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.

[Email your firearms-related questions to “Ask Foghorn” via guntruth@me.com. Click here to browse previous posts]

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54 Responses to Ask Foghorn: What’s TTAG’s Relationship Like with Gun Companies?

  1. Sounds good to me, nick.

    And all, if you haven’t met Nick in person, he is exactly like his reviews are. To the point. But the only thing different is he is a super nice guy.

  2. Topgear UK Clarson (Laying it all on the line in reviews-Cars, but the same concept):

    “Koenigsegg are saying that the CCX is more comfortable. More comfortable than what… BEING STABBED?”

    “On the Mercedes CLS55:

    Braking in this car is so brutal, it would be less painful to actually hit the tree you were trying to miss.”

    “This is a Renault Espace, probably the best of the people carriers. Not that that’s much to shout about. That’s like saying ‘Oh good, I’ve got syphilis, the best of the sexually transmitted diseases!'”

    “The Suzuki Wagon R should be avoided like unprotected sex with an Ethiopian transvestite.”

    The man pulls no punches. And punches Peirs Morgan as well 😉

    • I remember watching that Renault Espace review live, and choking on whatever I was drinking. Top Gear is on my “Top Ten Best Things Ever On TV” list.

      • My wife, who has exactly zero interest in cars, watches Top Gear every day. If nothing else it’s an up to watch three guys have so much fun.

        As for TTAG, keep it up – best reviews in the business by far.

    • Thanks a lot. I’m stifling obscene laughter at my desk now, and my boss on the other side of the cube probably thinks I’m crazy. Or dying. Or both.

      • I had a boss point out to me once that there was less paperwork to fill out on a dead employee than an injured one. So if your boss has a choice between you being dead or going nuts, which do you think he’s prefer?

        • I had a law professor tell us something similar. In arguing damages in personal injury cases, it was always more profitable to wheel in a maimed and disfigured client, than to argue on behalf of a dead client’s estate. Put in his blunt terms, if given the choice between a body or a stump, he’d say “Gimme the stump.”

    • Top Gear also has a problem with companies not supplying them with cars out of fear of honest reviews. I believe it was the second U.S. road trip where Dodge apparently pulled out of letting them have a new Challenger for the week. So they bought one with the production budget.

  3. Nick, this is as American as it gets. We all appreciate you & the other authors on this site for being so unbiased on your reviews. If I could, I’d buy you all a beer!

    Thanks for your dedicaation & speaking The TRUTH about guns.

  4. yeah, there’s a giant reason I quit subscribing to gun magazines. I’ve never seen a review that didn’t slob a knob, and it’s annoying as hell.

  5. A company that actually wants to stay in business appreciates criticism. An old saw in business is that customers don’t complain, they do not come back. People go tell their friends what an awful experience they had and then post it on message boards. When I research a product I find the very worst reviews, to decide if its a problem I can live with. You can only evade the truth for so so long. If you want to stay in business, be grateful for the opportunity to improve your product. Otherwise, if your product has flaws, you really have no expectation of privacy on the internet. Assume everyone knows.

  6. What can you do but tell the truth. The petulant behavior from Swarovski is kinda amazing to me. If I was in the business of having my stuff reviewed, I can’t see that I’d cut a reviewer off after one pan. Especially if it was a review like the one you gave that Swarovski scope, which wasn’t even really a terribly negative review. You said it yourself, “meh.”

    If someone reviewed two, or even three of my items and savaged them, then yeah, I’d think they had a hard-on for my company and would probably cut them off. But to shun you after one mediocre review? (It wasn’t even bad, it just wasn’t a glowing gun-mag review.) That just seems pretty damn petty to me.

      • Thats my take too. The Navy SEAL sniper Ive paid for some training sez spend as much on your glass as you do your rifle. Leupold and Nightforce now…be nice to know what is a good match for the Ruger model-wise if you can swing it Nick.

      • I read Nick’s review, and it seems like he nailed the high points. Swarovski glass is amazingly clear … and hideously expensive. I have a Swarovski spotting scope and love it, because the images are so crisp and clear. The cost impact is lesser because I can use it any time I go out shooting, from 50-yard plinking to long range shoots.

        Swarovski should be grateful for that review, because they may have been missing the market. Or maybe they need to reach a different audience. I didn’t see anything in the review that was particularly negative about the product–just that the competition was offering a suitable solution for considerably less money. Sounds like a fair assessment.

  7. I absolutely love every gun review here…bought two of my pistols because of the reviews and never looked back…keep up the great work !!!

  8. I discovered TTAG when I was looking for reviews on the Ruger SR9c. Liked the review (love the gun) and have been reading TTAG ever since.

  9. It’s not just the gun industry that experiences this. I write material reviewing policy, markets, and economics. I have been lucky to remain one of the most independent in my industry but my job has been threatened, more than once, by people with strong political lobby groups. I probably won’t advance higher on the ladder of promotion but I prefer to remain principled. Keep up the good work!

