Custom rifle headed to NRA national conventionApril 23, 2014
By JONATHAN STREETMAN
Herald Staff Writer
Growing up just outside the entrance to Ferdinand State Forest, Marvin Kemper was the youngest of seven children and the only son of Cornell Kemper. He shadowed his father’s every move in their workshop, the place where Cornell built custom Kentucky long rifles from scratch. It didn’t take long for the son to take up the father’s craft.
“My sisters didn’t really show any interest in it. But he gave me free reign over the shop,” Marvin, 55, said Tuesday. Now, after decades of practice and more than 30 years of completing orders of intricate long rifles for customers across the country, Kemper has been invited to present one of his guns at this weekend’s National Rifle Association Convention.
The 143rd edition of the NRA’s annual meetings and exhibits are scheduled for Friday through Sunday at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis.
“It’s a big deal,” said Kemper, who now lives outside of Evansville.
He has created other rifles for special occasions or high-profile clients — Kemper preferred not to divulge names of buyers or the prices of his guns — but he’s never handled a project “on this level.”
Kemper is married to the former Karen Wilson of Jasper. He has five sisters — Mary Beckman, Doni Jahn and Jeri Weisheit of Jasper, Elaine Mehringer of Washington and Jeanette Weyer of Louisville.
The invitation to build a custom rifle came directly from Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice-president of the NRA. One of Kemper’s nearby neighbors is state Sen. Jim Tomes, who had heard of Kemper’s abilities and informed LaPierre of the Hoosier’s talent.
It was about a year ago when LaPierre ordered the rifle for the convention specifically as a gift for the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum, which will feature Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sens. Dan Coats of Indiana, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, New York-based radio show host Mark Levin, Milwaukee (Wis.) County Sheriff David A. Clarke, Jr. and Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Kemper decided to recreate a rifle designed and built originally by gunsmith John Small, the same man commissioned in 1801 by William Henry Harrison, the former U.S. President and governor of the Indiana Territory, to design the territory seal. The original rifle sold for $184,000 in a 2011 auction.
“I wanted to give the gun an Indiana connection, seeing as how the convention is in Indianapolis,” Kemper said. “This gun exemplifies that Kentucky rifle style.”
Intricately inlaid with sterling silver, the 46-inch tapered and flared barrel, .45-caliber rifle with a flint lock was made with a piece of curly maple sourced just miles from Kemper’s home at a mill in Posey County. The build on such a model requires a month at the minimum; the research requires even more time.
“My approach is more on studying and getting every element right. I went to great pains to match every detail,” Kemper said.
He began operating Liberty Longrifles LLC out of his St. Wendel workshop as a part-time business about 10 years ago. When, last year, he found he was putting customers on a three-year waiting list, he turned gun making into a full-time profession. He takes pride in the precision and care necessary to create a gun like the one he’s made for the convention, and his engraved name on the barrel proves it.
“This rifle is going to be in someone’s hands in 200 years,” Kemper said. “That’s a very gratifying feeling.”
Kemper will hand-deliver the rifle on stage during the convention to one of the guests of honor, although he’s not sure which one it’ll be. He’s not too concerned about that. The fact that he’ll be among potential presidential candidates and the Colts’ Super Bowl champion kicker is enough.
“What I’m hoping comes out of (the convention) is that they’ll be so pleased they’ll order an annual rifle,” he said. “That would be nice.”
Contact Jonathan Streetman at email@example.com.
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