Inventing in your garage: where are today’s John Brownings?

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The other day over at Forgotten Weapons, Ian wondered why there isn’t more garage gun-building going on. Not in terms of putting together Franken AR-15s from parts kits – that’s not “building”, it’s merely assembling – but actually constructing guns from scratch, inventing new ways of approaching the mechanics of firearms function. It’s legal for an individual to do (you should research the laws yourself, but it boils down to not building an NFA weapon and not selling what you make), but very few people actually do it.

I really liked that article, and I was stunned to realize that I’d not thought about it before. He’s right: this country has a proud history of the lone inventor working in his or her garage, and guns certainly are a part of that history. (To the men that Ian mentions I’ll add that Karl Lewis, one of the country’s most prolific and yet little-known gun inventors, came up with the idea and early prototypes of what would become the Dan Wesson revolver in his garage.) There are lots of amateur gunsmiths and hobbyists out there with pretty impressive machine shops tucked away in garages and basements, and yet we’re not seeing new designs or concepts emerging.

Firearms aren’t like automobiles, in the sense that they’ve become so sophisticated that a single person couldn’t possibly design one. Guns, even the most complicated variety, are still relatively simple mechanisms. An individual – heck, even a pair of individuals – would have no problem engineering a new design. Putting one into mass production entails far more people (metallurgists and polymer engineers, just for starters) but prototyping can still be done without hordes of people.

Although he mentions CNC equipment, even that’s not needed if you’re doing prototypes. The price of manual mills and lathes has dropped like a rock in recent years, to the point that they’re actually worth nearly as much in scrap value as they are as working machines. Even a modestly-heeled enthusiast could easily acquire all the equipment needed to craft an idea in metal.

Me? I’m not nearly creative enough. I probably possess the machining skills, but I’m not good at coming up with original ideas. (All of mine look suspiciously like Colt Pythons. Go figure.) Somewhere out there, however, there are no doubt people who can – but for some reason don’t. Like Ian, I wonder where they are and what they’re doing instead.

-=[ Grant ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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