A few weeks back, I talked about the design of guns focusing on truly useful features. Today, I want to talk about something beyond mere utility: beauty. It cannot be beyond the ability of America’s gun industry to produce firearms that are reasonably-priced, reliable, aesthetically pleasing, and also made of plastic or some other similar light weight material for ease of carrying. Yet this doesn’t seem to be what they’re doing.

One hundred years ago, this is what the semi-automatic looked like:

Today, this is what we’re seeing:

Here’s what a rifle looked like 70 years ago:

Here’s what we’re seeing today:

Yes, it’s true, in many cases in the firearms world, form follows function. Reliability, ergonomics, these truly are the most important thing when you’re counting on a gun to win the competition, to deliver your next meal or to clear the bad guys out of your path to get you home at night. But does the form have to be this ugly?

I think we know the answer to this: no, not at all. Guns can be functional, reliable, and still look good. The problem is, as TTAG reader Dyspeptic Gunsmith put it:

The thing about 1911 triggers is this: Can you achieve very nice triggers in a 1911? Yes, absolutely…. It takes skilled hands and some time – two things that make modern manufacturing management shriek like the Devil was force-fed a communion wafer.

Modern management wants to eliminate skilled employees no matter where they are in the organization, no matter what they do. The structure of government mandates, safety regulations, parasitic lawyers, unions, etc make employees a liability now, not an asset. Couple that with a consumer that gets offended if you price a gun at something over $1,000, and you have the current state of the market.

You’d still need to clean it more than a GLOCK, though. Via wikipedia.

DG was talking about utility but when the question is focused on aesthetics…well, forget it. In the modern era, we don’t want — or at least haven’t been asking for — weapons with the beauty, elegance, and effectiveness of a samurai sword. Why go through all the effort for a functional weapon that is borderline art, when when a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire can do the job?

Maybe there’s a pragmatic reason to think about aesthetics, though. It sure seems as though the visceral objections that some people have to modern rifles is the fact that they are black, and made of plastic, and don’t have the organic look and feel that a rifle with wood furniture does.

Take reflection and reason out of the picture, ignore the rationalizations we all provide for our decisions, and just think about what you feel when you look at a rifle made of metal and wood vs. one made of metal and plastic.

Via outdoorhub.com

Even Adam Winkler, a scholar on gun laws and author of Gunfight — and not a gun rights advocate by any stretch — acknowledges that aesthetics plays a role in anti-gun politics:

The only thing unique about assault rifles is their menacing name and look, and it is these elements that make them such an appealing — if not particularly sensible — target of gun control advocates.

California was the first state to ban the weapons. It happened in 1989, after a shooter used one to kill five schoolchildren in Stockton. A federal ban went into effect in 1994 and then “sunsetted” in 2004. Today, eight states, including California and New York, have assault weapon bans on their books.

The laws, however, are largely ineffectual. Because these guns are really just ordinary rifles, it is hard for legislators to effectively regulate them without banning half the handguns in the country (those that are semiautomatic and/or have detachable magazines) and many hunting rifles as well.

It makes me wonder: Have we as a community, by continuing to buy weapons for their menacing look, and not being willing to pay a premium for rifles with a look that has more warmth about them have been aiding and abetting the gun control zealots?

Obviously, rifles and handguns are weapons, and in accord with Negan, sometimes having a weapon that looks evil aids the cause of self-defense. And cost is always a factor. But maybe we should ask for a little more in the aesthetics department from our firearms, whatever material they’re made from.

 

80 Responses to Gun Design: Is There No Beauty In Plastic?

  1. The original M&P was pretty decent looking for a polymer gun, particularly if you give the rear palm swell and the matching part in front a different color..

    • Looks like Lucid. Brownells carries them; there are a number of companies that make wood AR furniture.

    • While this AR is a beautiful piece of work, I wonder how that wooden front grip will stand up to a series of mag dumps.

