The first hurdle I encountered in becoming a gunsmith was choosing a school. My criteria were simple. It had to be:
- Close to my home in Arkansas.
- A legitimate school.
- Not buried in snow all winter.
The schools I found broke down into four basic groups:
There are only four community colleges in the US that offer gunsmithing programs that are sanctioned and supported by the NRA:
- Lassen Community College in Susanville, CA
- Trinidad State Junior College in Trinidad, CO
- Murray State College in Tishomingo, OK
- Montgomery Community College in Troy, NC
As you can see, these schools are scattered equally across the nation. Murray State College was my first choice because it's only a five hour drive from the Remote Ranchito, so I can go home on the weekends. MSC also has the best dorm situation of the four, in my opinion.
These programs attract the best instructors and receive material support from the NRA and several firearm-related manufacturers.
The thing that surprised me was how hard it was to apply for the program. My parents were both instructors in the community college system, and I had always been taught that anybody could enroll, no matter what. But the program at MSC requires a background check, a face-to-face interview, and they only accept 20 students per-year. And you have to apply early; they form the classes in April for the following fall. If there's a tie between candidates, they use the date of the application as a tie-breaker, so get your applications in early.
The only non-sanctioned community college program I've heard about is at Yavapai College in Prescott, AZ. I was sorely tempted to apply to this program, as one of my best friends lives in Prescott and I could have crashed with her. But there was a lot of drama involved in her life and I couldn't be sure that the living situation would last two years. If that happened, I would be stuck there with no friends and no way to get home easily.
Besides, the fastest way to kill a friendship is to live with a friend.
Some master gunsmiths offer apprenticeships in their shops. Basically, you work in thier shop for little or no money, and then once you are trained you work for them for a certain number of years. The main advantage is that it doesn't cost much money to the student, and the mentor gets a lot of free labor.
I don't think the apprentice model is a good idea for me. Here are my reasons:
- It takes five years to complete a basic apprenticeship, and then you have to work for a certain number of years before you can strike out on your own.
- Your "diploma" is only as good as the reputation of your mentor.
- Your mentor can fire you at any time, simply because of economics, and you have no recourse.
- You only learn the things that your mentor works on. This leaves large holes in your knowledge.
- Most importantly, you can only learn from your own mistakes. In a classroom environment, you benefit from everyone else's mistakes.
If I was much younger I would be more open to apprenticeship, but I'm running out of time.
If you're planning on opening a shop and becoming a professional gunsmith, video courses are a waste of time and money.
If you are NOT planning on working on anyone else's guns, then you can probably get away with the various video courses you see advertised in gun magazines or on the internet. The only life you are risking is your own. But if you plan to work on other people's weapons, you must get hands-on experience under the direct instruction of qualified teachers.
It's like learning dentristy by mail. If you want to pull your own teeth and save a few bucks, go right ahead. But if you say you're just as good as a real dentist and start working on other people's mouths, you're a douchebag.
Tune in next week when I find out what my father thinks of all this.
Tar isteach agus a chur orthu!