  10. I also appreciate the free reviews. What I’d like to see, however, is a second or third opinion. For instance, if Nick would have passed the SCAR17S to another writer and they wrote reviews (without comparing notes) we’d get two perspectives.
    I bought my Browning Buckmark, largely on Dan Zimmerman’s glowing review…only to discover mine stovepipes often. Perhaps an additional evaluation would have found the same issue.
    I am NOT complaining. I offer my sincerest thanks for the hard work everyone has invested in making this site. I am merely offering constructive criticism.

      • My older Buckmark was stove-piping because the magazine retention spur was worn down, causing misfeeds. I replaced the plastic magazine retention spur with a metal one from Bushnell’s. Works perfectly now.

        • Thanks Dan & Scott. I have to admit, I love my Buckmark. I try to find high velocity ammo and keep the weapon clean. This seems to minimize stovepipes.

          I was just trying to illustrate how multiple opinions could make a great site even better…

  11. Have you guys ever reviewed a Charter Arms revolver? Based on the only one I ever bought vs. the magazine reviews I’ve read, I’ll never trust magazine reviewers again.

  12. Very nicely done, Mr. Nick. We are lucky to have TTAG as a resource. Sorry to hear about the experience with Swarovski-I have a set of their binos (EL 10 x 42s) and really like them.

  13. It’s your reviews that keeps the poor guys like me from spending our savings on something we won’t like.
    Case in point, the PF-9 got a glowing review from a certain long winded YouTube personality, so I bought one. I am ashamed to even let my friends shoot it. Bye bye money, I shoulda got something else. Now I’m stuck until I can save up for something else.

  14. appreciate the reviews, they work as a very good starting place with firearms. and like you, I was absolutely dead-set against Glocks. Ugly, ungainly, nothing they offered interested me — until I fired one. Then a second, then a third model. In the end, a firearm is a very personal choice that has to be made based on your needs, limitations & abilities. Despite my inclinations (& amusement at the tagline “perfection”), I found a firearm that meets my needs, anatomical quirks, budget, etc. In my selection process, I screened out a number of pistols via reviews (yours plus other sources), even changing from my original planned purchase of a Ruger SR9c in favor of the Glock 19 based on my own subjective experience with both pistols. So thank you guys very much for the help & guidance – my Glock is on my hip even now!

  15. I am overall a big fan of TTAG’s gear and firearm reviews. However, I am often disappointed that chronograph results are often not included for several types of ammo. The gun rags often include 5+ different types of ammo, chrono results, accuracy results, and combined averages. I think its also reasonable to suspect that the gun rags may have a certain accuracy “goal” which the manufacturers would like to see. Since short barrels are so common, I want to know how much velocity loss I’m looking at with a 16″ or 20″ barrel, or that 3.5″ barrel on a subcompact.

    Other than that, I have to say that I greatly respect TTAG’s review process. Facts are a good thing, and they ultimately rule the day, especially given something as serious as a choice for self defense. Everyone has opinions about the .380, 9mm, .40, .45, ideal gun, etc. What drives the intelligent opinion is the totality of relevant facts. TTAG provides those facts at its core, and I believe that it will be successful as long as it continues to do so. The commenters and other authors provide a healthy dose of counter point and opinion, and the overall effect is something unique in the firearms community. And if TTAG continues to be successful, the savvy manufacturer will offer up their products for an honest review.

    • I feel like chrono data in a gun review is a waste of time and effort. Its more a measure of the ammunition, which is why we break that out into a seperate article. Even then, the variation in ammo consistency doesn’t really change from one gun to another.

      The five shot group is about the best we can do in terms of accuracy testing, in my opinion.

      • here’s a question for you–why is there so much inconsistency in ammo consistency? This stuff is made on automated assembly lines, and in theory should be identical from one round to the next. Maybe an article in here sometime to address?

      • I’d have to agree w/ the chrony data thing. I also don’t really see how it pertains to a specific brand of gun. You can expect fairly consistent velocities from a given ammo brand and a given barrel length and it doesn’t make sense to chrony it for every ~4″ barrel gun on the market. Lots of people seem to really enjoy chrony testing, though, so if you have a gun model in mind you can probably find results for all sorts of ammo brands shot through it online.

        Typically I try to do an accuracy target including a 5-shot group from a handful of different ammo brands (like here and here and others), but it doesn’t always happen that way and ammo availability hasn’t really been conducive to it over the past ~10 months haha. That is definitely different from some of the big magazines that do 5, 5-shot groups for each of multiple ammo types but I seriously just lack the patience and ammo resources for that. I’d consider it for a gun that is specifically marketed with target accuracy as a top selling point, though.