    • If you’d prefer to build one yourself, Ironwood Designs used to make wood furniture sets for AR’s that you would sand and stain yourself. Right now, their AR page says under construction, but their AK and FAL pages are live. I have one of their sets on my FAL, and it looks exquisite.

      http://imgur.com/uzNDnrK

      • I have their triangular A2 rifle length set in Walnut on my AR. Matthew the owner even custom cut the hanguard to fit my bull barrel for a minimal fee.
        I am a very satisfied customer.

  2. I actually prefer the look of a modern rifle or handgun to the old wood and steel designs.

    It’s one of those “form follows function” things. While many people diss Glock for their aesthetic, I actually like it. It’s a handgun. It doesn’t make any pretenses about being anything else and every design choice puts functionality first with aesthetics a distant second.

    • I also have never understood the hatred for Glock. I’ve always rather liked how they look. Now that new Beretta on the other hand….

  3. A person that buys a gun for its beauty is as much a collector as a shooter. And there are companys that cater to such folk.

    But as the fastest growing segment of gun owners appear to be self defense pistol types utility would seem to be the driving force of this wave of gun folk.

    Utility and price go hand in hand. In our America today taxes are high. Gas is high. Property values are high. Wages are not high. Price, whether we like it or not, is a major player.

    It’s a guess on my part. But I’m willing to bet that if the baseline price for a basic self defense pistol was a thousand dollars we would see a 75% reduction in new gun buyers.

    Not wishing to spend a thousand or more on a gun is not a sign of cheapness on the part of Americans. It’s a sign of the realities of the modern world.

    • The only gun that I have that is over a thousand is my AR and I bought that when I had more disposable income, and less responsibilities.

  4. Bottom line, there are people that like fine art, and people that like velvet Elvis’. People who like a good movie, and people that want to see the latest Fast & Furious.

    I own a glock, it sits in its safe, and gets cleaned once a year, and fired never. A Fine revolver, or a nighthawk custom will always be better than plastic, anyone saying otherwise is rationalizing.

    …that said, the glock in the hand beats the table lamp when the wolves come prowling down the hall.

    • “A Fine revolver, or a nighthawk custom will always be better than plastic”

      That all depends on how you define “better”, doesn’t it? I can think of several ways that most off-the-shelf plastic semiautos are “better” than the finest Korth or classic custom Colt revolver you can buy. Not rationalizations, but quantifiable, objective measures, like ammunition capacity. So you’re going to need less vague language than just “better”.

  5. Not to mention the sig 2022, looks like the rest of the sig sauer line. Then you have the the hk p series which are nicely curvaceous multi colored. there’s the p99/, ppq. Then there’s the calico carbines because “space age” became a fad. I only own a glock 35 because Legos/reliability. I tend to stay away from the blocky stuff

  6. Impossible, no. But wood will always be inherently more “warm and fuzzy.”

    However, if we were all shooting Colt Pythons and Springfield M1As instead of Glocks and AR15s, then that’s what the insensible gun-control advocates would be targeting.

  7. I don’t mind how plastic guns look besides a Hi-Point. Although, 1911’s look fantastic engraved than Glocks. Engraved plastic guns look tacky.

  8. “Henry Ford is ruining the motorcar, now all the poors can have one too,
    Belvedere, pass me my Mashie Niblick and a julep.”

  9. GLOCKs look good because they’re sleek. The way the slide is smooth and unadorned except for clean geometric serrations on the back end, and especially the way the barrel locks up perfectly flat with the top of the slide.

    Calling GLOCKs ugly is just sour grapes. They have a different type of beauty.

    • Quote:
      “GLOCKs look good because they’re sleek . . .
      Calling GLOCKs ugly is just sour grapes. They have a different type of beauty.”

      TURDs look good because they’re sleek . . .

      Calling TURDs ugly is just sour grapes. They have a different type of beauty.

