"How do I Get Employed in the Gun Industry?"

James Reeves
by James Reeves

Last week, I received a DM from an IG follower asking how he could find employment in the firearm industry. This was a striking question because I’ve never thought about how I ended up working in this business (although I constantly ask myself how I am still employed), and frankly, it took a moment of reflection to provide an answer. After thinking about the advice I could give this young man to set him in the right direction, it made sense for me to put together an article discussing several ways to get into the gun business as this question comes up often enough.

Fortunately, there’s an easy, proven way to break into the gun business in 2018:

Source: piratevinyldecals.com

Market all the molon labe shit you can come up with. Spartan helmets on everything – AR15 lowers, lunchboxes, trailer hitches, dish sponges, Leonidas-Lavender-soap-on-a-rope, molon labe t-shirts, peanut brittle, car windshield stickers, car door magnets, tailgate decals (if you don’t have 360 degrees of hoplite pride on your vehicle, don’t ever try to work in the biz), “Come and Take Them” boiled peanuts, The “No Retreat, No Surrender” Chia Pet, whatever. I’m already developing Hot Gates Habanero hot sauce, so I will sue you into a cardboard box and then repossess that if you try to copy me.

Step 2: Punisher skulls before Marvel starts protecting their intellectual property.

Step 3: Profit.

But if you want to get into the industry in a slower, more conservative, and much more boring way, here are some suggestions:

Develop a Resume with Firearm Experience.

This might be the most important pointer. You might not get very far in the industry without resume-able experience. You may be able to bullseye womprats in your T-16 back home, or you’re the best neighborhood shade tree gunsmith, but if you can’t put your experience in a format that is resume-appropriate, you’re going to have a rough road into the industry. (There are exceptions, and those will be discussed as well.) Fortunately, expanding your relevant experience and developing marketable credentials is relatively easy and can be done many ways – but you still need to invest time to develop that experience.

By way of example, Joel Wise of TFBTV and the Precision Rifle Network has what I would call a robust firearms industry resume in that he checks almost all of the boxes we are going to talk about below:

My gun life began as a hunter when I was young, moved toward personal protection as an NRA pistol instructor, and careened out of control, in a good way, when I became a cop. During that time I started a small business selling tactical products. My priorities at the time and my job led me to seek out professional training and I became friends with some industry professionals. Through those contacts and the recent launch of my company the Precision Rifle Network, I began making videos for The Firearm Blog. I’m exactly where I want to be right now!

Some experience as an “armed professional” (police officer) plus instructing, retailing, networking, and publishing his own content and content for a third party publication – those are strong credentials. How do you get them for yourself?

The Armed Professional Route:

Become a law enforcement officer or join the military. Obviously, this is the most demanding way to bone up the resume, but it also makes for a fairly easy transition into the industry, especially if you plan to work independently in the firearms business. But you will have a full-time job, and someone will pay for your guns, ammo, and training. Who knows; you might even have fun and make some friends while you are serving your country or your community.

Armed security is also an option but because the standards and training requirements for private security companies tend to vary widely, this won’t be as appealing as a government job.

The Semi-GunProfessional Route:

Less demanding and easier to do than serving, there are entry-level opportunities that can get you set in the right direction: Gun counter work at a sporting goods retailer, a gun store or range, sales for a distributor or importer, working for a marketing company that has gun industry clients, getting your Federal Firearms License to start a shop (that’s what I did) or for making a few bucks performing firearm transfers from your home or business. All of these will provide insight into the transactional and marketing side of the industry, and probably give you a LOT of experience with BATFE Forms, including the 4473 and “The Bound Book.” Many of us started out in some form of retail.

