Grad Speak: Sonoran Desert Institute Review with Graduate David Rains

  • Drew Poplin

We talk about a lot of different things at the Sonoran Desert Institute blog, but we never get enough chances to check in with our graduates from our Certificate in Firearms Technology – Gunsmithing program!

We believe that it’s important for our grads to share their experiences and reviews at Sonoran Desert Institute, especially as an accredited online gunsmithing school.

So without further ado, here’s an interview with recent SDI graduate David Rains.

David Rains

David Rains, one of SDI’s latest graduates and winner of the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) Outstanding Graduate award, is showing off his cornucopia of firearms parts. Some old, some new, and some were both old and refurbished to look new. As he lists the details of each part, stopping just short of listing the serial numbers, it is clear that he is both passionate and knowledgeable.

I was expecting this. I wasn’t expecting his sense of humor.

To quote the man himself, “I probably wouldn’t be alive if I didn’t have this sense of humor. And it was an outlet. And that was funny because SDI gave me the opportunity to have an outlet for that, for that energy, that same energy I could devote to my comedy…So it gave me the opportunity to get focused and like a Fresnel lens where you would focus down sunlight to achieve a goal. I was able to achieve that with SDI and that I love.”


His chaotic-looking shop highlights his love for firearms. It’s organized chaos, though. Everything has its place, and on closer examination nothing about the space would suggest that David is anything less than fully in control.

“Organization and sorting…isn’t a task. It doesn’t start, it doesn’t stop. There’s a process…It’s a controlled chaos.”

Before I could even attempt to test him on this philosophy, he started to point around the room, naming every piece of equipment and what tools reside in each cabinet. He cites Adam Savage for his concept of “orders of retrievability” and gives credit to his alma mater, SDI. 

“SDI has prepared me for what I need, what I should have, and what I want.”

R. Lee Ermey, Gun-tubers, and SDI

Growing up in a family where guns weren’t a big hobby, Rains had the passion for firearms stoked by the likes of R. Lee Ermey and a host of Gun-tubers. 

“Every weekend, when there wasn’t school, I would just put on modern marvels or locked and loaded or mail call and watch as much information as I could about America’s history and the world’s history with firearms. And that was awesome for years…And then YouTube kicked on.”

R. Lee Ermey was one of many people who first got David into Firearms

However, YouTube’s Firearms Community did more than just expose him to the world of firearms. It also introduced him to his future school.

“I was starting to see SDI ads show up in the Hickock 45 videos and you had demolition ranch…It was probably a year before I enrolled…And I’m like, ” Huh, I could go to school.” I thought, ” I know enough about guns, just passively, that I could get probably get through this pretty easy.” And little did I know I was grossly misinformed. I’ve learned a lot more than I did when I went into it…”

Soon after, in 2019, Rains decide to enroll in Sonoran Desert Institute’s Certificate in Firearms Technology – Gunsmithing program.

Hardships and Perseverance

It’d only be the beginning of David’s roller coaster-like journey. In March of 2019, David faced a staggering challenge when doctors found a tumor in his pituitary gland. Undergoing transsphenoidal surgery in 2020, a procedure that Rains describe delicately as essentially “an [ancient] Egyptian lobotomy,” the surgeons were able to cut off about 20% of the tumor. But there were more troubles on the horizon for Rains.

“I had recovered from brain surgery in March of 2020 and was just like, “Uh, what do I do? I couldn’t work.  My old job at the distillery had closed due to COVID. We had to liquidate everything. So I didn’t really have a purpose. (I) didn’t really have a direction in which to go.”

Ultimately, SDI played a role in helping him find his path.

“I had some tough times going through it. Absolutely. I won’t say that it was easy by any means of the word…For years and years and years, there’d be things that I’d start and never finish and start and never finish and stop…SDI gave me that opportunity to actually finish something…gave me an outlet where I could focus that energy into something and make something of it. And I did.”

Graduation From Sonoran Desert Institute’s DEAC-Accredited Program and Reflection

Through it all, David stayed strong. Not only did he graduate, but he did so in style, becoming a DEAC Outstanding Graduate. 

“…I had no idea you guys would fly me to…Tempe and have a DEAC award, have a big crystal plaque up on my desk in my bedroom that I can just look at like, “I did that? Oh, I did that!” 

David still wasn’t out of the woods. After graduating from SDI in August of 2020, David had a second procedure done that next month to help him stay on top of the tumor and that same year, his old job at a local distillery shut down, meaning that not only was David battling this tumor, he now had to find a new job. 

Luckily, he would not have to wait for long. Impressed by David’s mass of firearms knowledge and training from SDI, Stan’s Merry Mart (a nearly 75-year stalwart in the Washington State retail industry) gave him a job surrounded by what he loves – firearms.

“I have a little lapel pin that I wear on my work shirt that they allowed me to wear on my work shirt when I can bring up, “Well, how do you know so much?” Then I’ll grab the pen and [say] “I’m actually an SDI graduate.”…SDI allowed me to put my money where my mouth is and be a gunsmith.”

The Future and Legacy

Grateful for his time at Stan’s, David intends to help usher the company into its 75th year of existence. On the side, he has been able to do gunsmithing for local customers. For my money, it seems to me that his biggest passion is for restoring older firearms. 

Speaking on what he wants his legacy to be, Rains responded, “…50 years from now, somebody comes to me and says, “Grandpa. I saw one of your guns at the museum,” I’m like, “I’ve done my job.” Like, I’d love to make some cool guns, shoot guns with the boys, you know, all the good stuff that comes with it.

“But my societal goals, personal goals, friendship goals, and family goals [are] I want to keep the wheels of gunsmithing and the gun industry continuing to move for the next hundred years…And it was SDI that helped me pull the trigger on that because I now have the experience and the opportunity to deal with some old guns from the customers.”

I, for one, am looking forward to hopefully seeing some of those firearms in museums one day in the future.

One of David’s restoration projects that he is working on

For more on what David is up to, you can subscribe to his YouTube channel, “David Rains’ Broadside Creations”. 

To read about SDI faculty member, Jacob Burden, click here

Interested in reading more Sonoran Desert Institute reviews? Check out our blog here!

And to learn more about how you can take your journey with SDI, contact us here and we’d be happy to talk with you.

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