    • I could say exactly the same thing about my Kahr, except that my Kahr has a stainless slide. IN fact, I didn’t like the matter finish so much, so I polished the sides of the slide, leaving only the top matte. I added a Hogue Hand All for comfort, but it is aesthetically pleasing as well. I bet it looks much nicer than your Glock. It’s a lot thinner too. True, it only carries 8 rounds, but since I am limited to 10 here in California, I’ll take the thinness and inherent concealability over a ten round Glock Gen 3 any day. And being a plain Jane “C” series, I bet it cost less.

  10. I agree newer firearms don’t have the class of older moldels, but the politics side of the argument just isn’t so. The NFA was enacted when all guns of that era looked pretty elegant. Didn’t stop them from banning Thompsons which are downright sexy. AK’s are primarily wood stocked and the liberals still want those banned. The anti gun people will always be going after guns until they are all banned.

  11. None nada zero.
    I own one plastic gun a Canik and its the least used gun I own.
    All my other 12 guns are all steel and my next one will be too.

      • They might I don’t know??
        I bought the Canik to find out what all the fuss was about plastic guns. Not impressed much
        I also dont know anyone who actually owns a glock much less carrying one.
        Weird……I should get to know more gun carriers. I guess Id find one someplace.

  12. I have to agree with the general thesis of this argument. Our culture is obsessed with functionalism. From our buildings such as skyscrapers, suburban box houses, court houses that look like prisons, churches that look like malls, and many other examples, our society is obsessed with functional. At one time aesthetics truly were part and parcel of the overall design. Just look at a great cathedral from the past vs our modern equivalents. Even small row houses of the past had artistic beauty integral to what it means to be human as compared to the soulless boxes being put up scarring the land. (At least here in Colorado) I like my firearms to be first functional and then second to give a brief glimpse of the designs art. A handgun may never approach a samurai sword but a nicely made revolver or 1911 has its own unique character. To many of the modern plastic fantastics leave me bored and cold. Beauty is in my thoughts to important to ignore in our short life. Where beauty is involved and the function is nearly equal, I will take a Mustang over a Camry, a brick bungalow over a suburban box, and a pre 64 model 70 Winchester over a Ruger American rifle. I have my black rifles, and a functional Honda Accord but there pure functionality seems to forget the spirit. I also own a classic Mustang. To each there own and some people need the pure functional to take care of business, I get that. If you have the ability however treat yourself to a fine piece of gun art, you will not regret it. Happy Easter everyone.

  13. our modern manufacturing techniques mirror the techniques used to make guns like the Sten and M3 grease.

    The technology is now more precise and the guns function well and are pretty accurate.

    Even traditional steel weapons are now made with MIM parts to avoid lots of hand fitting.

    If you want utility art, get a 1950s or 60s Smith and Wesson or an old Mauser now while you can.

    Always been about utility. Even pedestrian guns used to require lots of hand fitting compared to modern marvels.

  14. All but 2 of my guns are wood and steel. I have a very pretty K80 that I like a lot but I also like my little Ruger LC9s. There is something to be said for the beauty of a well designed firearm regardless of its construction.

    • Have a mix of stainless steel guns with wood or synthetic stocks and polymer framed guns, like them all. I really like the sleek looks of my LCP Custom, LC9S, SR9C & 9E. The again the elegant beauty of the all SS Mk III Hunter with a fluted barrel & the Single Ten are timeless classics.

  15. Can’t disagree, but there is a good segment of the populace who still buy the good stuff no matter the price.
    They like elegance. Their tastes favor beauty and function.
    $120,000 rifle? No problem.
    $50,000 dollar shotgun? Yup.

    • As a consumer I see no problem at all with the folks that can buy a 120 thousand dollar rifle.

      But for every high end rifle there are a 100 thousand combat tupperwares made and sold at 500 bucks each. The high end rifle probably takes 60+plus grand to turn out and only so many can be made per year.

      The tupperware probably costs 50 bucks to make and the sky’s the limit on numbers made.

      If I was a gun maker I know the business model I would follow.

  16. My most often used are plastic fantastics but that’s only because the “pretty” ones are almost all inherited and hold way more sentimental value than it’s worth to beat them up. That said, once fall hits, I’m planning on carrying my hi-power or 1911 over my shield and I plan on hunting with my BAR (weather permitting).

