Montana Firearms Institute aims to boost local industry

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Chris Hyatt, one of the founders of the Montana Firearms Institute.

Chris Hyatt knows exactly why he got involved in creating the Montana Firearms Institute. It’s as much about helping future generations get good jobs here as it is about supporting the firearms industry, he said.

“There are times when you give back and times when you build,” Hyatt said. “We have to do something sustainable if we want our children to be able to come back here.”

The Montana Firearms Institute was launched in 2011 as a nonprofit support organization to help existing firearms businesses and establish a training program to bring educational institutions and firearms-related manufacturers together.

The institute also aims to recruit firearms manufacturers to Montana and foster a friendly business climate for the industry. Its members also champion the Second Amendment.

“We’re here to assist businesses that are already here. That’s key,” Hyatt said. “We’ll help create a stronger environment for the industry within our state.”

In the Flathead Valley, the Montana Firearms Institute has two strong local partners: Flathead Valley Community College and Montana West Economic Development Corp.

“They’re always working behind the scene to help create a positive environment and we know other industries will grow up from this effort,” Hyatt said.

Hyatt, a Whitefish City Council member and business consultant, formed the nonprofit with assistance from state Sen. Ryan Zinke, R-Whitefish, and Kalispell attorney Duncan Scott. Those three, along with Joe Gregory, are the institute’s directors.

Several other local firearms industry advocates also had a hand in getting the organization off the ground. They include Rick Blake, KK Jense, Greg Lane and Buck Woodruff.

There’s a lot of collaboration going on within the local firearms industry, Zinke said, and that’s crucial to continued growth. He sees the institute as “the group that links people together.

“We could become a smaller version of the Silicon Valley,” Zinke said, referring to the concentrated technology business atmosphere in that area of California. “We need critical mass and we’re just about there.”

Many leaders in the firearms industry see the similarities between the Flathead Valley and Gordona, Italy, a prosperous Alpine region in northern Italy where a cluster of skilled artisans, including woodcarvers, engravers, barrel makers and gun makers cooperate to supply top Italian gun manufacturers such as Beretta and Perazzi with high-end products.

Ron Duplessis, president of Kalispell-based McGowen Precision Barrels and its sister company American Gun Co., said it’s the collaboration among those Italian firearms businesses that have made the Gordona region such a successful business model.

“They see each other as colleagues,” not competitors, he said about the Gordona craftsmen. “It’s an exciting model.”

The Montana Firearms Institute held its second annual conference in late September, drawing a significant amount of attention because the conference was paired with the announcement that Cabela’s will be building a store in Kalispell next year.

Cabela’s Chief Executive Officer Tommy Millner — who spent a decade as CEO of leading firearms manufacturer Remington. National Rifle Association President David Keen also addressed the group.

Millner expressed his appreciation for the Montana Firearms Institute’s aim to not only promote the firearms industry but also the Second Amendment that ensures Americans the right to bear arms.

Cabela’s promotes its own preservation of the Second Amendment by asking customers to round up their purchases to the nearest dollar. That has raised $1.2 million, and 10 percent goes back to Cabela’s stores for grass-roots efforts for the cause.

Millner cautioned those attending the institute’s conference that the firearms industry could come into the crosshairs of restrictions such as an eventual ban on assault weapons.

“We’re going to face a lot of threats in the future,” Millner predicted. “But we’re together and we’re one ... we can no longer be marginalized.”

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by e-mail at

Ryan Zinke


Duncan Scott, one of the founders of the Montana Firearms Institute.

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