“The firearms industry has been very healthy. Demand has
remained fairly constant.”
KEITH GIPSON, dean of instruction, Trinidad State Junior College
haven’t changed in a long time—basic hand skills
and parts-fitting and things like that haven’t changed
in 300 years,” he says. “We do try to stay current with
modern technology and developments.”
When the program started in 1947, the largest
gun shop in the country was located in Trinidad,
and returning World War II veterans had a
renewed interest in shooting and gunsmithing.
“The demand overwhelmed a local business,”
Gipson says. Although the town of Trinidad is no
longer a center of gunsmithing, a “tremendous
demand” remains, Gipson says, with jobs posted
in the career center sometimes outnumbering
graduates, about 17 per semester, by a ratio of 3
or 4 to 1.
“An older generation of gunsmiths is retiring,”
he says. “People are looking for replacements.
Companies like Sportsman’s Warehouse have
added a gunsmithing program that they plan
to have in various retail outlets. The firearms
industry has been very healthy. Demand has
remained fairly constant.” To ensure that the
program keeps up with demand, Trinidad State
turns to an advisory committee of people in the
industry who make recommendations, he says.
To recruit students, Gipson attends industry
shows to meet contacts, taps advisory board members
and sets up a booth at the National Rifle Association’s
annual meeting with other NRA-affiliated
gunsmithing schools, Gipson says. Trinidad State
also offers one- or two-week seminars during the
summer that people can attend and get a taste of
what gunsmithing entails—and then enroll in
the full-time program.
Serendipitously, the college has enjoyed a fair
amount of national publicity in recent years, with
articles in three national magazines, including one
in Women & Guns that featured a Trinidad State
student on the cover, and spots on a few television
programs, including the show “NRA All Access” on
the Outdoor Channel. “We seem to be at the top of
the conversation when anybody says, ‘gunsmithing
school,’” says Greg Boyce, director of communications.
Like other colleges, not every niche program
Trinidad State has tried ended up lasting. An
underground mining program that lasted for
many years faded along with the industry, while
a musical instrument repair and maintenance
program started in the late 1970s only lasted a few
years, perhaps because little of that industry is in
or near Colorado, Gipson says.
Others continue to thrive, like a heavy
equipment operations program developed with
help from energy companies, a line technician
program created in partnership with the utility
department of Colorado Springs (and based in
that city), and a variety of dental assistant and
nurse aide programs that have the support of
local human service agencies. “We are always
looking at opportunities, looking at possible programs, and seeing whether they’re practical or
feasible,” Gipson says.
Ed Finkel is an education writer based in Illinois. I m