[su_heading size=”30″ margin=”0″]The American Gunsmithing Institute Story[/su_heading]
Set Your Own Pace While Learning To Become A Gunsmith
Story by founder and president Gene Kelly
[su_dropcap style=”flat” size=”5″]M[/su_dropcap]y Gunsmithing story started after I graduated from Napa High School in 1975. After a year or so of going to college, I was still trying to find out what I wanted to do in life. Being a gunsmith was suggested by my high school welding shop teacher. He knew I had a huge interest in firearms. I decided to go to Lassen College Gunsmithing School, to check out the program. Unfortunately, I found out there was a four year waiting list to get in. I was told by the senior instructor, Master Gunsmith Robert “Bob” Dunlap, that if I was willing to come up that summer and try and challenge the course I might be able to get in for the Fall program, so I did.
decided to go to Lassen College Gunsmithing School to check out the program. Unfortunately, I found out that there was a 4-year waiting list to get in. I was told by the senior instructor, master gunsmith Robert “Bob” Dunlap, that if I was willing to come up that summer and challenge the course, I might be able to get in for the fall program – so I did.
We ended up having 108 hours of core design, function and repair instruction for centerfire rifles, shotguns, pistols and rimfire rifles on video.
I worked from the moment they opened the shop in the morning to when they kicked me out at night. I passed the test and was invited back to start that fall in 1977. I went through the enitre 2.5-year program. After graduating, Bob asked me if I wanted to work for him in his gunsmithing shop, because in addition to teaching, he maintained a full-time gun shop. I learned a lot working there, however my girlfriend and family lived in the San Francisco bay area so I returned home and worked for another shop as a gunsmith.
I became a California deputy game warden for a while and afterward started and operated several successful businesses including a firearms accessories manufacturing company and a security company. During this time I developed an expertise for creating training courses that were taught entirely on video, and found that they were very successful as teaching tools.
As I considered how to best preserve and teach a gunsmithing course on video, I knew that the best person to teach it would be my college gunsmithing instructor, Bob Dunlap. At that time, Bob was still teaching at Lassen. I sat down with him and talked about his teaching method. I realized that none of his programs had ever been written out. It was all in his head and he was getting ready to retire. All all of this knowledge would be lost. Nobody else was capable or ready to take over teaching his system. I decided that I just couldn’t let that happen.
Bob’s method was unique because he taught design, function and repair; the theory being that you can’t fix something unless you truly understand how it works. Anyone else is who we call in the industry a “part swapper,” – someone who just orders and installs parts until the problem goes away without really understanding the why or how of fixing it. That’s dangerous! As students, when Bob gave us tests, they were oral exams in front of all the other students, so you just couldn’t fake it. If he thought you did not fully know the answers, he would ask “Oh, really? Well, what if this happens?” You really had to know how everything worked and that’s what made us the cream of the crop in terms of new gunsmiths. This is the level of knowledge that I wanted to provide to my students at the American Gunsmithing Institute; but in an easy-to-learn, more accessible format – video.
Qualified gunsmiths are in demand and are making more money.
I convinced Bob to teachhis entire method on video. We began documenting his design, function and repair course. It took over 2 years; and we ended up having 108 hours of core design, function and repair instruction for centerfire rifles, shotguns, pistols and rimfire rifles on video. Thus the American Gunsmithing Institute was born in 1993. There was nothing like it at the time and there hasn’t been anything like it since. Today we are still continuing to preserve gunsmithing knowledge through the addition of new courses.
I could see the huge need in the US for gunsmiths. We have over 200 million firearms in this country, and at any given time 10 to 20 percent of those are in some need of cleaning, repair or customizing. We’re talking about tens of millions of firearms. There were a lot of gunsmiths after WWII, and these people are now in their 70s, 80s and even 90s or have passed on or retired.
Gunsmithing programs were only offered at a couple of campus-based schools, and most people couldn’t afford to attend them so the number of gunsmiths continued to decline. The first problem is that a traditional school could only have a certain number of people in a class. Second, you had to give up your income, travel to another place and live there for 2.5 years. Very few people could afford to do that. So, here we had a growing need, which put our freedoms at risk and the “sit in the classroom” style of slow learning was becoming outdated.
Bob’s teaching methodology combined with video techniques, we developed and created a unique teaching method. We’ve gone on to use this same method to teach people welding, machining, locksmithing and other trade skills. So that’s kind of how the whole thing got started.
