How long have you been involved in this industry and how did you start AGI?
Well I have been working in the firearms industry since I was in my late teens. I started AGI in 1993 based upon seeing an increased demand for Gunsmiths in the firearms industry. I realized that there was a growing need to train new gunsmiths on a faster and more efficient basis.
My Gunsmithing story starts 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 had been suggested to me by a former Napa High School welding shop teacher as he knew I had a huge interest in firearms. So I went to Lassen College to check out the program and found out there was a four year waiting list to get in. I was told by the senior instructor 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 and worked from the moment they opened the shop in the morning to when they kicked me out at night. Well, I did pass the test and was invited back to start that fall in 1977. I went through the entire 2 1/2 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, so I did. I learned a lot working there, but because I had my girlfriend and family down in the San Francisco Bay Area, I returned there and worked for another shop as a gunsmith.
After that I worked as a California Deputy Game Warden for a while and then 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. We 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, my “Sensei” if you will, Master Gunsmith Robert “Bob” Dunlap. At that time Bob was still teaching at Lassen College Gunsmithing School.
I sat down with Bob and talked about his teaching method. I realized that none of his program had ever been written out, it was all in his head, he was getting ready to retire and all of this would be lost. Nobody else was capable or ready to take over teaching his Gunsmithing System. It was all going to disappear! I decided that I just couldn’t let that happen.
His 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 what we call 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. And that’s dangerous!
As students, when Bob gave us tests, they were oral exams in front of all the other students, so you just could not fake it. If he thought you did not fully know the answers, he would ask “oh, really? Well what else, 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. And that is the level of knowledge that I wanted to provide to AGI students, but in an easy to learn, more accessible format, using video.
So I convinced Bob to teach his entire method on video. We began documenting his design, function, and repair course working on weekends and it took over 2 years. It ended up being 108 hours of core design, function, and repair instruction in 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.
The reason that I created AGI was I could see the huge need in the United States 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, I mean we’re talking tens of millions of firearms need work.
There were a lot of gunsmiths after World War II and these people would now be in their 70s, 80s and even 90s and they have either passed on or retired. Gunsmithing programs were only offered at a couple of campus based schools and most people could not afford to attend them so the number of gunsmiths was continuing to decline.
The first problem is, they could only have so many people in a class. Second, you had to give up your income, travel to some other place and go live there for two and half 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.
So, using Bob’s teaching methodology combined with the video techniques we developed, we 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.