Article:Taiwanese gunsmith tailors weapons for the military's most specialized units
'Concentration and patience'
Taiwanese gunsmith tailors weapons
for the military's most specialized units
LARRY HARDY/T&D Billy Chang gained his interest in the military and weapons on his native Taiwan. Now in Orangeburg, he customizes weapons for specialized military and police forces.
By THOMAS BROWN, T&D Staff Writer
Saturday, September 09, 2006
He grew up in the shadow of China on the island of Taiwan. He remembers watching Chinese reconnaissance planes boldly fly over Taiwanese air space in search of any information or activity that might be construed as threatening. Billy Chang knew at an early age that the military would, in some way, be a part of his experience. Now in Orangeburg, Chang now outfits specialized personnel with weapons they can obtain only from him. He personalizes side arms, rifles and other weapons for the individual operator. "Getting a gun from Billy lets you know the difference from going to a tailor and buying off-the-rack," one of his customers was heard to say.
Chang counts among his customer base special operations officers in all branches of the military, United States Marshals, FBI agents, SWAT teams from law enforcement agencies and Drug Enforcement Agency personnel. "I used to build guns for civilians, but now I only serve military and law enforcement," Chang said. "I don't want to think that my guns are being used for something bad, so, this way, I know they're being put to good use."
A quiet, soft-spoken man, Chang, 39, developed his craft over many years. He was in the Taiwanese Army Airborne Unit for four years. He became a small arms technician, first for his unit, then for the several other units in that army. Before his military service, Chang was a competitive shooter, winning more than 50 competitions and building a solid reputation among shooting enthusiasts in many Asian countries. After serving his country, Chang moved to the United States and attended Queens College in New York, where he majored in mechanical engineering.
As a result of his interest and reputation in competitive shooting, he was invited to visit several gun manufacturers to learn how to work on their weapons. He has since paid to attend classes offered by many weapons manufacturers -- including Colt and Smith & Wesson -- to hone his skills even more. It was at one such session that Chang made a name for himself among special operations forces. While attending a session at Colt, he met a SWAT team member from a major metropolitan police force. When Chang explained to him the ways that weapons could be improved and specialized, he asked for a demonstration. Chang produced his personal weapon and showed him how he altered the dimensions and features on the weapon in order that it comfortably fit only him.
One U.S. Army special operations sergeant major, who requested that his last name not be used, praises Chang's technical skill in specializing weapons."Billy fabricates guns from scratch," Jim said. "When he builds my firearms, he makes them like they're his. Special operations forces are a small, tight-knit group. When we find someone who does good work, we recommend him to other special operations personnel. "I've carried Billy's guns all over the world. I've carried his weapons on details where I've protected VIPs on a protective services detail and I've carried them into battle situations. I trust them." Having an in-depth understanding of weaponry, Jim appreciates Chang's efforts to ensure that his weapons fill the bill.
"When you buy a weapon from one of the major manufacturers, you know that they've cut corners to save money," Jim said. "But when you get a gun from Billy, you can be sure that it's made of the best components that can be found on the market. He's no different than a feudal swordmaster who painstakingly made the best weapons possible." Before Chang builds a gun for a person, he gets to know the person. Goes shooting with him. Watches how he shoots, his level of skill. His accuracy. Watches how he stands. Notices his natural rhythm, how quickly he moves. "All of that determines how a person will use a weapon and I have to take all of those things in consideration as I construct a gun for a particular operator," Chang said. "It's very exacting. When I was nine years old, I started studying martial arts -- judo and aikido. I learned concentration and patience and that's what I use in building guns.
"When I finish working on a gun, I go to the range with the operator and let him shoot 400 to 500 rounds, then I make the final adjustments to the scopes and sights. I want my guns to be the best that the person has used." Chang became popular with law enforcement officers after 9-11, when he applied for and was accepted as an U.S. Air Marshal. "After 9-11, I wanted to do something to contribute to the safety of the world," Chang said. "So I thought I would like to make planes safe so that would never happen again." But his dreams were not to be realized. Shortly after learning that he was accepted as an Air Marshal, Chang was involved in an automobile accident that left him unable to walk for several months.
"Doctors said I wouldn't even survive," Chang said. "But that martial arts training again, determination, tenacity and willingness to work hard, brought me back." During his recuperation, Chang made several friends among law enforcement officers and when they learned of his skill as a gunsmith, they sought him out to specialize weapons for them. When they learned of his popularity among special operations forces, they recommended him to members of their SWAT teams, gaining him another specialized customer base. "When I work with a team, I work with the whole team," Chang said. "I spend a lot of range time with them, shooting. A weapon, once built, can't be erased. That's why you must take the time to do them right. And you must know who will be using the weapon, because in the hands of a person, it becomes only 20 percent weapon and 80 percent operator."
Chang came to Orangeburg from New York in 1990. His grandfather lived here. He has chosen to make the Garden City his home as well. "I get the chance to go other places," Chang said. "But for me, Orangeburg is the best place in the world. Orangeburg is my home. Everything that's mine is right here." And while he is here, the world beats a path to his door. Marshals, members of swat teams, special operations forces. All seeking the skill of the gunsmith. All seeking the skill of Billy Chang.
T&D Staff Writer Thomas Brown can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 803-533-5532. Discuss this and other stories online at TheTandD.com.
Whatever you say, Bucky.
"I used to build guns for civilians, but now I only serve military and law enforcement," Chang said. "I don't want to think that my guns are being used for something bad, so, this way, I know they're being put to good use."
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