Adam S. of TFB, who is now a manager-owner of a gun shop in Minnesota, has this advice for the entry-level retail angle:

If you are looking to get employed in a gun shop or at an actual gun manufacturer, many of the things they seek in potential employees are the same. You need a willingness to do the “unwanted” jobs. Sweep floors, clean Mosin Nagants caked in cosmoline, or sit in an aisle and front-face 80′ of ammunition boxes after a child just used them to re-create King Arthur’s castle. If you can show an employer your work ethic and what you are capable of instead of asking from a weak haggling position what are you paying, you will have a much better chance of getting in the door and making your way. Employers want someone who can be molded to their way of doing things and open to learning. The people I have hired in the last 9 years who had the shortest tenures of employment were those who were “experts,” college gunsmiths and your typically know-it-all. If you are an expert, that can be great. Just don’t carry an ego or chip on your shoulder that requires a garage door to get in the building.

Sales is another way to get involved in the industry. Having worked in sales at the distributor level and purchasing inventory from distributors on a daily basis when I managed my gun store, my impression is that working at a distributor or manufacturer as a salesperson does not require heavy gun experience. But even those jobs will almost certainly require some background in either firearms or sales as a pre-requisite. A lot of people I worked with in the retail context had a modicum of gun knowledge or sometimes weren’t into guns at all, but they could still be competent sales reps. I would suggest that if you are going to work for a distributor or manufacturer selling over $100,000 of guns a month to your clients and retailers, you need to at least have a base layer of firearms knowledge (or enough sales experience to “fake it till you make it.”) I know VPs of gun companies that didn’t have any firearm experience or interest prior to selling them.

Another interesting route? Rusty from TFB went to gunsmithing school:

While recovering from a serious work injury, I weighed my options. I’ve always been highly interested in firearms, so I started my education to be a gunsmith. After school and an apprenticeship period, I was on my way.

On a different approach, I know literally nothing about engineering and know only a few engineers in the industry, however, I surmise that if you know how to work a CNC machine or design a firearm or cartridge, an engineering degree would be very helpful if you were looking to get into the design and manufacture of firearms with a manufacturer.

On an even further tangent, it seems that paramedic work isn’t a bad way to enhance your credentials. In recent years, the industry has seen more interest in medical trauma and first aid training, so, at a minimum, any skills in this field could be considered a plus, especially if you are looking to get into the training market or to open and/or work at a range. TFB’s Mike R. was a paramedic for almost 30 years.

Tournament Shooting:

This is an easy and entertaining way to develop not only your skill set but to get some resume filler. While competing in IPSC in and of itself doesn’t make you a candidate for gun-business employment, it’s a great addition. Wins look good on a resume, though, and you could always work your way up to “professional shooter”. I’d stick to the bigger formats: For pistol, I recommend getting involved with IDPA, IPSC, and GSSF. This is one of your weaker options, but it’s also very rewarding.

Paid Training:

While taking a carbine course or pistol course might do wonders for your shooting skills, try to stick to training that is recognized and offers some form of credentialing. NRA B.I.T. (basic instructor training) or R.S.O. (range safety officer) training is a good start, although, at least for B.I.T., you should already be pretty handy with a gun before you attempt instructor credentials. Glock Armorer and Operator courses offer inexpensive training with credentialing. For example, Glock Operator courses must be taken every 5 years to maintain your status, and you will be a lot more proficient with a handgun at the completion of that course.

In other words, all courses are good, but the courses that follow some standardized procedure and offer recognized credentials are better.

No Resume? No Problem.

There are a few exceptions to developing a gun-heavy resume as a means of entering the firearm job field:

Social/Creative:

I said there was an exception to having a thick resume if you are looking for paid opportunities in the gun world: This is it. Instagrammandos and gun bunnies are so hot right now:

“You’re 0311 with a couple tours to Helmand under your belt and that’s cool, but watch me flip this unspent 9mm round into my ZEV Glock through the ejection port and shoot it at that steel plate.” *Gets 10 million views* Source: themidult.com

If you can self-market, you can virtually catapult yourself into gun-industry stardom and work for yourself, no resume required. Social media marketing has hit critical mass, as vendors and manufacturers looking to increase brand recognition practically throw themselves upon “influencers” who will showcase their products on YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram. If you have what it takes to amass tens or hundreds of thousands of followers on a social media platform, you just earned a free pass into the gun industry. It’s not easy, though: You need to cultivate interest in your content. If you’re a male, you can use skills, knowledge, a good attitude, interesting content ideas, or just unique and attention-getting original content to bring the fans to you.