    • Oooooh! Oooooh! I want to hunt with a BAR!!!! Or just take one to the range and go broke swapping magazines as fast as I can! Or even just sit and admire one, or watch someone else fire it while I’m listening to that sweeeeeet sound!

      Wait, what did you say? It’s not a…

      Oh. Never mind………………

  17. I pretty much like guns in general. I own a lot of modern stuff, and I own a lot of milsurps. But, when I hit gun stores, the first thing I do is hit the milsurps section (if they even have one anymore), then the used handgun section, then I look at the new stuff. I pass over ARs and AKs as I build both of them myself and new factory built versions are of little interest to me. I will check out the non AR and AK rifles that I don’t own yet, just for the heck of it.

  18. There is no reason why a polymer gun cannot be a be more artfully designed without increasing the cost. Plastic can be molded and while it will never have the look and feel of wood and steel a gun made from hydrocarbons can still have classic lines.

  19. An “ugly” gun in the hand is better and than a pretty one behind the counter. Many people cannot afford to pay more for a firearm when the mass produced ugly ones are stretching the bank. If you want to just look at
    aesthetically pleasing guns go to a gun show or look at pictures on the net. If you want something special build your own like JW Taylor did here. It seems he likes it and that thing has more soul than Barry White in church.

    Many people around the world would be thrilled to own a single shot shotgun. This is truly a first world problem. Let us be thankful and grateful for our guns and good problems this Easter/Passover weekend 🙂

  20. the only plastic gun i would consider at this point is a p07.
    it is also, to me, just about the most hideous looking design i can imagine.

  21. I once new an artist with no talent. He never could find a brush that was good enough.

  22. I like the look of the springfields I just wish they didn’t have to literally print “grip zone” and such on them.

  23. I’ve been debating that exact wood AR furniture for a while. It looks super sleek. However, I’m not taking that gun to the next BLM riot. I love the wood stock Ruger 10/22’s, but the polymer ones feel and shoot better to me.

  24. I currently don’t own any firearms that are beautiful. I think Glocks are soulless pieces of plastic and steel but they work every-time I pull the trigger so I own them. Same with all my firearms, they are tools to me and I’m not going to go out an buy a hammer because it’s pretty over one that just works and is affordable enough that I can still buy nails.

    I can appreciate a well made and good looking weapon but I want a weapon that meant to be used and used hard give me a beautiful firearm and it will have scratches from rough and tumble use. My AR has gouges out of the hand guard where I dropped into the prone to engage targets, my pistols have scratches from being in the holster and sliding behind a barricade. so between $500 dollar glock or a custom 1911 out which would serve me better? I’ll stick with what works for me and leave the pretty guns for those with a gentler touch.

  25. I’m about 50/50.
    I have some plastic fantastics and some very nice wood stocked shotguns and rifles.
    1911 and a model 19 with wood grips. Also have another 1911 with hogue grips.
    I shoot them all and each one is my most favorite.
    That being said there is, at least to me, nothing quite like a wood stock or grips. The wood working and craftsmanship is beautiful. But I get the appeal of the function over form of today. Just can’t build them fast enough otherwise.

  26. This entire argument comes down to 2 simple areas. You have a M1 Garand which is like a fine old Rolls Royce and a Ar-15 which is like a sleek new Lamborghini. Each is beautiful in it’s own way. Each meets the form and function of it’s time..You can like each one for it’s individual assets. I have several old and new guns. Old or new. Wood and steel or polymer and plactic. The way it looks and feels in one’s hands is always a personal thing. Just be thankful we have them to admire.

  27. No more plastic for me. I dress like like the Dude, don’t eat out, and drive an old econo car, but my gun is very well fitted and finished steel and ivory and is cradled in custom leather.

