By Stacy Fisher
A sizable increase in the number of guns sold in the United States over the past several years has bolstered the need for the services of gunsmiths.
Established in 1945, the Lassen Community College gunsmithing program is the oldest gunsmithing curriculum in the United States.
Instructor John Martin says he attended the gunsmithing program at the college in 1992 as a student, and later began teaching classes in 2000.
Students come from all over the US with a variety of backgrounds to attend gunsmithing classes at the college. “A lot of the students I’m seeing enrolling are ex-military,” Martin notes. “There’s a huge demand for these skills. I usually see more jobs available than I have graduating students.”
Demand for classes is high, with enrollment capped at 20-22 new students per academic year, so potential undergraduates must apply early, getting on a waiting list at least one year in advance to reserve a space.
Students enrolled in the two-year program are required to purchase their own personal hand tools, gun cleaning supplies, and consumables, “that also include an assortment of guns that they will use for coursework during the semester,” Martin says. Some students already own the majority of the needed firearms for class study, while others have the ability to borrow required firearms from friends and family members, but most students end up purchasing firearms.
Degreed programs are designed to be comprehensive, spanning the wide spectrum of skills needed to compete in the modern job market. Knowledgeable and fully-credentialed staff, as well as various guest lecturers cover lesson plans in detail, utilizing various technologies to assist students in understanding design, function, and repair of firearms related to specific classes.
Up to 64 certified courses are offered over four semesters, covering general gunsmithing, as well as Certificates of Completion for courses in pistolsmith, riflesmith, basic machine shop, barreling, specific firearms platforms, law enforcement armorers, engraving, knife making, gunsmith machinist and metal finishing. Students learn disassembly and assembly of a large variety of firearms, and attend courses on troubleshooting and cleaning procedures.
The school boasts a large machine shop that students use in their studies. There’s a tremendous amount to learn on the subject, Martin points out. Study is intensive. “Our classroom hours are long, running from 8 a.m. to 5 a.m., Monday through Friday.” Each class builds on the previous class, building up the students’ knowledge. Some weeks, students may need to familiarize themselves with as many as 20 guns.
Additionally, there are lab courses that are offered three nights a week throughout the semester, according to Martin, which allow students ample time to catch up or complete their coursework for each class.
The general public can call the gun shop ahead of time at (530) 251-8809 if they would like students to repair their firearms as part of the students’ studies, but they must match the specified gun type that’s being worked on with a particular class.
The cost of attending the Gunsmithing Program is manageable but can be substantial, Martin says. Students should expect costs to range widely depending on such factors as how many guns students purchase for the program and the options they include, and can range anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000 or more for the two-year program, not including the cost of the course itself and housing. There is one required textbook for the course as well. Different rates apply for California residents, Non-California residents, and Nevada residents. Financial aid may be available to students who meet the qualification requirements. Those with questions concerning financial aid eligibility should contact the Financial Aid Office at (530) 251-8849.
“We also require students to apply to the Department of Justice for background documentation to be submitted prior to enrollment so we know they’re eligible to work on and possess firearms.”
Martin adds that once a student graduates and attains a certificate to practice gunsmithing, he or she can start their own business or can apply for apprenticeships at established shops.
The Gunsmithing Program at Lassen Community College, located inside the Vocational Tech Building, has been providing prepared, quality gunsmiths to the industry since the program’s founding. Lassen Community College is located off Highway 139 in Susanville, California, 96130. Phone: (530) 257-6181. www.lassencollege.edu.