There’s a scene in the award-winning movie The Hurt Locker, in which U.S. soldiers—part of a bomb disposal unit—use the American-made Barrett M107 rifle as a counter-sniper weapon. In real life, those same rifles are being used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, the .50-caliber M107 has been recognized by the U.S Army as one of the “Top Ten Greatest Inventions.” It’s not the only Barrett firearm to find favor with the military, either.
Ronnie Barrett, founder of Barrett Firearms in Murfreesboro, Tenn., has been designing and producing firearms for almost 30 years. His guns have been featured in magazines and books, as well as on television shows such as the History Channel’s Tales of the Gun, and the Discovery Channel’s Future Weapons. Barrett himself has been interviewed for CBS television’s 60 Minutes, NBC television’s Dateline and on CNN.
But the recognition doesn’t stop there. “I get letters and e-mails almost daily from soldiers, law enforcement officers, along with parents thanking me for the Barrett rifle and its role in protecting freedom,” says Barrett with pride.
GROWING UP It should come as no surprise that guns have been a way of life for Ronnie Barrett ever since he can remember. As a child, guns were used for protection and as a source of recreation for the entire Barrett family. So it was only natural that the young Barrett would be an able hunter, and that as a teen and young adult he would develop into an expert marksman in sport shooting as well. Indeed, Barrett’s early fascination with guns would become a lifetime passion—but not without a short detour along the way.After graduation from high school, Barrett opened his own photography studio. Over the next several years, he would win awards and repeated recognition by the Tennessee Professional Photographers Association. He would also serve as a reserve deputy for 10 years. And in his spare time, he liked to tinker with guns in the garage workshop at this home.
FINDING HIS PASSION It was Barrett’s dual interest in photography and guns that would eventually lead to that moment when he recognized gun manufacturing was his mission in life. Asked to photograph a gunboat on a nearby river, Barrett snapped pictures from every possible angle, but it was two Browning .50-caliber machine guns mounted on the deck that captured and held his interest. He decided then and there that if he couldn’t buy one, he’d have to figure out how to make one.
For two months, he pored over books on firearms and firearm design. His quest was to understand what it would take to make a rifle capable of firing the .50-caliber BMG cartridge and that would be, at the same time, light enough to shoulder-fire without causing serious injury to the shooter.
At last he was ready. At age 28, Barrett sat down at his dining room table and drew sketches of a semi-automatic, .50-caliber rifle. But when he approached machine shops with his design, he was told it couldn’t be done.
Barrett wasn’t about to quit. He eventually connected with a friend of a friend—a man with a hobby machine shop in his garage—to get the first one made. That gun, the Barrett M82A1/M107 rifle, would be adopted by the U.S. military, law enforcement agencies, civilian sport shooters and more than 50 foreign governments.The M107 would the first Barrett firearm, but it would certainly not be the last. The self-taught engineer had found his calling.
LIVING THE LIFE Being a firearms manufacturer is not a part-time business. It’s eight hours a day or 40 hours a week. “The business is always at the center of my attention,” says Barrett. “Work also includes business trips, both national and international.” Then there are the social events that he must attend because, says Barrett, “they also contribute to business success.”
But even after all these years, Barrett still loves his job. What’s his favorite part? That would be “the creative part,” says Barrett, and “making the best product that is possible.” He also gets satisfaction from “knowing the importance our products have for our military and law enforcement.”
Barrett has passed his enthusiasm for firearms and firearm manufacturing to his son and daughter, too. “Chris is a gun designer,” says Barrett, “working with research and development, engineering and manufacturing. Angela,” he continues, “handles our trade shows, media relations and works closely with our marketing department.” The siblings also own The Outpost Armory, a combination firearms retail store and restaurant.
SEEING STARS Barrett Firearms have appeared in several movies, making them “stars” in their own right. When the movie The Hurt Locker was in the planning stages, says Barrett, “my son, Chris, was contacted and asked to be an advisor to the actors about using the rifle.” Barrett and his family had hoped to appear in the movie itself, but, he says, “much of the movie was made in Jordan, and we simply did not want to be away from the business for any length of time.” So for now, the M107 is the only movie star in the family.
To read more about Ronnie Barrett and Barrett Firearms, go to www.barrett.net.