CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a gunsmith.
Is becoming a gunsmith right for me?
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Pass Background Checks
To be admitted to a gunsmith program, prospective students must first pass a background check to ensure that they are legally permitted to work on firearms. Prohibited from possessing guns and therefore inadmissible to a gunsmith program are convicted felons and individuals convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or with restraining orders against them. Program applicants must also not have been adjudicated mentally incompetent or have been committed to a mental health institution.
Complete a Gunsmith Program
Gunsmithing programs are available from colleges and technical schools throughout the United States. They range from six-month technical diploma or certificate programs to two-year associate degree programs.
Find an Apprenticeship
As an alternative or in addition to receiving a degree or diploma in gunsmithing, seek out a local gunsmith or apply for apprenticeship status through The Association of Gunsmiths and Related Trades (TAOGART). Applicants to TAOGART must be sixteen years of age or older and must be legally permitted to own a firearm in compliance with federal and state laws. If still in high school, applicants must graduate with at least a ‘C’ average and obtain permission from their legal guardians and school officials.
Obtain a Federal Firearms License (FFL)
Gunsmiths often retain possession of clients’ firearms for more than a day. For this reason, they are required by federal law to have a firearms license. License applicants must be at least twenty-one years of age and provide information similar to that required for the firearms background check. To become licensed, applicants’ place of work must be detached from their place of residence and guns must be stored in a locked safe when they are not working on them. Licensees must maintain detailed records of all transactions. Before a license is granted, a field agent from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) interviews the applicant and conducts an inspection of the premises where the business will be operated to ensure compliance with federal regulations.
Consider a Specialty
Some gunsmiths find success by focusing on custom gun design and building; stock-making (building the gun stock using wood); gun engraving to add aesthetic value; pistolsmithing (the custom design and building of pistols only) or concentrating primarily on rifles or shotguns.
Join Professional Associations
Although not a legal requirement, gunsmiths who are new to the field may consider joining gun-related professional associations. The American Custom Gunmakers Guild and the National Rifle Association (NRA), for example, offer varied opportunities to network with and learn from experienced gunsmiths.
How to become a Gunsmith
The ability to design, modify, and add custom parts to weapons is crucial to improving their performance. Therefore, the gunsmith profession requires a diverse set of skills. The construction, repair, and maintenance of firearms may necessitate woodworking, metalworking, and mechanical knowledge; even some aptitude in mathematics, chemistry, and science. In addition, gunsmiths must know how to read blueprints and have some experience with computer-aided design (CAD) software.
Most companies hiring in the field demand formal training. Gunsmiths generally learn their craft through some combination of apprenticeships, military training, and completion of a degree or certificate program. There is a small number of schools in the United States that offer certificate or associate degree programs in gunsmithing. Earning a degree through one of these program is a highly-recommended way to learn how to gunsmith. Such programs ensure qualified and experienced instructors and cover all aspects of the occupation, including firearms safety, machine shop safety, firearms repair, stock-making, and firearms conversion. Skills like welding; metal finishing; materials fabricating and engineering; gun blueing; and working with complex machine tools and measuring devices are also emphasized. Because many gunsmiths go on to operate their own businesses, most gunsmith programs also provide instruction in management and marketing. This coursework tends to include learning how to interact with a wide variety of customers and remain abreast of and comply with federal, state, and local laws, ordinances, and requirements.
Many gunsmiths specialize in only a few of the skills required of the general gunsmith. Alternatively, some gunsmiths learn many or all of the skills of the trade, but apply them to just a few weapon types (e.g., only pistols; only shotguns; only specific brands or models).