By Will Grant
For well over 30 years Dan Shea has been collecting weapons. He ETS’d out of the Army in the mid-70s and within a few years, started buying and selling guns, starting a side business from his construction company. He was good at it, and he enjoyed it. His collection and expertise grew. He secured government contracts as an armorer and trainer on foreign weapons. Now his company has what is probably the second largest private firearms collection in the United States. He’s quick to point out it’s a “Working Reference Collection,” heavily involved in his business of selling weapons and munitions to government agencies, and doing the training as well.
“In the 1970s my wife and I were just trying to make the business work, like most other small businesses start out,” Shea says. “At this point, I’ve been to over 70 countries and have business connections in at least 40 of them. There’s ups and downs of course, but we’ve been able to help a couple of generations of young soldiers and Marines get a better grip on what they’ll be facing.”
In the late 1970s, Shea founded Long Mountain Outfitters (LMO) in New Hampshire. He later moved the business to Henderson, Nevada, which is part of the greater Las Vegas area, where it’s been operating for over ten years. The company has since become the gold standard for foreign weapons training and holds a GS schedule contract for armorer-operator training on all US and foreign small arms.
“We’re gun guys,” Shea says. “That’s what we’re good at, and that’s what we stick to.”
The armorer classes are the company’s bread and butter. It’s hosted and trained everybody from Naval Special Warfare personnel to law enforcement officers. Blackwater Worldwide operators were frequent students at LMO as have been many other contractors and US Allies.
The armorer classes typically involve 12 to 16 students and are held at the LMO facility. When I visited, a dozen or so students were assembling and disassembling machine guns in what looked like a high-school science lab with a vast array of weapons on the walls around them.
“This training program isn’t for the hobbyist,” Shea says. “It’s for Tier-One armorers. It’s for the guys going downrange. If guys come to us and say we’re heading to country ‘X,’ we adapt. All our training is adaptive. We figure out what they need to know, and we give it to them above the normal course. We do run civilian courses for collectors and museums on things like Maxims, Vickers, Brownings, and Lewis guns when the demand is there, but our primary work is with the armorers, contractors, and industry.”
The gun collection is impressive. By any and all standards. The facility is only open to the public during SHOT Show, and even then it’s not really open to the public; you need an invitation. But to walk through the vaults (there are several) and see the collection is staggering.
The collection is essentially a working reference library of foreign and domestic firearms. It allows LMO to offer something few organizations can: hands-on training and instruction with obscure weapons that most people will never see, much less import into the U.S., as well as the general US arms such as the M4, M249, M240, M60E4, M134, M2HB, and MK19.
“We have to teach both sides of the coin, not just U.S. weapons,” says Matt Babb, lead armorer instructor for LMO. “One, how do you disable a captured weapon? You’re not always going to have a tank following you around to crush it in a proper military manner. And two, how do you get the gun up and keep it running if you need to? As in the case of working with friendlies or having to use it for your own group. We need to train the armorers to recognize patterns for troubleshooting in different environments .They need to know when something is out of the ordinary, a new cause for problems. They can gain intel from understanding manufacturers and country origins. We train for that.”
LMO also caters to the movie and video game industry, providing the firearms and expertise to ensure the accuracy of the game or movie. On the vault racks are Robert’s AK-47 from Red Dawn, Charleton Heston’s Smith & Wesson M76 from The Omega Man, Gary Cooper’s Maxim MG08 from Sergeant York, several of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s weapons from the Terminator franchise and his short-barreled, over-under 12 gauge from Eraser, among many, many others that LMO collected over the years. LMO supplied firearms for many video games from “Medal of Honor” to “Call of Duty.”
Along with the guns, LMO has an interesting collection of novelties that Shea has procured one way or another. He has a walking cane that’s a rifle. Small, wooden Chinese models of how to build an improvised explosive device from a 55-gallon drum or a string of hand grenades. Pre-World War II underwater machine gun cartridges. A Cold War-era briefcase that holds a MAC-11 .380 and will fire 1,300 rounds per minute: “It’s a buzz saw,” says Babb. He also says it was fired in the line of duty.
Of course, there also more conventional weapons that are just as rare. Like a 1950’s French Paratrooper’s folding Hotchkiss Universal submachine gun.
It’s fair to say the not many have ever seen a weapons collection as extensive as LMO’s. And while the vaults are reserved for trainees and guests during SHOT Show, LMO also has a retail store. They can pretty much outfit you with whatever you need for almost any firearm. If they don’t have it, they know where to get it. The guys are helpful, knowledgeable, and friendly. They also provide a service that few others can.
“I’m not worried about becoming obsolete with changes in DoD needs or crazy anti-firearms laws. We adapt pretty well,” Shea says. “I’m worried about giving the guys what they need when they go downrange. We’ve been doing this a long time, and hope to keep serving them for years to come.”
Shea’s other ventures, Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal magazines, pretty well guarantee that there will be a continuing flow of new information both in, and out to the students, and the readers.