There’s a door in the middle of the trendy SoHo neighborhood of New York City. It bears no logos, no signs, and no company name above the frame – only the numbers for the street address. The company logo hangs nearby, but the generic design offers no information about what actually goes on inside. It’s so inconspicuous that you’d walk right past it if you didn’t know to look for it, but if you take a few seconds to notice the high security door and the multiple cameras pointed at it you might realize that there’s something worth seeing on the other side. Unbeknownst to the thousands of people that walk by it every day, this is the home of one of the biggest firearms collections in New York City and the people who know the most about them. This is the home of The Specialists . . .
New York City has an interesting problem when it comes to guns. The Mayor hates them, but the movies and TV shows that are filmed there every year need them to tell their story. Back in the 1970s, Rick Washburn arrived in New York City looking to launch his acting career but found an industry desperately in need of a company to produce and supply firearms as props. Seeing the writing on the wall as another aspiring actor in a city full of aspiring actors, Rick started The Specialists to fill that need for prop guns.
Walking up the stairs into the office, the décor sheds its initial covert style and shows its true colors. There’s a suit of armor standing in the doorway, with a wall of framed pictures of firearms from the collection. In the center is a TV with a slideshow of the various firearms related options available for rent, from flintlock pistols to full auto machine guns and even prop explosives. It feels like a restaurant hanging their menu outside for prospective clients to see.
I walk up to the reception desk, but before I have a chance to say hello my contact greets me. I’d emailed them earlier in the year looking to do something gun related while home for the holidays, and they readily agreed to let me poke around a bit. Steve greets me and leads me upstairs, past a locked safe door built into the wall, and upstairs to the office where Ryder Washburn (Rick’s son and VP of the company) is waiting. All through the office the employees are dressed like they would be at any other SoHo business, fashionable and well groomed. It feels more like an art studio than anything else, except the portraits are by H&K or FNH instead of the artist of the day.
Ryder looks like someone plucked a blacksmith out of the middle ages and dropped him at a desk in front of a computer. He doesn’t quite fit the new age mold of the rest of the office, instead he’s more your typical gun guy; big, burly and no-nonsense. Steve drops me at the desk and walks away, and Ryder stares at me like he expects me to start asking questions. Ryder doesn’t realize that I suck at interviewing people.
I start with the obvious: how did so many guns end up in the heart of NYC? Did your dad just start buying them, or… He nods at the first answer. “My dad saw the need for a prop shop that has guns, and so he just started buying them.” That must be difficult with all the laws, no? “Well, it was different in the 1970s. There were fewer laws, and it was easier to bring things into the city. There weren’t no laws, it was still a pain, but easier than now.”
Speaking of current laws, I ask if the SAFE Act has had any impact on their business. Ryder rolls his eyes. “I hate it when people ask me about the SAFE Act. Most people haven’t even read it; they just hear things on the internet and assume the worst. But they ask me all the time. We’re licensed as a manufacturer, so most of the rules don’t apply – they only apply to the end user. We can still get things just fine.” I ask him about standard capacity magazines, since the SAFE Act limits magazine capacity to seven rounds and that might be an issue in an action sequence. He chuckles. “I can tell you’re from Texas, you said ‘standard capacity.’ Anyway, we use blanks in our guns and blanks are technically pyrotechnics and not ammunition. The law says we can only load seven live rounds, it doesn’t say anything about pyro.”
So, if you’re OK to own these things, how do the guns make it onto the set? “If the production company has a person who’s licensed to own whatever it is we’re renting them, then they come here and we transfer it to them for however long they need.” Like, full transfer? With a 4473 and everything? “Yep, doesn’t matter if it’s only a rental, the guns leave the premises so the ATF needs a 4473. If the production company doesn’t have someone licensed then we send one of our employees as a custodian. They pick up the gun, bring it to the set and then come straight back. The gun never leaves their sight.” Even if they’re blank guns they still need a 4473? “With the ATF, if it was once a gun it’s always a gun.”
