THROUGH THE EYES OF A GUNSMITH - Master craftsman makes weapons safe for Airmen

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Samuel Bendet
  • Torch Magazine
For William L. Moore Jr., having a gun in his hand is as natural as having a hand on his wrist. It's part of who he is.

For the past 26 years, Moore has been a small arms repairman for the Air Force Shooting Team and the Air Force Gunsmith Shop. Nestled in a bunker-like building at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, the shop ensures Airmen get weapons that will shoot straight and not blow up in their hands.

The shop is manned by 18 weapons specialists, but Moore is ... well, something more. He is a master of his craft -- the Air Force's only certified master gunsmith.

To become a master gunsmith, Moore had to go through 3,000 hours of training at the Colorado School of Trades in Denver. It is one of the premier gunsmith schools in the nation.

But safe gun handling and maintenance began at a much earlier age for the 54-year-old weapons expert.

"My dad taught me to shoot almost as soon as I could walk," said Moore, who was born and raised in the southwest Texas town of McAllen.

His dad didn't only teach him to pull the trigger, though. He was a stickler for details. He taught Moore important gun safety lessons like "Never point a gun at anything you don't intend to kill" or "Don't put your finger on the trigger until you are ready to shoot." He also taught his son to clean and maintain his weapon. Moore knew how to take apart and put a gun back together almost as soon as he knew his ABCs.

"My dad took me on my first hunt at age 7 at my grandma's Rattlesnake Ranch (so nicknamed because they'd kill a half dozen rattlesnakes there each year). I shot five doves that day," Moore said. "My happiest childhood memories were hunting with my dad, brother, friends and Boo, our bird dog."

So when it came time to decide what he wanted to do with his life, it's little wonder that the path eventually led him back to guns.

"I just looked at what I enjoyed most in life, and, well, here I am," Moore said with a smile.

Moore has been with the gunsmith shop so long, he's seeing his sixth generation of military members come through the unit.

"The group we have now is the best -- the hardest working bunch of people that I have ever been around," Moore said.

That's important for the end user. Not only does the shop perform heavy maintenance repair and manufacturing on all the small arms in the Air Force, they test fire each one as well. Attention to detail is a must because if they send a gun that is malfunctioning back to the warfighter, it could result in severe hand or eye injuries -- or even death.

Moore says Airmen can help keep their guns out of the gunsmith's hands by performing routine maintenance and cleaning the weapons -- inside and out.

He said the shop also sees a lot of guns that were dropped or ones that Airmen allowed debris to get inside by not maintaining muzzle control or even leaning on them as if they were canes.

"You need to treat a gun with respect," he said. "But if Airmen do find worn parts, cracks and other signs of excessive wear on their firearms, they shouldn't hesitate to take them to the combat arms training and maintenance."

In the field, one of the worst things that can happen is having a gun jam, Moore said.

"If you hear a pop instead of a bang, it probably means the round did not go off properly and is stuck in the barrel," he said. "If this happens, don't fire another round. If you do, the weapon will likely blow up in your hands."

The results could be injuries to the operator's hands and face. But also, the person next to the malfunctioning weapon might get the worst of it as most of the shrapnel will blow out of the sides of the gun.

"I love guns, but I still recognize they can be dangerous if mishandled," Moore said. "If people follow the rules of safe gun handling, the chances of a mishap go down to almost zero."

Sounds like the safety advice from this master gunsmith is right on target.