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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 was now living in Texas working in the advertising industry. Not surprisingly, I had become more accustomed to firearms; after all, it’s Texas and most people I knew owned 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.

It was December 12th, 2011, and it 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; and one morning, he did not 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. So what did I do? I walked into a well-known sporting goods chain and bought my first firearm.

Now, many 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 the logical thing to do was build my first AR-15, while AR- 15 parts prices were sky high, of course.

I had decided that this 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. It was now time to collect the parts needed.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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In memory of Caleb Buchanan Beaty 07.06.1983 – 12.12.2011

All photos courtesy of Ambrosia Studios;

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  1. Really a wonderful story, so sorry about your brothers passing, but it was great how you found an outlet in how to deal with it.

  2. Wow. I went to see a friend the other night who’d just built himself an AR. I couldn’t understand why he’d do that when he already had one, and in the same caliber, too. He went through all the components, explaining why he chose this trigger group and that forearm, etc. Also, I’m going through a bit of a hard time myself lately (my sympathy for the loss of your brother). You know, I never really wanted an AR until now…but I think it’s time to start the build plan!

    • It is truly a great way to keep a mind occupied, whether through a tough time or just to stay busy. Best of luck to you on your build and sorry to hear about your current situation… – Chad

  3. Your story makes perfect sense. I lost a good friend years ago. He was a professional illustrator for the government and a part-time machinist who enjoyed building his own custom bolt action rifles. At the time I only owned semi-autos and pumps, usually of a military flair. He got me interested in the aesthetics and mechanics of the bolt gun, the beauty of a blued steel finish, the feel of checkered walnut, and the details of crowning, lapping, and bedding that would make these rifles supremely accurate. After he succumbed to cancer at an all too early age, I built a special bolt action sniper rifle and named it in his honor, the Barlow.

    • It is always hard losing someone close. I am thankful I was able to find an outlet for the loss of my brother. I am sorry about the loss of your good friend. Sharing your story about your loss and the building of “The Barlow” means a lot to me. Thank you. – Chad

  4. I legitimately teared up reading this. Bravo Sir. May your brother Rest In peace, God rest his soul. May he be in a better place.

  5. Earlier this year I lost my only child. I can’t possibly convey the pain, horror and grief my wife and I have been through. But like Chad, my interest in firearms provided an avenue for healing. I already had a lot of guns, but I got into mods and upgrades as well as getting to the range more for practice. Not to mention Lazerlyte dry-fire practice at home. I’ve also introduced five new people to the sport, taking them shooting for the first time.

    It helped. It really helped. The thing that drew me to the shooting sports was the mental discipline, the zen of it. That mental discipline, developed through all that trigger time, has helped me to deal with the pain.

    I’m not saying that other people with other interests couldn’t do the same thing, but for me it was gun therapy. I went to it instinctually. And for me, gun therapy is working.

    • Thank you for sharing your story. I am truly sorry for the loss of your child. It means a lot to read similar stories and how “Gun Therapy” has helped others. Not unlike yourself, I too have been able to introduce firearms to others. In fact, I just finished a rifle build for Caleb’s best friend, who is now a very good friend of mine as well.

      Thanks again for sharing. – Chad

  6. I used range therapy while going through a divorce. Antis might think I shouldn’t have been able to own guns while going through a divorce because I might have shot my future ex-wife! Nope, why would I waste another minute of my time with someone who didn’t deserve it? I bought my first handgun and then two Mosins from Big 5 because they were so cheap. I spent a lot of time blasting targets and attempting to improve my marksmanship and forget a wasted decade.

    Building a rifle is a great tribute to your brother!

    • @Sixpack: Did something similar after my last divorce. Went to visit my daughter in Nevada. She thought it might be fun to go to a local gun range and shoot some targets. So we went, rented a few guns, did some target shooting and had a good time. Came home, got a concealed permit, bought a Beretta PX4. Started a small gun club with some friends. Went to the range a few times with them. Then got interested in shooting clay pidgins. Bought a Beretta semi-auto shotgun. Went to shoot trap a few times with more friends. Then bought an S&W M&P 15 with a scope. Been having fun with that lately with more friends at a local range. Bought a year membership at a nice range that is about 40 minutes away. And my story continues. Between shooting, my dog and a few other hobbies I don’t have much time left for women, unfortunately. But that might be a good thing for now.

  7. Sorry for your loss. Seems that you are well in touch with the spiritual side of shooting and hunting. God bless and thanks for sharing.


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