TFB’s Nick C. got his foot in the door this way:

Passion is how I got involved. It started with the Kriss Vector and my fanaticism with it. At the time there were only three of us documenting modifications and updates to the weapon. So we created a forum. Facebook groups didn’t exist. Just like any other industry if you are passionate about something you will find a way to work in that particular field of interest to you.

Women in the industry are novel and uncommon enough in the male-oriented gun world that driving traffic to social media accounts tends to be less difficult for them as opposed to their heterogametic counterparts. That’s not to downplay the accomplishments of many well-credentialed females in the industry at all, who likely have to work harder to be respected in the business. But speaking bluntly for purposes of a social media development discussion, women can get a lot further a lot faster on Instagram than the fellas.

There are more conventional routes for creatives to get into the gun industry, and it doesn’t require much other gun-specific experience. The firearm industry doesn’t tend to attract a workforce that is typically associated with artistic or creative pursuits, so there seems to be less competition for employment on the marketing and design side of the business. If you are good at design or have some marketing experience and a passion for guns, you will likely set yourself apart fairly quickly. A great example of gun-related creative work is the gang at Tap Rack Bang Creative, which is one of the best marketing/design groups in the industry. If you can photograph, photoshop, draw, or have skill with graphic design, you’ll probably be able to land clients or a job this way.

Or, if you are just a cerakote genius like BlownDeadline or VM Cerakote and can make masterworks like this VM Cerakote Gucci Glock, you will be able to find work and your work will possibly earn a large social media footprint as well:

Self-Publish Your Content:

Although most publications are going to require at least one of the above before hiring you, there’s nothing stopping you from starting your own blog and doing your own research and developing content that you self-publish, whether it’s a book you sell on Amazon or a regular blog. The same goes for podcasts and YouTube videos – even if they don’t get a beta-mag bundle of views you at least get to demonstrate that you have knowledge and/or capability. If your content is well-written/produced and adequately supported by research or expertise, someone will almost certainly take notice and share or publish your content for you, or just hire you outright. Our old-gun-scholar, Matt Moss, started this way:

I was always interested in firearms and military history. After I did my history degree I was working an office job and wanted to keep my hand in writing about history so I started a blog. Eventually, I submitted articles to a few publications and ended up writing articles about old guns and then started writing about modern ones for TFB. I never really planned to get into the industry, I guess that’s the same for a lot of people? Happy accident.

As did Nathaniel F., who is now one of the most knowledgeable firearms experts in the gun journalism community. He says:

As a military brat I was always interested in that sort of stuff, but I caught the shooting bug from the Boy Scouts. In high school, I decided that I wanted to design guns, so I started learning all I could about them and doodling in my spare time. Of course, nothing can get me to shut up, so I started writing about them too, first on social media pages and eventually on my own blog. 2013 was my second SHOT Show, and I met Steve Johnson, the founder of TFB, and about a year later he re-blogged an article of mine by chance. I took the opportunity to email him to tell him he needed an editor, and I could do the job, and he made me a writer instead. Outside of a handful of jobs at the local gun store, TFB really was my introduction to the industry as a professional.

Adam S., also a TFB writer, has the following advice for getting into the written side of the business:

It is unheard of that someone lands a job writing/blogging without prior experience. Be willing to create your own blog. It is often free and a tremendous education for yourself. You learn to create a website, run the back end processes and need to create your own content. Offer to write for free for other publications at first. Experience and opportunity when you are new is far more valuable than a short pay day you’ll burn in a couple trips through a McDonald’s drive-thru. After you have created a couple blogs you think no one is reading, you might catch the eye of someone important who sees your talent. Remember, no one lands on the top of the mountain. Be willing to scrape, struggle, learn and GROW because then when opportunity knocks you can answer it confidently.

I can’t overemphasize this point enough: If you are knowledgeable and write/photograph/video well, someone will hire you. Hell, apply to TFB if you can do those things.

