By Chad Beaty
Firearm ownership wasn’t much of an issue for those of us who grew up in rural Northern California. Even if you didn’t own a firearm, you knew someone who did. I clearly remember, during my high school years, heading out and hunting rabbits with a friend who kept his .22lr rifle in his Jeep. I also took the occasional trip to the banks of the Delta Mendota to shoot clay pigeons with my dad and his friends. Other than that, I never owned my own firearm or ever felt a need to.
Several years have since passed during which time I had left California. I’m now living in Texas and working in the advertising industry. Not surprisingly, I had become more accustomed to firearms. After all, it’s Texas and most people I knew own at least a couple.
My own interest in firearms steadily grew, but I had yet to make that first purchase. It would take a family tragedy to completely bring me into the world of firearms.
December 12th, 2011 was like any other day. I got up, got ready, and went to work. I will never forget the call I received that afternoon while sitting at my desk.
It was my mom. It wasn’t out of the ordinary that she would call, but it was the time of day that she was calling that seemed odd to me. I picked up the phone and in a very solemn voice she told me my younger brother, Caleb, had passed away. For over ten years, my brother had suffered from nocturnal epilepsy. One morning, he didn’t wake up.
My brother’s death was a devastating blow to my parents, to me, to all his friends, and the community. He was my best friend. I had plenty of support from my family, friends, and girlfriend, but I still felt lost.
I needed an outlet; I needed something more than what my life already offered me. I needed to find a way to change even a little aspect and to keep my mind busy with something new. What did I do? I walked into a well-known sporting goods chain and bought my first firearm.
Some might argue that during a crisis like losing a close family member, buying a firearm isn’t the best remedy. Well, it was for me. I learned everything I could about that Taurus PT145, including the fact that maybe it wasn’t the best choice. But I didn’t care.
I took it apart, studied the mechanics, the design, the function, and the flaws. It kept my mind busy and soon my interest would grow and naturally gravitate to America’s rifle, the AR-15. But it wasn’t the first AR-15 I bought that continued my therapy; it would be the first one I built.
It was now April of 2013. The tragic events at Newtown were fresh in the minds of Americans, and “The Great Panic” was in full effect. The fine folks from the IRS had just mailed my tax refund so I decided the logical thing to do was to build my first AR-15…while AR- 15 parts prices were sky-high, of course.
I had decided that my AR-15 wasn’t going to be put together without a plan and that plan was to build a rifle in memory of my brother. It was a task that I had thought about for a while and I was mentally and financially ready for it.
I needed a theme, and I went with skulls. It may seem morbid, but we both had an affinity for skulls so it seemed like a good idea. I began to collect the parts I needed.
A local gun store was advertising SAA “Grim Reaper” lowers for a decent price, so it was a logical choice. The next step was the upper. I went with the Adams Arms carbine length piston upper. It came with the BCG and wasn’t that bad of a price, all things considered.
A simple DPMS LPK was the next step followed by Troy Battle Sights. I knew something had to be done about the furniture, so I was ecstatic when I found the Matrix Industries Reaper Magpul kit. I now had everything I needed to put my first AR-15 together. A few YouTube videos and a couple lost springs, I had my AR-15 that I built and my tribute rifle was finished.
My first AR-15 build was a fulfilling experience, one that many TTAG readers can identify with. It was a way to keep my mind occupied, and think about my brother in a more positive and lighthearted way since his passing.
Although the rifle has had many more parts added and swapped since then, I can still open the safe and look at it knowing that my brother, in his usual macabre way, lead me to build this skull-encrusted AR-15. I have since built many more AR-15 rifles, but not one will ever be as special as the one I built for my brother.
In memory of Caleb Buchanan Beaty 07.06.1983 – 12.12.2011
All photos courtesy of Ambrosia Studios; www.ambrosiastudios.tv