with gun ownership comes the need for gunsmith services to maintain, repair, and customize the many firearms in circulation.
Where Do You Go From Here?
If you have read the steps to becoming a gunsmith and are certain you will pass the background checks, then finding a program that can help you enhance your knowledge and abilities could be a good place to get started. Locating a program is as simple as entering your zip code into the search tool below to generate a list of gunsmith programs that are being offered in your area!
* PayScale, Gunsmith Salary, website last visited on December 15, 2015.
** Pew Research Center, "A Minority of Americans Own Guns, But Just How Many is Unclear," website last visited on December 15, 2015.
*** Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), website last visited on December 15, 2015.
**** Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Instant Criminal Background Check System, website last visited on December 15, 2015.