Reader Shea writes:
Nick, I have a real love/hate relationship with your gun reviews. On one hand I love that you are not afraid to be honest regarding how you feel about any particular weapon. You are so quick to call out a gun for what it is and even more importantly what it isn’t. That being said I have fallen in love with several guns in the past due to their reviews in other publications only to have my dreams of obtaining the perfect piece for a given application squashed due to your brutal honesty of how the manufacturer of said firearm has fallen short. My question for you is about the nature of your relationship with the manufacturers. . .
Do they like you, or do they hate you? Gun makers spend millions of marketing dollars getting the photos of their newest offerings in front of gun buyers around the country. The writers at the gun mags seem to never fear handing out a favorable review in order to get their hands on some of those marketing bucks. I don’t even know that i can remember a time when I read a review in a gun mag that really busted a maker for allowing something terrible out to market.
Have you had trouble getting the gun makers to send you their T&E guns out of fear that you may tell the truth about what they are selling?
Despite my feelings about the love affairs you have ended between me and some of the weapons out there, I must thank you for the helpful information you have provided in your reviews. In a world where good gun reviewers are willing to prostitute them selves out for the almighty dollar, it’s nice to know there is a place to go where someone isn’t afraid to tell it like it is.
The nice thing about being an independent firearms publication is that we aren’t beholden to the gun companies and that’s what enables us to write the “take no prisoners” kinds of reviews that we’re known for.
Take, for example, the NRA’s American Rifleman. The editor of that fine publication told me to my face when I was interviewing for a job there that they don’t print negative reviews of anything. Only the most glowing reviews make it into print, which means that if you’re a writer there’s no way to get paid unless the review is positively gushing. Even the selection of which firearm to review depends on how much that company has donated to the NRA, or so my industry contacts tell me. It’s a game of keeping the NRA and the publication funded, not providing accurate reviews.
At TTAG, we don’t take money from gun companies. Well, not directly anyway, and not in sufficient quantities that pissing them off would constitute a serious cash flow issue. It ensures that we never find ourselves in a position where we need to decide between publishing a negative review and paying for the month’s hosting fees.
While the money side is solid no matter what reviews we publish, there are other effects from negative reviews. The majority of the guns we review come to us from the manufacturers on “T&E” (testing & evaluation) loan. The guns visit us for free, and we send them back when we’re done. It makes the process of getting the guns much easier, but there have been times where we’ve needed to write some brutal reviews of T&E guns. Some of those companies have pretty much severed all ties with us as a result.
A prime example would be Swarovski. We reviewed one of their scopes a while back and I didn’t think much of it. There were some minor issues that kept it from reaching its full potential and instead of accepting the criticism and possibly fixing the issue they demanded that we change the article. Then they refused to even talk to us at trade shows. I literally had a Swarovski representative walk up to me at the SHOT Show, then turn right around and walk away as soon as he saw my name tag. Needless to say we didn’t change the article, and while they were pissed for a while they’re at least talking to me again.
One company that outright refuses to even talk to us is DS Arms. I’m not sure exactly what torqued their panties, but they never respond to our emails and refuse to give us the time of day at trade shows. That’s why you don’t see reviews of their products here – we haven’t been able to get our hands on any of them. Probably fear we’ll out their guns as junk, but since I haven’t tested them we’ll never know for sure.
On the other end of the spectrum is Ruger. They sent me their American Rifle to review and I didn’t particularly like it. It was good for a budget gun, but had so much wasted potential and I pointed that out. Nevertheless, they seem to realize that just because we might not like one of their guns, that doesn’t mean that we hate them or the rest of their products. That’s why they’ve sent me their SR-762 rifle to review (which I’m really looking forward to testing).
So some gun companies send us T&E guns and some won’t. But either way, eventually we’ll review their guns. We have relationships with certain retailers like the Kentucky Gun Company that feed us some of the latest and greatest gats as soon as they hit the shelves. That’s how I was able to play with MasterPiece Arms’ new MAC-10 thing. That’s also where we picked up the Colt Mustang XSP.
Sometimes, if we can’t access a particular gun any other way, we have some spare change we can use to buy guns we’re interested in testing and sell them when we’re finished. So for those gun companies that simply refuse to even talk to us, we’ll still review their guns. The only negative is, we don’t have the benefit of being able to ask questions we may have or discuss issues we encounter before the review is posted.
And yes, in the spirit of full disclosure, if there’s something wrong with a gun we usually contact the manufacturer first. It’s always possible that we have a lemon, so we’ll give them the opportunity to address problems we find. We’ll always discuss those issues in the article, but by working with us instead of cutting us off, they’re given the opportunity to try and make the gun right.
So I guess, in answer to your question, it’s a mixed bag. Some companies refuse to work with us because they fear what an unbiased, unpaid review will bring. Others throw guns at us and fully understand that not every SKU in their collection is going to be a winner. It varies from company to company, but the fact that we have over 1.2 million readers every month makes most firearms makers cooperative.
I really cherish the ability to be honest about guns I don’t like. TTAG gives me that ability so long as I stick to the facts and keep personal biases out of the mix. Point in case: my GLOCK 17 Gen 4 review. I hate everything about GLOCKS, but I was unable to give it a bad review — the facts just didn’t support it. And while Robert and Dan have my back in terms of opinion, factual errors are the one thing we’ll change in a review if we get something wrong. I’ve been offered writing gigs at other gun review-generating publications, but that freedom is what keeps me writing for y’all here — for free, or nearasdamnit — on the internet.