I was curious about how the gun selection was done. “Most of the time it’s dictated by the script. We have contacts that tell us what the police departments and militaries are using, so if the character is on the FBI Hostage Rescue Team we can find out what they’re using and send it out.” What if they don’t know what gun to use? Do you give them guidance? “Production companies usually hire a consultant or an armorer to take care of all the guns, and while we would like to be hired in that role as well sometimes they already have a guy. But we can help.”
There’s one scene in The Hurt Locker where the characters are clearly loading spent cartridges into a Barrett rifle – to any gun guy it’s like nails on a chalkboard. I mention it, and Ryder chuckles. “Sometimes people will call us up and say ‘we’ll take that gun, and that scope’ and we provide them and they mount them themselves… backwards. We would like to be hired as consultants, but…”
If the gun is dictated by the script it’s one thing, but when I ask about science fiction and making guns from scratch Ryder gets more excited. “Usually we come up with a few ideas, show them to the client, and then make some more based of their choice, then eventually a full scale mock-up, and finally we make the guns. Unless they call up the night before the shoot and ask for a laser gun, then we do the best we can.” I mention that it must be pretty hard to come up with something new every time, since you can’t re-use something as iconic as the Moonraker laser for every film. “With gun guys, you tell them ‘this is the gun from James Bond’ and they get excited. But with film makers, they want their guns to be unique. They want to be the movie the gun is known for.”
One of his employees comes up and drops something off at his desk, presumably a project that he had been working on. They talk for a minute about how one material was working better than another, and then he goes back to work. I asked Ryder how he found these employees, especially since SoHo isn’t exactly rife with gun shops and shooting ranges. “I recruit them from all over. Their interests usually start with a specific gun or time period and blossom from there.”
At this point I ask to see some of the guns, so we head back downstairs and through the safe door into a two story gun room. Floor to ceiling this place has guns on every inch of the walls and on the floor as well. It takes me a second to remember that I’m in the heart of New York City, in SoHo. I ask Ryder about which guns were the hardest to procure, and he smiles as he tells me it’s a Welrod. “When we first started out, someone needed a Welrod for a shoot and we didn’t have one. So we had to make one. We grabbed all the drawings and pictures we could, and we made something that looked and functioned exactly like a Welrod. The magazine worked, the action worked, but the barrel wasn’t bored completely through. It’s not hard to make a suppressed single shot handgun look good on camera. After that was over we bought a bunch of Welrods, but we still have it.”
I ask him how he gets his hands on the guns, and his response was “we buy most of them. We have to tear them down and re-work them to use blanks, but most are original.” He looks up at the rack of guns and points to the wheel lock guns on the top shelf. “As far as things we’ve had to make, those wheel lock guns are one. You can buy one – if you walk into a museum and hand them millions of dollars. But these look just as good, and you can use them. They really work.”
One of his other employees had been eating lunch in the room as we walked in (as I would every single day if I worked there) and he chimed in as well. “One of my favorites we’ve made is that Oswald gun.” He points to a scoped Carcano rifle on the top level. “I’ve seen other films, especially with the 50th anniversary [of the assassination of Kennedy], and some of their Oswald guns are terrible. The wrong rifle, the wrong sling… We made our sling the same way Oswald did, with a modified leather holster. It’s identical to the real one.”
Given the number of custom made guns and the abuse their stuff gets, I mentioned that it must take a lot of work to keep them running. “We have four gunsmiths on staff” Ryder replied. “And when I say gunsmiths, I mean they can make the gun from scratch. We like to buy replacement parts when we can, since a firing pin costs five dollars and if you make the part the material alone could be five dollars before you factor in how long it takes to machine the part. But we have thousands of guns, often dozens of copies of the same gun, that have been in over 600 films and TV shows. Keeping the guns running takes all of the gunsmiths’ time.”