        At least a chrony is impartial, though. Accuracy results from different writers can’t really be compared against each other very meaningfully. My accuracy with three different handguns might be meaningful to somebody wondering which gun is more accurate and/or simply easier to shoot accurately, but my accuracy results with X model of gun might be pretty darn different from Nick’s results with the same gun… so if you want to compare one writer’s review of a CZ to another writer’s review of a Sig and try to determine which gun, then, is more accurate… well… just no. Unless they’re both using a ransom rest there are too many variables.

  16. If you know how to read the reviews in AR or other gun mags/websites (are you listening, Jeff Quinn?), you can glean how the reviewer really feels about the gun. Hesitation and excuses are often present, and I take those as negatives. But why should we have to read between the lines? Gun people are usually no-BS people. Hence, TTAG.

  17. I actually found your sight by accident. It took me a while to get used to what you were putting out. However, after a while, I noticed that after reading several of your reviews, and, comparing them to reviews from other mags, I realized that TTAG was the only place to go for honest opinions on guns. Being new to the gun crowd, it took me a while to buy my guns primarily because of reviews that I’ve read. When I read your review on the Glock 17 Gen 4, I knew then that I was going to get a gun…be it a Glock or something else. Needless to say, I now have a Glock 17 Gen 4, Glock 21 Gen 4, Kimber Pro Carry II, and, my recent addition, a SCAR 17S. Of all the weapons I have, I love the SCAR 17S most.

  18. I also like your reviews. I appreciate honesty.
    FWIW, I started with a Swarovski scope on my .50. After 2 days of trying to get a 500 yard zero out of it, I dumped it. Very happy with the Millet replacement.

    Keep up the good work guys.

  19. Strange on the DS Arms thing. I have a bunch of their products and I’ve been really happy with both the product and their willingness to answer any and all questions I have via email in a timely fashion.

  20. Thanks Nick for your ethics and thanks Robt for supporting him. Integrity is a rare commodity in the media business and thas what makes TTAG a must visit for me. If I am buyijg a product that my life may depend upon or which may be one of the key variables in a season of prep for a good hunt then its not the money its quality that matters. Keep up the good work. Smart ad directors and retailers already get it and those makers and sellers who do not make my screening process easier. Obviously Ruger learned its lesson and I’ll repay them with my dollars and loyalty if its a close call or tie on performance. Looking forward to that SR762 review here even tho some of the tech specs are already out simply for the real world honest feedback.

  21. I was at the drugstore earlier this week and I decided to glance over the magazine racks. There were a couple of new gun annuals on display so I thought I might buy one since I haven’t bought a gun magazine in 2-3 years. First thing I noticed was the cover price…$10.00 each. I put them back immediately. I knew the reviews would be BS, the writing would be uninspired, the layouts and editing would be dreadful and I couldn’t rationalize paying 10 bucks for future substandard landfill.

    All that said is just to lead up to a big “Thank You, Nick”.

  22. When I started writing gun reviews for TTAG, I asked RF if I could slam a gun if I didn’t like it. He looked at me as if I had two heads and told me that, of course, I could. While I haven’t hated any of the guns so far, I certainly didn’t love them all and I never felt constrained when it came to criticizing them.

    Being able to tell the truth without adverse consequences is very liberating. Compare it to when your significant other asks “does this make my ass look fat?” and you answer “like a buffalo.”

  23. Thanks TTAG! I do love your no BS reviews of products. Too many adverting supported main-stream magazines tout crap products as the next best thing just to please their revenue streams. I love this site for the fact that we can always rely on a solid and honest review.

  24. I admit it. I do read gun mags at times. On line. For free. About what they are worth–except for the mag that carries the Massad Ayoob crime analysis articles. And the giveaway contests that I never expect to win (among those that California allows me to enter).

    Your comment about Ruger was interesting. I have nothing against Ruger, and they are an innovative company. But there products are mostly “meh” in my book. Solid but uninspiring performance. Kind of the Chevy Truck of the gun world.

  25. A computer print magazine I read called Maximum PC will publish a review that is akin to tar & feathering a company. There’s a reason they’re one of the few print magazines about computers left.

    DS Arms not being willing to let you T&E their guns seems strange, simply because I have a few of guns they have made and all are really great.

  26. My favorite part of the response was that you are willing to contact the manufacturer for a response. Nobody can afford to put out a perfect product every time, but anybody, and everybody, should be able to at least try to make it right. A manufacturer that’s willing to do that is somebody I’ll buy from.

  27. I pay $49 a year for Gun Tests, have for 15+ years. My sons are reading their ways through the archive. TTAG is a lot more than just Gun Tests, but this site and TFB are the only ones I visit regularly. There is a correlation leaning towards causation in your review policy.

  28. I hate leaving negative comments, it’s not my nature, but sometimes…

    Is there anyone more thin-skinned than a journalist?

    It’s one of the things I most hate about the profession, within which I once was.

    When I ascended to copy editor, I saw another side to the pettiness: “How dare you change my words!” Well, they needed mending, which is why managing editors created the desk in the first place: These professional writers simply made too many writing mistakes to ignore.

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