The entire firearms industry has changed a lot over the years. It has certainly grown into a multi-billion dollar business, but the main designs of the firearms themselves have not changed all that much. There have been a few significant material and cosmetic changes such as with the Glock, but not much has changed to the mechanisms used. On the other hand, things have certainly changed in the gunsmithing arena. Qualified gunsmiths are in demand and are making more money. There have also been changes in the way people learn, and I think we’ve helped that change along. Because of the video revolution, people now can learn through distance education. They can learn about Gunsmithing at home, in their spare time, when they want to. This allows more people to get into the industry.
The Internet has obviously changed things, because there is a lot more information readily available. Some of it’s erroneous, but some of it is very good. This allows for lightning-fast research to find the different things you need in the way of information, parts, and tools. The delivery method of information has been the biggest change in the industry in my time. The actual work we do, other than the materials, hasn’t changed that much.
The most dramatic change to the industry was the American Gunsmithing Institute (AGI) bringing step by step video instruction into the market. If a picture’s worth 1000 words, then moving pictures with words are worth tens of thousands. Trying to explain something in a book, like how to move a spring under the leg of this particular arm and hook it into here with this amount of tension, is just very difficult to do. On video we can show and tell you how to do it. Most people these days are not efficient and effective readers of technical data, but almost everyone knows how to learn by watching somebody do something, or by watching video and hearing them describe what they are doing, so that’s how we teach.
You set the pace, don’t let someone else’s teaching style set it for you.
Most people these days are not efficient and effective readers of technical data, but almost everyone knows how to learn by watching somebody do something, or by watching video and hearing them describe what they are doing, so that’s how we teach.
If firearms can’t be repaired, having 200 million of them is of little value to the American people. Firearms do many things. Not only do they protect the country, they protect through our law enforcement personnel, they protect individuals in their homes, they provide for recreation, and they provide for the continuing of the traditions of hunting, collecting, or target shooting. Even as a hobby, it’s quite probable that you are going to want professional level knowledge. Most of us, when we pursue a hobby, want to do it well. If you’re going to do this professionally, you need to look at more than the learning of the trade itself. That’s where many people get focused as technicians, they only want to learn the technical aspect. Still, a professional Gunsmith also needs to become aware of what it takes to operate a successful business. We do all we can to provide our students with educational material in that area. Real world, not just the things you learn in a textbook. This is stuff I’ve learned over 30 years of running successful businesses.
Regular classes are usually taughtat the speed of the slowest learner in the class, but our programs don’t punish anybody. I believe in speed learning, so if you’re capable of completing the course in 90 days, going through all the material and understanding it, and completing the certification tests, then God bless you. You should be able to do that. If, on the other hand, you’re someone who doesn’t have the time to focus and it’s going to take two years to do the same thing; then God bless you too. You should be able to do that. You set the pace, don’t let someone else’s teaching style set it for you.
If you want to learn at the fastest speed possible, if you want to do it at home so that you don’t have to give up your job and be away from your family, if you want to do it at a fraction of the cost of a campus based school, then you really need to seek out distance education. AGI is the only distanced course that offers the design, function and repair technique, the customized techniques, add on materials, and the extended skills such as machining and welding. It’s also the only course taught entirely on video. Of course, nobody else provides you the level instruction we do in the area of business skills needed to be successful.
A true gunsmith is able to analyze a system, determine what’s wrong and make the repair, often with the existing parts. That means if a part is broken, they can weld it, fit it and fix it. They can shape a new part, they can heat treat when needed. And, whatever they put in there will function safely and properly. That is exactly what our design function and repair course teaches.
Every one of our instructors learned what they’re teaching, not out of a text book or out of a class room or from creating a lesson plan, but from real world experience based on thousands of hours of learning the hard way, so that our students don‘t have to.
include a marketing manual to help the student or business owner market their business successfully. We created an 11 CD series called “ The Business Success Toolbox” and that is essentially a mini-MBA program, created by myself and based on my many business successes along with April Palmer, a business coach who has worked with over 500 businesses of all varieties.
Don’t wait for somebody else to do it, don’t wait for somebody else to hand it to you or fund it. Choose to do what you want to do, get the knowledge you need, then move on creating your own personal success. ASJ