Entrepreneurship – Start Your Own Gun/Gun-related Company:

Obviously, this requires a lot of time, money, effort, guts, risk, and knowledge, but I have to at least include this as an option for the sake of completeness. It isn’t as if it is unheard of to start a successful gun company even in today’s hard market. Look at Blue Alpha Gear, or Top Gun Supply as examples of someone turning a part-time gig into a wildly successful enterprise.

Network!

Now that you have a resume and/or a bangin’ social media presence, get out there and meet people in the industry! Go to conventions, NRA meetings, Ducks Unlimited banquets, or meet up with a local gun club or interest group. Getting your name out there and finding people who will support you or at least recognize your work helps a lot. If it’s difficult for you to meet in person, then consider participating in gun forums, podcasts, Reddit, Discord, or Facebook groups, or sharing original content to those outlets.

Networking (and once again, Boy Scouts is apparently a common theme) got Mike R. here:

I grew up in San Francisco and only got to fire .22s at Boy Scout summer camp. I got my badge and kept shooting. After I left Cali, I bought an SKS and never stopped. Through going to the range, I met other gun people and networked my way into this prestigious crew.

And don’t burn bridges – this industry might seem big, but everyone tends to know everyone and word travels quickly.

Be Patient.

If it were easy, everyone would do it. It takes hard work and time to build any skill set, so it’s funny to me when people think guns are any different. Take things one step at a time, and whatever route you decide to take to get into the industry, work hard at it, be willing to accept criticism and improve, and recognize that you have a long road ahead of you. But if you really want to be in the gun industry, you’ll have fun with every mile.

Post Script: There are Methods that are…Less Conventional:

Resident AK Guru Vlad found his way into the gun business in the most Russian way possible:

I started shooting smallbore at the age of 10 (in Russia you could only join if you were 12, so for 4 years I had to hide my real age). At 17, I went to study history in the university and started working with several military museums and collections as a tour guide. We were riding tanks, shooting DSHK and Maxim machineguns with the tourists – pretty much a dream job for a college boy.

Once I could afford it I stated shooting IPSC, my smallbore experience really helped and soon I became a full-time instructor, working with civilians and occasionally contracting with LE agencies.

From there I started working with some security companies overseas as an instructor and maritime security officer. A also managed to get a job at the small TV channel where I had two of my own shows about guns and tanks before the channel went bankrupt. I was always networking which eventually led to a very good offer from a major firearms manufacturer.

The key to success in this industry, in my opinion, is not being the best in just one thing. Ideally you should have a good set of highly demanded skills that does not come together in one person very often. Imagine someone who has great shooting skills, gunsmithing experience, engineering degree, speaks several languages, has military/combat service record and good a reputation in the industry. Who wouldn’t hire that guy?

Miles Vining got in the industry…by playing a game?

When I was a teenager I cataloged serial numbers of police and military firearms in a foreign country as a game. While on my first trip to Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot, I mentioned this to the founder of Small Arms Review and he casually asked: “Want to write me an article about that?”. That was one of the factors in Steve bringing me on as a writer when I applied to TFB.

James Reeves
James Reeves

Owner, Neutral Ground Gun Co. NRA/Louisiana State Police certified concealed weapons instructor, 2012-present Maxim Magazine's MAXIMum Warrior, 2011 TFBTV Executive Producer Champion, Key West Cinco De Mayo Taco Eating Competition Lawyer Instagram: gunshorts Twitter: @jjreeves

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  • HLS30 HLS30 on Aug 23, 2018

    You forgot the one fundamental: Be able to deal with customers and deal with customer service issues. Gun knowledge can be taught/learned. The ability to deal with inane questions is what will get you into the industry (I don't know what it is, but I think the gun industry is less willing to do it's own research than any other).

    How do I know this? Because we've hired and fired people based on CS experience and ability, NOT gun knowledge.

  • Jeff Jeff on Aug 23, 2018

    Or check the jobs board at NSSF. https://jobs.nssf.org/

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