An Appalachian gunsmith’s robot army.

  • Editors' Pick
  1. At the age of seventy-four, Jerry Baber has winnowed his primary interests in life to four subjects: shotguns, robots, women, and cars. When Baber is holding forth—his default mode of communication being the filibuster—his conversation tends to fall somewhere among these categories. Often his passions intersect, as in the question of whether or not a Corvette is an ideal car for picking up women. (It is.) Similarly, Baber might be discussing his love of robots and shotguns, and whether, by combining the two, he is helping to shape the future of warfare from his garage. (He is.)

    Baber, an engineer by training, is an expert in investment casting—a method for making small pieces of finely shaped metal. He lives down the road from the Bristol Motor Speedway, in Piney Flats, Tennessee, a hilly town dotted with cattle farms, just south of the Virginia border. There he operates a small foundry, where he manufactures gun parts. Over the years, he has contributed triggers, barrels, hammers, and other components for half a million firearms. “I probably know as much, or more, as any one single person about manufacturing guns,” he told me one afternoon, while driving through the Appalachian foothills in his cherry-red Chevy Impala. (“The best buy on the road today, barring none.”)

    Until recently, Babel’s reputation as a firearms craftsman was known only to a few dozen gun-trade insiders. Then, a few years ago, he started producing, from start to finish, his own weapon: a fully automati...