I read the comments of my articles when I either want to know what my readers want to see in future pieces or just to get the occasional laugh. We have some very knowledgable readers here whose comments I really enjoy. One of those is ‘Dyspeptic Gunsmith’ and his accurate pronouncements on various gun-related topics are always worth a read.
In my recent review of the Ruger 22/45 Lite, I made the comment that “Today we shooters enjoy more options than ever before” in the introductory paragraph. This was meant as a lead-in to describe how Ruger frequently has its finger on the pulse of the American gun buyer and manages to ride the wave on multiple popular segments of the market at once.
I was browsing the comments and found this from DG (slightly edited for readability):
“Um, no, we don’t. … My point is that we have fewer and fewer companies making unique firearms than in the past. We have few, if any, options for a high-quality firearm made in the US than ever before.
If I had to point to a “golden age” with the greatest number of options, it would be the post-WWII era of ’47 to ’59 or so. There were options for inexpensive firearms, and there were high quality (and very high quality) firearms made for American consumers.
You can’t get a new Python today, for example. There are no .22 rifles like the Winchester 52, Remington 37, Kimber Model 82, made today etc. You can’t get a Colt Woodsman new, nor the Match. You have to wait for quality revolvers or a Model 41 or 52 from S&W.
There is no Winchester Model 21, nor 24. Most all the quality O/U shotguns come from Italy, for which shooters pay big bucks – which could be made at those prices here in the US. But American gun companies are content to keep making shoddier and shoddier crap to chase lower and lower prices.
The only people who think that “we [American] shooters enjoy more options than ever before” must be people so young, they have no recollection of what the US gun makers used to offer the American gun consumer. And like so many young people today, they think that history started when they were born.
Hint: No, it didn’t. If you knew anything about the history of the US gun market, you’d know what we’ve lost.”
This got me thinking about what’s happening in the industry now and where we’re going. It also got me thinking about some things I believe DG got both right and wrong, and what I did, too.
This is, firstly, not a debate about age. There would not be any new writers in this industry if knowledge wasn’t passed on or new views and opinions expressed and no new voices allowed to be heard. Some people have this idea that a gun writer must be 60+ years old, fought in two wars, been involved in a dozen shoot-outs, and personally knew Jeff Cooper. That’s not the way of the future, nor was it the nature of the past. Everyone was new at one point and that shapes our views.
I’m a 28-year-old city-dwelling journalist, small-scale chicken and duck farmer, and classic rifle competitor with no famous connections. But I’ve published over 100 articles on guns and ammo. Like it or not, it’s the voices of those like me that you’ll be reading going forward.
My (and my generation’s) idea of guns is different from those of prior generations and that’s something that’s hard for some to understand. My generation has no patience for a Colt Python when inexpensive, super-reliable, hyper accurate pistols exist. To us, guns like the Python are novelties at best. This, again, comes from a guy who collects vintage guns as a hobby and loves old revolvers.
Technology vs. Time
Folks in the 1950s had a very different opinion of arms as compared to people of the 1850s. Take into perspective that a person born in the 1860s could have lived to see nuclear proliferation in their lifetime. We live in an era now that’s radically different from it was 60 years ago and to say that people are just too young to know what we’re missing in the guns of days past is simplistic and doesn’t give current gun owners enough credit.
There were likely men who hated the idea of cartridge revolvers after having lived with cap and ball their entire lives. There were probably a thousand arguments about why self-contained ammo was a bad idea, but it prevailed. There were probably cave men who had the same thoughts about the angle and quality of obsidian used in their spears. It never ends and to say that we’re at a loss because we’ve moved on technologically is a fallacy.
Now for the topic at hand. I disagree with Dyspeptic that the golden age was 1947-59. I believe that the true and only golden age of arms was during the Industrial Revolution and we’ve seen few true advancements since. We are, however, in something of a golden age now because we do, in fact, have more options than ever before on both an individual and mass scale. The everyman can afford to arm himself with myriad excellent options that are all based on successful, time-tested designs.
As far as the idea that we don’t have Colt Pythons, the Woodsman, Winchester 21s and 24s, etc. and are lesser for it misses the bigger picture. If not for Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead, most normal people wouldn’t even know that the Colt Python even existed. Gun designs come and go. Some we miss, some we don’t. Some are classics, but they aren’t all 100% better than what we have now by any means.
When it comes to quality going downhill, I have to debate that, too. We don’t have garbage materials and crap guns today. Or not many of them. Plastic isn’t trash, and I say that despite the fact I prefer blued steel and wood stocks.
What we don’t have is the types of factories and mass craftsmanship any more. It’s still available, of course, but you’re going to (handsomely) pay for it.
If people in the old days had GLOCK 19s, they would have used them. I would lay odds that every gunslinger, lawman, and soldier 50 to 100 years ago would have wanted one if the technology was available. They had the latest and greatest and used the most advanced technology available to them then, just as we do now. Hell, even those caveman would’ve upgraded from Cro-Magnon to Pro-Magnum if you handed it to him and told him to go after those mammoths.
Like every generation, we get to look back and be nostalgic about the past and think that those years were better than they are now. The guns of today are highly marketed consumer products. Many of us own more than one. Guns are also less expensive now thanks to mass production and modularity. Our guns today are rarely treated as investments due to the fact that we’ve reached (or are reaching) near peak saturation.
Inflation and purchasing power are often forgotten when people say ‘I used to buy .22 for a penny a round’ and ‘a rifle for $50’. Today we have more and better guns that we can afford to own recreationally at a lower cost relative to our income. The one cent .22 round (in 1950, let’s say) is relatively expensive, being equivalent to about ten cents today.
I can go get .22LR for cheaper in proportion to my income today than someone in 1950 could. Today I can buy Federal 36gr for five cents a round, which is cheaper than almost any time in history when adjusted for inflation. The goes for guns, too. A $50 rifle in 1950 consumed a much bigger chunk of income — about twice as much — as a typical .22LR plinker does today.
Are We Losing? If So, What?
So have we lost something since those good old days? I don’t think so. I think that companies like Colt fail for a number of reasons and regular guns like the Python become classics as a result. Same thing with James Dean, who is still fairly famous today because he died young. He never tarnished with age and as a result became a piece of Americana.
Today is another golden age. How many obscure makers can you name from the 1700s? 1800s? 1900s? Literally hundreds have come and gone, despite some very good designs.
What then is the true measure of success? A thousand different designs that never sell? I guarantee that if every single gun ever designed was put into production again today and everyone selected their favorite, most people would still land on today’s most popular guns. It’s good that we have a lot of designs to choose from, but it’s also good that some die and never raise again.
I don’t think we’ve lost much that didn’t need to be lost. I don’t think that Dyspeptic was wrong in asserting that we have lost something, but many of those things are better now that they’ve been replaced by newer designs and processes. We often look back at the past fondly, but the past is different for every generation.
It may seem ridiculous now, but one day we’ll sit back and say, “We lost a lot when the G19, AR-15, and 1911 went away. Those were the days. Directed energy weapons today are just so cheaply made and mass-produced.”
Don’t laugh. It can happen. And probably will.