Standing in the middle of all these guns, I feel compelled to ask Ryder which one is his favorite. “For what?” He responds. “No one ever has a good answer for that. It depends on what you’re going to be doing.” Kevin Brittingham gave me that exact same line a couple months back – I should have learned my lesson.
By now I felt that I had taken up way too much of their day, and I figured it was time to say goodbye. As I walked back out the unmarked door and onto the SoHo street, it was like walking back out onto another planet. But it was nice knowing that even in the heart of New York City, there are a group of gun nerds with really cool toys doing awesome things.
Interesting article, but I’m having trouble getting excited about their inventory…from what I gleaned in the article, not a single “weapon” is a functioning firearm…every single one of them is a prop, albeit in some cases props that can fire blanks.
I can understand the need for such things when filming tv shows and films, but I would never collect them.
The fun is the fact that most of these items were functioning weapons at one point, and ATF even still considers them firearms. I bet a lot of them would fire live ammunition if you swapped out the prop barrel and various springs for the real deal.
Perhaps we are looking at the future of guns in America.
Check out this rather depressing website:
£250.00 (that’s about $400) for a non-functional CZ70 pistol. £425.00 (about $700) for a deactivated Lee Enfield No4 MK1* .303 rifle.
This is exactly what the gun grabbers want us to be restricted to owning.
If they win and we’re lucky, we’ll be allowed to have replicas. But they won’t want us to have those either. If we have a replica, we might be encouraged to want the real thing–and since all guns are evil, especially toy guns and replica guns (think of the children!) they’ll have to be taken too.
Oh, I dunno…those in favor of civilian disarmament have basically had anything they’ve wanted in the UK and Japan for the last 70 years, and deactivated guns are still legal in the UK…and Airsoft was invented in Japan!
There was an article earlier this year at Guns.com,
which speculated on a near worst-case scenario for gun rights in the US 50 years from now. It was basically NYC on steroids; the only way to get your ammunition was through membership in your local (highly regulated) shooting club, reloading is illegal, anything more powerful than .308 is a Destructive Device, polymer framed pistols are verboten, and any magazine of over 6 rounds is an NFA item.
I always thought that working in guns in the movie industry would be cool.
Until you see someone being reckless or doing something stupid (hello, backwards EOtech).
Well, I’ve seen backwards mags and sights on photos of real live non movie cops. Maybe I could influence the movie types to get it right. Or not. It would be interesting to try.
While its not my current gig, I worked props on several westerns when I lived in Santa Fe and… it is pretty cool.
First– no wait, only– time I got to handle a LeMat.
Awesome guns! Wow I’d like a collection that looks like that. Especially that silenced M14…
It’s a shame that those gunsmiths can work with any gun they want, all day long, but when they go home they’re still stuck with a seven shot pistol. I couldn’t live somewhere where I couldn’t own what I worked with.
Lot of workers in NY city live in PA.
I’m sure some do, but it’s about an hour (give or take) to get from PA to NYC. Many more live in NJ, NYS or CT.
I’ll grant you that if I was a gunsmith working in NYC, I’d try to live in PA.
I would think most could be returned to a fully functioning firearm.
If it were up to me and of course it isn’t.
Id have a business like that armory closed down.
Now before you all start yelling.
Here are just a few reasons and I can go on all day against it.
Its in a city that hates guns. A city that wont let a person pursue a simple civil right.
The mayor of that city hates guns.
Spends the cities and his own money to promote that issue. No guns for anyone.
The industry it rents them to glorifies guns on one hand making large profits using them as props..
Then as an industry of Libertards. Denies that ordinary folks should have them.
Has its celeberties for the most part frown on gun ownership even though these actors make their outrageous living using them.
Also its an industry in Kalifornia. Need I say more?
Now for its only positive as I see it.
Its a collection any one of us would dream of having but could never afford.
Even if you could afford it.
Odds are the Gubbermint wont let you have it. NFA prohibitive weapons.
Shutting down a private business because you dont like it is exactly what we’re fighting AGAINST. This logic is a slippery slope.
