By Matt Smith
Above: John Tibbetts with his ultra-quiet 77/44 suppressed rifle.
SAR: Can you share with our readers some of your personal background?
JOHN: I was born in Seattle, Washington. I left there when I graduated from high school, and went into the Navy. I went to Viet Nam and served in the Brown Water Navy. I did a lot of running up and down the river. We transported SEAL’s and other troops, and did a lot of work with the Special Forces. That is where I got my interest in suppressors and machine guns. Weapons on board the boats included .50 caliber and M60 machineguns mid-ship. The first suppressors that I saw were with an Army sniper unit, and were on long guns, such as Model 70’s. I got to fire some of these weapons including a suppressed 30/06. I remember thinking that they were not as quiet as I thought they would be. I was in Viet Nam for two tours, between 1967 and 1969 voluntarily. After my four years in the Navy, I got out and moved to Texas, and went to work in the oil fields. This is when I started messing with guns on the side, doing guns shows, and learning more about the business. I didn’t get actively involved in suppressors and get licensed as a manufacturer until after the machinegun ban around 1988. I remember seeing Neil Smith and his miniguns, and Nick Tilotta with his Thompson’s at many of the same shows that I attended. While working in the oil fields for Haliburton, I did a lot of cement work and running of tools at various sites. In 1979, I started my own truck repair business after leaving the oil business. I basically started with nothing, and built it up to a fairly good-sized dealership with International Trucks. I’m in the process now of selling my dealership, and once that is finalized, I will move my gun business out to a new 3600 square foot shop on my ranch in West Texas. The shop will include heating and air conditioning, a separate room for bluing, bead blasting, compressors, and electrical equipment. The main shop area will include one CNC machine, three manual lathes, three milling machines, and an EDM machine.
SAR: What type of products and services did you provide when you got your manufacturer’s license?
JOHN: In the beginning, I did a lot of HK machinegun work with a little help from Curtis Higgins. Those were the days when HK sears only cost a few hundred dollars, and HK semi-auto rifles were cheap and abundant. I would install the sears in the lowers, shorten barrel lengths, and do a full conversion of the semi-automatic rifle into a machinegun. Once the bans were in affect, I could see the end of the machineguns coming. In 1990, I began to shift my emphasis as a manufacturer more to suppressers than machineguns.
SAR: When you started manufacturing suppressers, what were some of your early models?
JOHN: My first design was an integral suppresser for the Ruger 10/22 rifle. This design eliminated the need for an excessive number of port holes in the barrel, which I placed under tension for increased accuracy. I have used this basic design for many other suppressors up to and including the .44 rifles. I’m at the point now where I subcontract out some of the metal parts to another CNC shop, but still do the final assembly and test firing of each weapon before it leaves this shop. My son, John, does all the refinishing and woodworking of the gunstocks. Once I get moved out to my new shop, and no longer have the responsibilities of the dealership, I will have the time to develop new ideas for products and improvements of my existing designs.
SAR: What are some of the other suppressers that you currently have available?
JOHN: Most of my suppressers are for long guns, with the exception of the Ruger MK II pistol, which has been very successful, both in the market place and at the Suppresser Trials, and is an excellent performer. As a matter of fact, I recently received in one of the first Ruger Mk I pistols that I suppressed for cleaning and updating. Although it was pretty carboned up, I was able to remove the tube, clean it, and bring it up to today’s standards. I still believe in building suppressers so that they can be taken apart and serviced by the owners. The suppressed Ruger 77/44 magnum has been an excellent performer. I cut the barrel to 16 1/4 inches, thin the barrel down, port it, add four inches of stainless steel baffles, and put it all inside a twenty inch long tube made of 4140 carbon steel, which is an inch and 1/4 in diameter. I’ve sold a lot of these to various entities, including game and wildlife personal in Alaska, who loved them.
SAR: What are your favorite gun shows and why?
JOHN: Knob Creek would be number one, because I’ve been going there so long, I have a good following there, and there are so many dealers that come to Knob Creek and place orders with me at the show. Soldier of Fortune used to be a good show, but now that it no longer exists, the Small Arms Review show in Phoenix looks to be a good replacement. I plan on setting up there this year. The Shot Show was also a good show for me, although I didn’t get to look around as much as I would have liked, as I was alone at the show.
SAR: Do you use the internet in your business?
JOHN: Yes, we have a web site (www.johnsguns.com) and an e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org), but have been the worst in the world at answering e-mails right away. That will all change once I get moved, as I will check my e-mail first thing every morning, and try to respond immediately.
SAR: How would you break down your current sales by the type of buyer?
JOHN: Probably sixty percent goes to the civilian market and forty percent to military, law enforcement and other entities. The biggest seller to non-civilians is the .308 suppressed sniper rifle. Purchasers can either send in their rifle to be suppressed or they can buy complete units from me. I build a sniper rifle system that I sell for $2995, that includes a Remington 700 PSS, Leopold Mill-Dot scope, bipod, suppresser, ready to go, test fired, and guaranteed minute of angle. A lot of Tactical teams are buying this package. This system allows you to fire the rifle either with or without the suppresser, with less than an inch in change in the point of impact. As far as subsonic .223 and .308 ammunition, Witt Engel’s EBR ammunition is the only brand that I guarantee through my suppressers.
SAR: John, do you have any final thoughts or comments for our readers?
JOHN: As I said earlier, I will be getting heavily involved into research and development on new ideas for suppressers. My business has grown steadily through the years. It seems like every time I sell ten guns, I end up with five or six more sales as buyers show their friends their new suppressers, leaving their friends wanting my products. It’s like a snowball effect where my dealers that used to order five guns at a time are now ordering fifteen at a time. I attribute a lot of my success to being honest and working hard to develop good products for my customers. I believe that manufacturers such as myself and others who have been in this business for many years and helped invent and create their own technology will still be in business when all the copycats are long gone.
SAR: Well, we hope you are around a long time. Thanks for your time.
JOHN: You’re welcome Matt.
761 FM 2134
Voss, TX 76888
PH/FAX (915) 357-4546
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N11 (August 2002)|