Everyone in the room suits up - foam ear plugs, protective eyewear and oversized ear muffs. The shots ring out one after another. A nearby high-tech digital screen depicts the velocity and accuracy of the ammunition that was just fired.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) National Firearms and Tactical Training Unit (NFTTU) conducts rigorous testing in labs like this one to ensure that firearms, body armor and ammunition carried by ICE agents exceed standards. Testing like this also aids the industry in research and development, creating a better product for small law enforcement agencies that don't have resources to conduct similar testing.
"We trust the manufacturers, but we verify that the product that goes to the field is the best," said Don Mania, ICE supervisory special agent. "Every firearm [and round of ammunition] gets tested and examined to ensure that the product is of the quality we requested."
Mania added, "No other agency does that."
And no other law enforcement agency has a facility like ICE's NFTTU. Nestled in the hills of Pennsylvania, 21 full-time employees supply tactical gear and ordnance support to more than 60,000 federal law enforcement officers and agents across the world, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Federal Protective Service, and soon, the Federal Air Marshals.
"We have hundreds of years of experience dealing with military weapons," said Mania referring to the collective experience of his staff.
That experience enables the NFTTU staff to refurbish and evaluate weapons like no other. They look for microscopic cracks using techniques like air-gauging and magnetic-particle inspections. They also disassemble and rebuild older firearms. By upgrading the stocks and sights and reinstalling pulls, ejectors and extractors, federal law enforcement agents and officers end up with hand-fitted weapons that mass production can't match.
"Our guns have to function in all environments from salt water to the desert," said Mania.
"I would take any of these firearms to defend my life with."