Lets shut them down in the name of ‘freedom’. ???
Their attitude is what bothered me.
Profiting on the backs of an industry that glorifies all that’s bad about guns. That they feel they don’t have to follow the laws as you and I do.
They profit while you and I lose more rights.
So sorry yes Id rather see them go and what they stand for (profit) and flaunting the image and laws they don’t have to obey which we do.
So if you see that as a slippery slope so be it.
That they feel they don’t have to follow the laws as you and I do.
If you’re speaking of the SAFE Act, he explained that the restriction on loading more than 7 cartridges into magazines doesn’t apply to blanks. Assuming that he’s correct, he is following the law as you and I do.
You can do what he is in NY, you just have to get the licenses and jump thru all the hoops he did. He isn’t getting any special treatment
Close this business and another will fill the vacuum.
Interesting read, but the employees attitude towards the Gun owning public seems condescending and rude. He talks about the SAFE Act like he is one of the liberal elite and revels in the fact the law does not apply to him.
I say screw them. They do us no favors.
Thats the feeling I got too. Screw Mr. Priviliage. Hollywood is the enemy. Saw a preview of a new show coming up about a guy who gets to see all that Intelligence that the NSA collects in real time and his girl agent bodyguard. Very convenient timing, that.
are you talking about chuck?
“… Interesting read, but the employees attitude towards the Gun owning public seems condescending and rude. …”
I came away with that exact impression.
Ryder rolls his eyes.
Says most people haven’t read the law.
Says law doesn’t apply to him.
Stupid gun owners.
I’d say Ryder is all ready to work behind the counter of any gun store he chooses.
Same take here. He arrogantly states that most haven’t even read the SAFE Act (including NY state legislators who voted for it, I notice he neglected to mention), as if the common perception is 180 degrees wrong. In doing so, he only sets himself up as an insider elitist when he then acknowledges that most of the act only apply to end users, not industry insider manufacturers like himself. Well la dee freakin da! Would that we all had our daddies gift wrap and hand deliver on a silver platter to us a firearms manufacturing business! The rest of us poor saps have to live and suffer under freedom infringing, statist snobbery.
That said, it does sound like an interesting business and it’s a good article Nick has written presenting yet another of the seemingly infinite facets of the firearms business and the greater firearms culture. Ryder here, however, isn’t somebody I’d ever hit the range with or throw back some beers afterward with, either.
It’d be cheap to take him to the range since none of his weapons fire bullets. If you ran short on blanks you could just yell BANG! whenever he pulled the trigger, and he could do the same for you.
This is a copy of an email I sent to TTAG a while ago. The SAFE act is written incorrectly with regards to “high capacity” magazines.
par.17, line 55-56:
(c) a semiautomatic pistol that has an ability to accept a detachable
magazine and has at least two of the following characteristics:
par. 18, line 1-2:
an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip;
The sentence refers to a magazine that attaches to the pistol OUTSIDE of the pistol grip. This literally means the point of attachment of a magazine is outside of the pistol grip, which is physically impossible (unless your mag release doesn’t work and you duct tape it in place?)
Semantics and sentence structures in laws do matter, example below:
The section to which you are referring is preceded by the phrase “‘Assault weapon’ means”; thus, they are defining any pistol which accepts a magazine in a location other than in the handgrip (i.e., an AR or AK pistol) as an assault weapon.
Re the eye roll about the SAFE act.
If he is indeed licensed to manufacture the rules are the same but a different subset of them regulates his business vs a member of the general public. Guess what – that’s true pretty much everywhere. (I once had a chemist for a girlfriend. The environmental regs at her company were so tight, you couldn’t dump a flat can of Coke down the sink. Same general situation – some things a private person can do, a company can’t, and vice-versa.)
Given what he and his company do for a living, he’d *have* to be intimately familiar with pretty much all parts of the SAFE act. On the other hand, most people, especially those who don’t live in NY, will know only what they read on gun blogs. So he probably does get a lot of dumb questions, most of which are either totally ignorant, or at least inapplicable because of the difference between a business and a private citizen.