  28. Meh…form follows function. I love old wood but that’s generally antique furniture. If I get a levergun I want wood for a stock. I’ m not a collector so all my gun serve a ultilartarian purpose…

  29. I prefer guns made of steel with wood furniture and holsters made of leather. As far as I’m concerned, plastic for is for water bottles, children’s toys and cheap guns (and I own some of the latter).

  30. I have never seen a ugly gun, hmm, I’m fasinated with all my girls. I’ll shoot them all and take care of all. Just saying.

  31. My Walther PPQ M2 is quite beautiful. I can understand why a nice 1911 may appeal to others more, but it’s a matter of taste. Combining exquisite form with superior function is my ideal. That’s how I like my women too. In fact, it’s hard to separate the two factors whatever the domain.

  32. On an older gun -before cnc machining- you could get a really good idea of quality by the fit and finish. A company that cut corners in one area was likely to cut corners elsewhere too.

    In today’s world, accuracy and reliability are pretty standard. Even my Bersa Thunder had zero failures to feed, eject, or fire for the thousand rounds or so that I fed her.

    I see the value in a conceal carry that can be used and abused without worry that your $300 to $600 is going to be put to waste.

    I’d rather the majority of my guns I own because something my kids would be proud to inherit

  33. We each like what we like. This applies to all our selections in life, be it spouse, cars, ammo, pets, cell phones, houses, foods, etc.

    Whatever works for ya, use that. 😉 It ain’t rocket science.

  34. You can keep your beautiful malfunctioning $7,000 1911s TTAG, as for me and my family, we’ll take our Glocks.

    • It would be awesome if Glock made a metal frame Glock with wood grips. I don’t currently own a Glock, but they made that – I would probably have to get one.

  35. It is now as it has always been: Beauty can always be had…for a price. How much are you willing to pay?

    That said, I have a great appreciation for the old Colt designs. It started with an 1861 Navy cap and ball. I refinished the grips so they shone. The hard case frame, the deep bluing, the roll mark, all beautiful, and the lines are graceful. For someone who never much cared for revolvers, I have 4 cap and ball pistols and two 1873s, one of the latter of which has faux ivory grips that I formed and polished myself. These cap and ball guns are beautiful, and for their day they were functional, if unreliable. The 1987s were very reliable, and also beautiful. Even to this day, there are many striking revolvers made of steel. The issue doesn’t arise until you hit the plastic fantastic pistols and revolver. Maybe no one has made a high end one because of the profit margin in inexpensive guns, and the belief that no one will pay high dollar for a plastic gun.

  36. There’s function in plastic guns & some may look good, but I’ve never found one that exhibits anything close to beauty.

  37. Aesthetics totally matter to me. Some guns, I buy because I think they have interesting designs. For example, I bought a Desert Eagle because its breech mechanism is a really brilliant hybrid between a pistol and a rifle. It looks pretty good, but the mechanics were much more appealing to me, and I actually have more fun taking it apart than shooting it.

    On the other end of the spectrum, I refused to buy a Glock for 20-some-odd years because I thought they were the most hideous guns ever created. I finally broke down and bought a Glock 42 about six months ago because I honestly think that all the other pocket pistols on the market look even worse. Yeah, I said it. Now, I’m about to trade it in for… wait for it… a Kimber Solo. Don’t snicker. To me, the Solo is, hands down, the most gorgeous pocket pistol I’ve ever seen. I know it has a bad reputation for being finicky with ammo, but I hand load, so the process of finding the perfect load for it will be fun for me. And when I do find it, I’m sure it will run flawlessly… and look sexy as fuck while doing it.

    Somewhere in the middle is my FN FiveseveN. It has a genius delay, and it looks totally beautiful, as modern guns go. I love the fact that it uses the torque applied to the barrel by the forward motion of the bullet to keep the breech locked, which then releases after the bullet exits the muzzle and the torque ceases. I’m not aware of any other pistol that operates in this way, but if the one person who reads this knows of one, please enlighten me.

    • Aesthetics matter to me, too.

      They aren’t the only factor in my gun buying decisions but they are “a” factor. Of course the firearm in question needs to function and fit me. But I also like to see some thought and effort put into the design of the piece as well.

