This article was originally posted on Thefirearmblog.com
Kevin Brittingham started Advanced Armament Corporation when he was 19 years old. In the more than two decades that have passed, he has helped to influence the silencer, ammunition and firearms industries in dramatic fashion. If you are looking for proof, take a walk down the ammo aisles at your local gun shop or outdoors store and count the varieties of 300 Blackout rounds on the shelf. Or any subsonic ammunition for that matter. Those same shops now carry several brands of silencers, whereas a decade ago it would be a rare event to see a single NFA item for sale. It was Brittingham’s vision that helped push silencers into the mainstream firearms world.
So here we are, in 2017, with the ATF recording more than 2 million registered silencers in the hands of Americans. Brittingham along with friend and Vice President of Engineering Ethan Lessard, own a small, but bustling gun company that aims to continue the evolution of the gun industry.
The challenge of interviewing industry icons like Brittingham is that they have been asked every conceivable firearm question several times over. So I decided that, rather than ask the cliche ‘where do you draw your inspiration’ and ‘what was your first handgun’ type of questions, I’d let let the two friends and coworkers guide the agenda.
We started off with a walk around the Q design area, where a young engineer was working on CAD designs for a new variant of ‘The Fix’ – Q’s ultralight precision bolt action rifle. (More on that later). Brittingham started of by explaining how he had hired the engineer a few years prior, only to be stymied by a previous employer’s (a large, unnamed gun company) broadly worded non-compete agreement.
”He wasn’t working on anything related to what we are doing here at Q,” said Brittingham. After lawyers, testimony and hundreds of thousands of dollars, the engineer is now finally an employee of Q. “But this was all something that we could have worked out with a phone call rather than a legal case,” he said.
Although clearly very intelligent, Brittingham and team deal with challenges in a ‘common sense, path of least resistance’ style. Why waste money and time using lawyers to solve something that could be handled with a conversation. Similarly when a competing silencer company sent Brittingham a letter insinuating infringement on a previous patent, he just shook his head. “They didn’t reference prior art from previous companies patents, basically invalidating their claims – but since I got an official letter instead of a call, I have to waste even more time and money to respond.”
It was at this point when Lessard handed me a dainty little round that looks like 5.56 and 5.45 had a love child. It was my first time actually holding Federal’s new .224 Valkyrie bullet. And having heard the ‘1300 yard’ claims, my first inclination was to ask if it was living up to the hype. “It’s awesome,” said Lessard. Which is high praise from the engineer that basically made 300 Blackout a household name for countless numbers of recreational shooters, hunters and soldiers in the U.S. and abroad.
Not being an Ammo nerd, I thought I could save a full Valkyrie discussion for another day.
But the talk of ammunition manufacturers opened the door to a very interesting conversation; when the topic of ‘industry innovators’ came up, I fully expected Brittingham to list off a half dozen obscure companies working on semi-secret government contracts. Instead, both he and Lessard were impressed with Federal.
”For a monster company like Federal to reach out to a small company like us to ask our opinion on their new round during the development phase is pretty amazing. I think that’s part of the definition of innovation,” said Brittingham. He explained that besides Q, Federal enlisted the help of several small companies to test the Valkyrie and offer expert insight into its development. “That’s pretty f**cking cool”
Both he and Lessard also praised ammunition giant Winchester for developing a new subsonic .308 round – a seemingly niche product that could soon be popular among hunters who value suppression along with accuracy.
Of course, they both mentioned smaller companies who are innovating in their own right: Discreet Ballistics who makes a line of hyper-accurate subsonic ammunition. SB Tactical for creating and proliferating the pistol stabilizing brace market. Proof Research, Zev Technologies, Barret, and a handful of individual engineers that are working inside larger companies to make ground breaking products.”The market is full of black direct impingement 5.56 AR15’s – we need something different.”
Without dipping into the negative, Brittingham paused to talk about some larger organizations who are content with pulling the status quo. “There are many [executives] out their that focus on product development that feeds them now, without thinking five or ten years ahead.” He cites a variety of workforce layoffs that have rippled through the industry as being an example of a lack of long range vision – extreme ramp-up on “in the moment” product lines that are not diversified enough to sustain real innovation.
That’s not to say that Brittingham isn’t willing to admit his own mistakes. He was open and honest about the beginnings of Q where he wanted every one of his employees to want to go out and change the world. “That’s my job as CEO, but we also need stable people who are a little more grounded who can operate in the moment,” he said. “For example, I shouldn’t be the CFO – I need someone there who can keep me in check.”
Along those same lines, the pair also admitted to currently developing products that they once considered non-starters. “A pistol Honey Badger is a good example. If you asked me two years ago if Q would produce a gun with a pistol stabilizing brace (PSB), I would have said no way.” I was lucky enough to see a prototype of the new pistol developed in cooperation with SB Tactical. The brace, although fully functional, is nearly indistinguishable from the stock version of the Honey Badger.
It’s that type of retrospection that impressed me the most. In general, genius minds in any discipline can get a sort of tunnel vision that can be detrimental to growth. Brittingham and crew seem to be constantly reevaluating their products (and themselves) to develop guns that consumers actually want. Another example is a PSB version of The Fix, allowing for shorter barrels without the need for an exhaustive NFA wait.
For current and future Q customers, the near future holds some new products that are certain to get a lot of attention. The young engineer mentioned above was working on a Fix chassis for the Remington 700 action, for example. The Fix will be soon chambered in 300 Blackout and most likely the .224 Valkyrie. The California compliant Honey Badger. And of course there are guns and silencers that are deeper in development that Brittingham and Lessard aren’t ready to discuss.
We touched briefly on silencer deregulation to which Brittingham sees as a real possibility. “I think in five or ten years we may see silencers available to consumers with a simple NICS check and no waiting. But we have work to do.”
As for the future of suppressor engineering, they both feel that noise reduction for supersonic cartridges and platforms has plateaued somewhat with a new emphasis on weight, materials and internal volume. “Until we see cartridge advancements, meter readings just aren’t going to change that much to be noticeable,” said Lessard.
We wrapped up the visit with a tour through the gun vault – a conex container sized room full of what we as kids would have referred to as a little slice of heaven. Stepping inside, there was a noticeable about of Q rifles and silencers in different stages of development. But there was also an equal amount of other manufacturers guns – a sign of respect for outside designs and innovations.
It’s always a pleasure to be around people who truly enjoy what they do for a living. For Brittingham, Lessard and the rest of the team at Q there is a deep satisfaction in knowing that they are producing the guns that will continue to shape the future of the industry.