I’d get annoyed too.
The Washburn family are huge 2A supporters. I’ve known Rick for years and can vouch. He started his business long before NY gun laws went insane.
I’m less interested in his arrogance, more interested in the industry with which he’s doing business.
They rent weapons to an industry that (for lack of a better word) “glorifies” violence (involving guns) and reinforces unsafe gun handling practices, stereotypes, presents few upstanding citizens with guns in non-violent plots, portrays gun owners as being irrational/stupid, antagonist, or employees of the state (from common military/police to super cool elite mysterious “special agents”).
This industry then (for the most part) supports violent disarmament of the public.
How many romantic comedies are led by a man or woman who happens to carry a gun, but is not involved in a violent plot and never has to use the gun? I know that media is somewhat a reflection of reality, and perhaps most people don’t carry guns, but it certainly seems like the average income of lead roles doesn’t fall anywhere near average either.
Very cool article… Pics are great! Any video?
The difference between a blank firing prop and a firearm is pretty subtle. Non-semi- or full-auto require absolutely zero changes (revolvers, bolt, pump, lever, etc). For anything with a muzzle device, the only change is either a more restrictive muzzle device or a small-hole washer, similar to a blank firing adapter. Semi-auto pistols usually get a new barrel, or will have a helicoil insert to restrict the gases.
Hollywood blanks are also much more powerful than military blanks, in order to generate the muzzle blast audiences expect.
No disrespect to the man’s livelihood.Id imagine he actually likes NYCs gun laws, because they all but guarantee no one else can set up a competing shop.
Beyond that, I dislike his line of work for another reason.Gun hating people exhibit a stunning hypocrisy when it comes to firearms.A loaded firearm hidden in a man’s holster is considered a threat to society, but a blank prop machine gun used in a movie showing LEOs getting shot on a high def audio, IMAX format action film is A-OK.
The standard should be the other way around.Real life violence isn’t something to glorify , and the fact that Hollywood makes millions promoting criminal behavior while trying to take away our ability to defend from real life scumbags is an eyesore on the Republic.If guns are bad, then that makes the millions movie studios make on action movies blood money.
I know these guys. I work in the industry. They do NOT like the state of NY/NYC laws. They have facilities out of state for very good reason. Also SoHo is NOT their main warehouse. It’s just the “face” of the company. They are on our side.
Props?….I think I’d sell all those broke-a$$ guns at the next NYC gun buyback day and let the movie industry suck it the next time they needed guns to make their big money movie. If average Joe with a birth certificate can’t have them then nobody gets them…nobody.
I think I’d sell all those broke-a$$ guns at the next NYC gun buyback day and let the movie industry suck it the next time they needed guns to make their big money movie.
For which you’d get (just guessing here) around $50,000 in gift cards, bearing in mind that he paid a lot more than $50k for that inventory.
In contrast to your plan, he will make oodles and oodles of cash if he continues to rent them out to film companies.
What should he do? Decisions, decisions…
“What should he do? ”
If average Joe with a birth certificate can’t have them then nobody gets them
Why are people here acting like he got some special treatment? He is exempted because he got a manufacturing FFL…
Anyone can do what hes doing if they jump thru the same hoops he did.
Its not like hes some democrat special guy that the NY politiciajs gave special power to.
With the same money they spent and the same hoops they jumped thru, anyone can do what hes doing.
If you want to be mad at someone be mad at the people who make you do all that in the first place
I never said he’s getting special treatment. My problem is he provides a service to the liberal elitists which they use to make a ton of money and in turn finance liberal politicians that work toward disarming law abiding Americans. They push a lot of other shyt too, but this is TTAG. I for one am completely prepared to let NYC suffer the consequences of passing their gun laws. I’m not going to give him a pass and say “he’s just a squirrel that trying to get a nut while playing by their rules.”