      And honestly, it’s really a blend of functionality, aesthetics, quality, “feel” and so forth all mixed up. There’s “something” about each of the guns that I have that I just like and they just seem right to me.

      That said, what I like is, I’m sure, quite different from many people.

  38. While I can see the benefit of a small concealable lightweight polymer pistol, I much prefer metal guns – not polymer. I’m not a fan of the plastic garden tool look. If it’s a full size pistol – it has to be steel for me. I prefer a steel frame and a steel slide. I have a few that are alloy frame and steel slide – but all pass on the poly. And that is with most things. Including my shop tools. I want tools made out of quality materials.

  39. I blame the tactical craze for the utter lack of aesthetics in modern designs. “Look, we can put a bolt action in a metal frame and hang all kinds of AR based crap on it! Even though we could make the chassis sculpted, attractive and lighter weight, we’ll make it thick, heavy, blocky and ugly as sin, and the morons will buy it!”

    I’m old enough to remember metal CCW handguns being “melted” to remove any sharp edges, even the sights. Now the polymer equivalents hang a rasp on the bottom of them all to mount a flashlight that’s wider than the slide and sticks out past the barrel.

    Polymer body parts on modern cars are being used to produce designs that wouldn’t be possible in metal, why can’t polymer guns be sleek and attractive?

  40. Depends on how you define beauty. I find beauty in efficiency and utility. I’ll take a lighter gun that holds more ammunition any day over a “beautiful” gun. And just to stir the pot, yes, Glocks are more beautiful than 1911s. Sorry grandpa, no one needs your dinosaur gun anymore.

  41. 1. Aesthetics is purely subjective matter, and thus no subject to rational argument. I have no particular liking for chassis rifles, for example. There are people who love them, especially when workmanship is proper, and finish quality is good.

    2. The “modern rifle” pictured above may very well be considered piece of shit by many; however I have a feeling that the example was chosen to give exactly that impression.

    3. Firearms with excellent fit and finish are expensive now, the were expensive before. Polymer-framed semiautos are not exactly eye-candy to many; but first half of 20th century saw explosion in amount of semi-automatic pistols, with better half of them being disporportionate, ergonomically horrible fuglies.

    4. And yes, I am all for 98-esque action mated to heavy contour and dropped into excellent piece of walnut. Just as soon as I scrape some money to afford it 🙂

  42. Comparing a 1911 to a ugly-assed Glock is an unfair comparison. There are more stylish polymer guns.

    But remember, once upon a time TVs and radios came in fine wooden cabinets. Times and tastes change. There’s a place for retro-nostalgia and there will always be fancy guns for those who want them.

  43. I think this is likely to be, in general, a generational thing. I’m in the camp that polymer guns don’t have “soul” or “class”, but can be attractively designed (i.e., Springfield XD Mod.2, M&P9 2.0) but they function well and are lighter, and, generally, less expensive. I only own one revolver, and it’s a S&W snub nose airweight, so it’s not the most “classy” revolver, but it being all metal has a class to it that my polymers don’t. That said, I do like the look of my Springfield XDs9 and XD mod.2 9mm service pistol but not if you compare them to a nice 1911. I also used to have a Taurus 24/7 G2 two tone that looked pretty nice, too. That said, I’ve had a serious hankering lately for a Springfield 1911, something with class.

    As far as rifles go, I do like the look of a nicely appointed black AR-15, but then again, I do think the Springfield M1As have a classy look that the AR-15 black rifle can’t compete with. I’ve personally never liked the styling of AKs.

  44. Once there was a day when men fought with blue steel and wood………………………………………….

  45. I carry guns that I can drop in the mud if I need to or have to hand over to the cops if I need to. I love $3000 1911s, but I’ll carry my Glock. I admit I have a soft spot for collector guns as fine works of art though.

  46. sounds like this guy is a pretentious cry baby sad that no one cares about his “fancy” guns that he paid a fortune for, cough Cabot Guns cough.

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