TISHOMINGO — Located deep in the heart of southern Oklahoma, a unique and beneficial course is being taught at Murray State College.
Since 1979, Murray State College has offered gunsmithing courses on campus, where students can learn the art of making and repairing firearms.
Murray State is one of four colleges in the United States that is accredited under the National Rifle Association.
Two of the instructors of the gunsmithing program are former students themselves.
Gunsmithing instructor and NRA Coordinator Chad Mercer graduated from the program in 2003, and has run his own gunsmithing shop in Stratford, since 2004. Mercer has been an instructor at Murray State since 2011.
Another instructor in the program is John Tremblay. Tremblay was a member of the United States Army for 21 years before graduating from Murray State in 2014.
After receiving their education, 90 percent of students It in the program have found jobs after graduation, Mercer said.
“That is kind of how we look at our gunsmithing program, our goal is to get students jobs out here in the workforce,” Tremblay said. “That is our main goal - to place students in jobs.”
Students have accepted employment all over the United States, from Alaska to Florida. With the help of their instructors, students have received jobs with some of the biggest brand names in gun making.
“We are placing students now with the Remington Customs shop in Sturgis. We got a couple of guys who have gone up to the Department of Energy and we’ve got guys that have gone to the Army Marksmanship unit,” Mercer said. “These are what we kinda consider as the best jobs in the gunsmithing field. These are the most desirable.”
During the summer, anyone interested in learning gunsmithing can enroll in the week-long courses for $300. Students will not receive a degree but will a receive a certificate for each class they attend.
One student has traveled from Ottawa, Canada, for the past three years to participate in the gunsmithing program, and said he comes to Oklahoma to gain the knowledge he needs to prepare for a career after retirement.
During the summer, students do not need pre-requisites to attend the classes. Students interested in obtaining a degree from Murray State must participate in general education classes, and have to apply to enter into the gunsmithing program.
Another benefit of the program is helping the local community. People from around the area can bring in their firearms, and students help fix as well as customize their firearms for a nominal fee. The hands-on training the students receive helps them to learn job skills for the workforce, Tremblay said.
“We get a lot of farm guns sent in that have been sitting in barns or bouncing around on tractors, and that is perfect work for our students,” Tremblay said. “They get to see fairly complex repairs and get to work on guns and restore them back into working order.”
Applications are being accepted currently, with the admission process taking place in the fall to join next year’s class. The program only has room for 30 students per year.
“When these guys leave here and they have that resume where they have custom firearms training, there is no one else in the country that is applying for a job that has received that kind of training,” Mercer said. “Nobody beats our candidates out. We are very  proud of our custom gun making program. It is the area we take a lot of pride in.”