He is one of the last remaining traditional gunmakers in Britian - one of just two in Birmingham’s historic Gun Quarter which was once the proud centre of the world’s gun manufacturing industry.
Steve Horton’s 272 year-old business Hortons & Sons, has supplied guns to Earls, Lords and members of the Royal Family - some of which still sit in the Sandringham Estate Gunroom.
But the tradesaman says these days he’s made to feel like a criminal - and banks place the historic trade into the same category as STRIP CLUBS. There are just 20 gunmakers left in Britain, including the two in Birmingham.
Steve, aged 44, has told of his struggles with keep his business, founded in 1751, going in the modern age because many people consider him a criminal.
Steve believes his ‘artisan craft’ is often misunderstood and a huge stigma still surrounds his historic profession which he feels has become ‘’villainised’. Despite his company being full insured, legal and checked by the police every six months, Steve says people also don’t appreciate gun making as an artform.
The dad-of-five said: “People assume that if you make guns, you must be a killer, but this is far from the truth obviously. Banks put us into the same class as strip clubs which is very ironic as some of our clients are in the bank industry.
“They won’t deal with us, and we struggle to get cards machines or open bank accounts as they see us as a risk to their reputation if anything went wrong with our gun deals.
“They don’t want to deal with us or be seen to be promoting gunmaking - it’s a political hand grenade. But what we do is fully legal, and we are checked by the Home Office and the police check us every six months. I would never sell a gun to anyone I shouldn’t do or who wasn’t licenced. Why would I do that? It would land me in prison for years.”
Steve restarted the family trade in 2012 after it closed in 1939 when his grandfather went off to voluntarily fight in Burma during World War Two. The company now make bespoke guns for all purposes but say most orders are from people who enjoy shooting as a sport.
One of the most famous orders they produced was a set of 20-gauge guns given to the late Queen Mother on her 21st birthday, which remain at Sandringham today.
Despite the long history of his family-run trade, Steve says people fail to see guns as anything more than a weapon used by the criminal underworld.
Steve, from Rednal, added: “There are many people who do not understand shooting as a sport. Back in the day before gun licensing came into effect, it was like the Wild West.
“We are talking a few centuries back, but everyone would walk round and carry guns and pistols for protection. A gunmaker back then was like any other profession and was looked at the same way as someone being a butcher or a tradesman. Now it is very different.
“It does depend on who you speak to as people in the industry understand that a gun is not a weapon and used for sport and shooting. But if someone asks about my job in a pub, most don’t understand. I get asked all the time if what I do is legal and of course it is.
“When there’s been a shooting in the city, people somehow think I’m linked to it. I even had a camera crew outside my shop one time. But I can assure you we are well-to-do businessmen. The trade has got so many negative connotations around it today which didn’t exist back years ago.”
Hortons and Sons make around two bespoke guns a month selling anywhere in the region of £23,000 to £98,000. Over the last decade, Steve has created firearms for clients across the globe including Scotland, America, South Africa and Australia.
An order can take between nine to 18 months to complete, and each gun is engraved by hand with the company’s name on it. Before creating the one of a kind guns, Steve carries out thorough consultations with his clients, advising them on the wood, engraving style and finishes. They are are then made in the shop by two gunsmiths and one engraver.
Steve is confident the business can carry on for centuries to come despite the once- thriving trade declining He added: “We make all the guns in-house with the help from a local engineering firm.
“The only thing we buy in is the barrel tubes as the machinery to make these in the shop is so expensive. My father worked for me for a short time, but he is now fully retired so at the moment, it is just me carrying on the family name.
“I’ve got five boys though so hopefully one of them will carry on the profession. People don’t realise that what we do is a craft. The people that work for me and make the guns, most of them have never fired a gun in their life and never want to. They enjoy the trade and see it as an art and no two guns we make are the same.
“What we do is completely different to those making military weapons. Everything is bespoke, and has to be perfect down to the finest details.
“Shooting as a sport is never going to disappear and I hope this business is successful for generations to come.”
A bit more about the Gun Quarter in Birmingham
Birmingham’s Gun Quarter was for 250 years the centre of the world’s gun-manufacturing industry. Situated slightly north of the city centre, the area specialised in the production of sporting guns and military firearms.
The first recorded gun maker in Birmingham was in 1630, and locally made muskets were used in the English Civil War. Weapons were later made for armies on both sides of the American Civil War and for British forces in both world wars.