Gunsmith with IM roots returns to area
IRON MOUNTAIN — Tommy Westman had planned to go into the Marines once he graduated from high school.
Then, at age 17, his car was rear-ended by another student from his school in Pensacola, Fla., while he was stopped for a vehicle turning ahead of him. It left him with significant back and neck injuries that ruled out enlisting in the service.
So he went with an alternative plan, getting an associate degree from North Carolina’s Montgomery Community College in July 2016 — in gunsmithing.
It was a profession that melded his interest in history — the craft of making and repairing guns has been around for centuries, “everything made from scratch and no two weapons are the same” — as well as his experience with firearms he’d had since age 6 with his grandfather, Al Muntz of Kingsford, when he’d come for summers in the Upper Peninsula.
“It’s different than anyplace I’ve been, the culture (of the U.P.),” said Westman, who was born in Iron Mountain and whose parents both are from the area.
Those ties led him back to the region after getting his college degree, when family and friends suggested Iron Mountain could use a trained gunsmith.
“People,” he noted, “break a lot of things with guns.”
He opened Westman Precision Firearms just after Christmas 2016, in the former site of Bietila’s Engineering Inc. at N4029 N. U.S. 2 in Iron Mountain. It’s been long days and lots of work ever since, he said.
“We’ve just been super-blessed,” Westman said. “The public has accepted us.”
In the Iron Mountain area, Westman has found a ready clientele of hunters and competitive shooters. He helped build the rifle Katherine Erickson, for example, used to win several 4-H shooting titles.
As a gunsmith, he’s able to not just repair guns but create parts when no replacement can be found, even for antique weapons. Westman has a milling machine and lathe for turning barrels. He handles sights, triggers, threading barrels, cleanings and more.
“Anything that makes someone a better shooter, or makes it easier,” Westman said. “Anything, from small to big.”
He could make a gun of his own design if he wished, he said, but the cost usually means it’s not worth the effort.
The shop also sells weapons, ammunition and other shooting accessories. And they take items for sale on consignment, including military surplus. For example, they now have several containers of meals ready to eat, or MREs, for anyone who might want supplies to store away for an emergency.
He’s seen weapons from a number of conflicts: the Revolutionary War, Confederate rifles from the Civil War, guns from the two World Wars. He even had an Italian gun brought in that dated back to 1783 and has handled Swedish rifles from the 1800s.
“It’s crazy, what people have in their closets,” Westman said, adding, “you never know what’s going to walk through the door.”
Now only 24, he’s had to work to build a clientele, win over the long-time area hunters who still consider their guns an essential piece of equipment.
“They like you, because you’re really knowledgeable about guns, about history,” said his wife, Kristen, who also works in the business.
“And you’re passionate about it,” added his mother, Theresa Westman, part of the business as well, as is his father, Tom, a part-owner.
“Customer service is key,” Theresa Westman said. “This is a customer-driven business.”
“And it’s word of mouth,” her son added.
He insists the business has all the licenses needed to properly deal in various types of weapons and accessories. He gets regular visits from federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms representatives, adding they’ve been easy to work with over the years.
He chuckles at the suggestion guns can be bought quickly or easily. He has a three-page form for anyone who wants to make a purchase, which must be filled out on site, in person, with minimal assistance from the business. It prominently warns it’s a felony to try to purchase a gun illegally and can lead to arrest if the background check turns anything up.
If he senses something is amiss, he can cancel the purchase. He doesn’t even need to provide a reason, he said — it’s his and the business’s call who he sells a gun to, and he’d rather err on the side of caution.
Even when the business sells a handgun to someone who passes all the requirements with flying colors, they strongly encourage that person take a firearm safety course to ensure proper use.
“We try to push to be as safe as you possibly can, because it is a dangerous item,” Tommy Westman said.
But in the almost two years the shop’s been open, he said his experience with all aspects of the business has been overwhelmingly positive, even with the regulations.
“Having good-quality work and a place that makes you feel welcome … that’s the most important,” Tommy Westman said. “It’s cool to see the change in people over time; you build that trust.”