I once had an officer tell me that he was not a gunsmith but he became one out of frustration with his issued handgun. Note here: He was not, nor will he ever be a gunsmith. This conversation occurred while he was waiting for the departmental armorer to repair his failed gunsmithing attempt.
After four decades in police work I have seen the officer with his or her handgun and its parts in a paper bag too many times. Let’s review a few facts of life.
What's in a Title?
There is more than a slight difference in skills between people with the titles armorer and gunsmith. Unless you're certified, there's even more of a difference between the skills they possess and you.
Many of us are departmental armorers and possess manufacturer’s certifications attesting that we are certified armorers for their brand and certain models of weapons only. A certified manufacturer’s certification is a day- to week-long course on repairing, troubleshooting, and conducting a higher level of maintenance of the stock-issued weapon. Rarely do they teach how to build competition-grade guns for those in competitive shooting matches. Nor can I build you a safari rifle to hunt dangerous game in some faraway continent.
Just a reminder, most all departments have regulations regarding the modification of departmental issue/carry weapons. There are stories of weapons that failed to operate as designed due to poorly attempted modifications by the untrained and/or unskilled.
Now, a gunsmith is a craftsman who has been trained to basically build a gun from raw parts and can safely make the owner's changes and modifications. Few departments have a gunsmith on the pay roll, but most know of one or will deal directly with the manufacturer’s repair shop. Follow whatever your departmental policy is. Just because you have seen a YouTube video of somebody performing a procedure (correctly or not) does not make you almost a gunsmith.
If you have a gun you are building for competition, take it to a reputable gunsmith or someone at a reputable gun shop who knows what they are doing. Do not take it to friend with a hammer, vise, and a dremel tool because you think these tools make him a gunsmith. Your safety and maybe those standing around you are at stake, not counting the reliability of the weapon.
Many stores in their websites and catalogs say that they sell "drop-in" parts that do not require specific skills or tools. Not all ‘drop-ins’ are truly as advertised and require some fitting. Be true to yourself. Your safety and the performance of the weapon are at stake here. Additionally, some parts may have cascading repercussions on how the other remaining parts work; spring adjustments are probably the best example.
Another topic that surfaces is that of reloading. The high price of ammunition and lack of availability can make it difficult on your budget to get in some range time. I have had several ask me about reloading/reusing ammo to get around these issues. This is a hobby of mine, so I'm happy to share some advice.
I have been an avid reloader for years and my wife claims the only reason we shoot is so I can reload even more. Through the years I have invested in the tools and have amassed a good bench for several calibers. This is a hobby that requires an investment in the proper tools, but it can also save you well over 50% plus the cost of ammo if you're in it for the long haul.
I am now seeing some gun shops that are conducting reloading classes for beginners, which is great for the novice. If you don’t have such a class offered nearby, seek out a seasoned reloader and shadow with him or her for a few sessions. It can be an expensive investment, so know what you are getting into. Although I find it interesting, some may find it monotonous and boring, so give it a try first before investing several hundred bucks for a good set-up.
Additionally, knowing how novice reloaders and cops can be, let me give you a tip: Stop to read the reloading manual and recommendations. More powder and adjusting the prescribed loading data does not make it go faster, only boom in your hand. Follow the load data meticulously, for your safety is at stake. Competitive shooting and reloading are great hobbies. Both require the right equipment and their correct use for safety and performance. Reloading is fun and a skill builder, but only if done safely.
Do It Right
Your firearms and equipment are the lifesaving tools of our profession. Their functionality and reliability should be without question or hesitation. Your safety should never be compromised. If you have issue with the function of your carry weapons, seek out a qualified armor and do so within departmental bounds. If you want to shoot more for less, consider reloading or partnering with an established reloader to save some costs and hone this skill set.
Stay safe and see you at the range.