Dan posted an article yesterday about FN’s Military Collector series and the comments weren’t exactly positive. The internet was all a-flutter when FN announced that their M249 would be available in a semi-auto version for civilian purchase, but the $8,000 price tag seems to have proven too much for some people to handle. Here’s the thing: FN already has a line of FN-15 rifles marketed toward the general consumer. They’re priced competitively with other similar guns. The Collector Series is for a different buyer. It’s a smart move on FN’s part. Here’s why . . .
A few days ago a reporter from The Trace called me to ask a couple of questions about bumpfire stocks. They saw that I’d reviewed one. Rather than soil their hands by actually touching such a firearm they apparently figured it would be more expedient to get my opinion. I cooperated (as part of a long-term scheme to turn them away from the dark side of the force) and told them exactly what I wrote in the review: it’s a gimmick. Things like the SlideFire and Bumpfire stocks are only truly useful as range toys, and even then they’re only fun for a few magazines.
But they sell.
The concept the guys from The Trace were trying to wrap their heads around is the exploding accessory market for the AR-15 rifle. Apparently in their world view firearms owners buy guns fully formed and never change a thing, content to have it look the same way it came from the factory. It makes sense if your only consumer experience is with Apple computers where individuality is a mortal sin and changing anything on the device is impossible, but guns are a whole different beast.
What they couldn’t understand: people might actually want something different. Something unique. Everyone in the free world owns a Bushmaster AR-15 or some equivalent model — a standard gun in a standard configuration that looks just like every other gun. In the post-Newtown buying craze looks weren’t important so long as you got a gun before they were banned and getting the same gun as your neighbor was OK. But when those new gun owners started heading to the range and realized that they owned just another black rifle, they started to feel the need to personalize their guns.
That’s where the Bumpfire stocks and other AR-15 accessories come in. They’re a way of customizing an otherwise generic firearm to make it more fun, more useful and stand out on the range. And that’s the market where the FN Military Collector series lives.
Unless you become filthy rich there’s very little chance you’ll have the resources to own a real live full-auto M249 SAW. Pre-ban samples are as rare as hen’s teeth ($94,000 was the lowest price I saw for a 10-year-old listing). Post-ban samples require a ton of paperwork and more money that the average American doesn’t want to spend. The semi-auto M249 offers a compromise: less than 10 percent of the cost of the real thing with only one percent of the aggravation. Pay the freight and you have something unique on the firing line of your local rifle range.
This is the same market that supports Desert Eagle handguns, the one which sees reproduction Thompson SMGs moving through the supply chain at a reasonable pace. The same group of people who buy those 10/22s that have been jazzed up to look like something different. Some people will pay a premium to be “that guy” at the gun club. The one with the coolest gun. The dude who has an M249 on his mantle. There are people willing to part with large stacks of cash for that experience, and FN is giving them exactly what they want.
FN’s Collector line also appeals to military collectors. In the same way some Porsche collectors obsess about whether your radiator cap is an original, some military collectors look down on you with pity if your Trijicon optic isn’t inscribed with a bible verse. For these collectors an actual M16A4 is out of the question, but a firearm made in the same factory on the same tools with the exact same look and feel (minus one trigger hole) is pretty damn close. Close enough for government work, you might say.
That’s the market for these rifles. Your average Joe isn’t going to run out and buy one of FN’s M4 rifles as his first gun. But it might be something he buys because he was in the military and wants to re-live his service. For collectors, paying $1,700-ish for an as-issued M16 is practically a steal.
Making runs of “as issued” military firearms is nothing new. SIG SAUER has walked this same path with their Mk25 P226 and they’ve seen considerable success. Likewise, FN has decided to make a firearm available to the public for the very first time that’s never been available in a semi-auto version. Yes, they’ll cost a pretty penny, but as one of my friends always says “the loudest boos come from the cheapest seats.”