If average Joe with a birth certificate can’t have them then nobody gets them
And how exactly do you propose making that come to pass?
“And how exactly do you propose making that come to pass?”
“I think I’d sell all those broke-a$$ guns at the next NYC gun buyback day and let the movie industry suck it the next time they needed guns to make their big money movie.”
Truth is I’d fix those guns and sell them as the law would allow.
Truth is I’d fix those guns and sell them as the law would allow.
I suspect he’s making a lot more money by renting them out as props.
These guns are used by the likes of Jim Carrey, Sarah Silverman, Jaime Fox and other “elite” hollywood types to net massive amounts of money to bankroll their MAIG/MDA contributions.
I’ll take my irony with a side of braised blindness, please. Mmm-mmm, tasty. The stupid-sauce really gives the irony the tangy zing it needs.
Now that I think about it, why do these “elites” need to use realistic-looking firearms in their movies?
To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, “Let them paint Supersoakers”.
I haven’t seen any good “gun movies” from those hollywood parasites for a long time.
Tom Cruise would look pretty “dangerous” rappelling down a building with a High-Capacity Spray-Firing Hyper-Hydrolizer, right? I’m sure EVERYONE would LOVE to see THAT flick.
CorreiaTech needs to hurry up and take over this reality.
Nice article. Ricks guns were the first I ever shot. Sure, they were blanks and I had been yanked from the crew to be a last-minute extra, but it’s what got me started.
Company founder Rick Washburn is as staunch a 2A supporter as you can find. A great guy.
It’s like walking into a Ferrari showroom, and on one wheel of each lovely lady is a car boot.
The man is making a living and paying employees. Hollyweird aside from that. Some think it should be shut down because of it’s clientele, and it is in NYC? Then we are on the way to becoming what so many are against.
Rick and his boys are on our side.
Granted I was not there for this interview, but from what I read, it sounds like the “gun guys” in this shop are nothing more than fabricators and mechanics.
They don’t care about SAFE act because it does not apply to them?
More impressed that a piece of shit rifle is a direct replica of Oswald’s gun than the fact there are hundreds of pieces of art in there?
And the worst – Not caring that the guns/accessories they rent are used right? You shouldn’t have to be paid as a consultant to include simple instructions on how to use the damn things. Or, you know, mounting said Optic before hand.
There is a lot of apathy here and I don’t like it.
I’m sorry, but nothing about this screams “gun guys” to me. Just a bunch of guys who rent and make props for movies. Nothing to see here.
Best comment in the thread. The sense of apathy on the part of The Specialists this article communicated was disconcerting. You’d think it would be basic professionalism and care for their clients to mount or provide instructions for mounting an optic on a firearm. A good business will tell you when you’re asking to buy something inadvisable or stupid and will advise you against making an inappropriate purchase you probably won’t be happy with. A bad business will smile and take your money, selling you something you’ll be unhappy with.
Because we all know that there’s no ignorance or arrogance in Hollywood…
User3369 you are the farthest from the truth. I know these guys and they all fought the safe act some even went to Albany to do so. They are all very active in the 2A movement. The gunsmiths are all gun owners and have the proper permits to do so in NYC and have been negatively effected by the safe act.
They care very much about how the accessories are used but you can only teach someone and tell someone how to use a device. If the client isn’t willing to pay for you to be on set you can’t be in total control.
Ryder and all “the gun guys” that work there are probably bigger gun advocates than anyone who has made a negative comment on this blog.
Haha if you only knew them. Every employee is an avid hunter. I know steve and a few others. They come upstate regularly to shoot and test guns and accessories. They are good guys who actually know what they are doing not just renting guns. They are just like every other gun enthusiast and not all the guns are props…
I will take 2 Pancor Jackhammers, puhleez
Some of this so-called apathy is actually just union rules. Hollywood is one of the most unionized businesses around. Only someone in the right union can perform certain functions in a Hollywood film. No cross training, so to speak. In other words, the guys renting the props can’t do much if the guys handling the props are idiots.