One of the fallacies that a person can get into when it comes to this gun stuff is that somehow guns were better in the past than they are today. That’s hogwash. They actually weren’t. In fact, today’s gun owner is spoiled rotten when it comes to not only quality but choice and price.
There are a couple of exceptions, of course, which we’ll get into.
You can get a darn decent gun for not a whole heck of a lot; there are a number of pistols you can pick up from your local FFL for less than $300 that are accurate, reliable and aren’t a Hi-Point.
There are some very decent shotguns that can be had for about that same amount. For around $400, you can even get a bolt-action rifle AND a scope in most gun stores. Almost every single one of them is more accurate and more reliable than the old stuff from the 1950s were.
Today, you’d expect any bolt gun (a category that was preceded by single-shot rifles from makes like Remington, Sharps, and Browning and chambered in large black-powder cartridges for big game) to group 1 MOA or better at any price point. That wasn’t so much the case in previous decades. Even the much-ballyhooed Winchester Model 70 hunting rifle wasn’t perfect. To get the utmost in accuracy, you often had to spend for a custom gun or some extensive smithing. Lever-action rifles definitely worked, but weren’t terribly accurate at long range unless in expert hands. These days, CNC machining has improved the accuracy on many rifles.
Handguns were even worse. American-made Smith & Wessons and Colts were pretty good, but you had to take it easy on magnum loads. The cylinders were known to wear out on S&Ws and a fair number of Colts had timing problems.
There were only a few semi-autos on the market up until the 1980s. Most common were Colt 1911 pistols, which were either military surplus (worked well, but had more slop than most lift kits) or factory guns that usually needed a lot of smithing to improve rifling and get truly accurate and reliable. Browning Hi Powers and S&W Model 39 and 59 autos were out there too, but those – along with 1911 pistols – all had the foible of only feeding ball ammo well.
Why do you think there are so many 1911 custom shops? Bill Wilson, Les Baer, Ed Brown and so on have jobs because they knew how to take a Colt factory gun and make it really good. They built on the craftsmanship from earlier gunsmiths such as Frank Pachmayr, Armand Swenson and others.
You could buy cheaper guns for pocket carry, but the thing about those old Saturday Night Specials is that they were cheap for a reason.
But a lot of those old guns had one thing in common. They were beautiful. It’s hard to look at a long gun with blue steel and walnut and not appreciate it. And pre-World War II Smith & Wesson revolvers are a sight to behold.
The same thing could be said of other things. Lots of muscle cars, for instance, looked amazing, but fuel economy and reliability weren’t their strong suit. A new car, like a stock Honda Prelude, could out-corner most Mustangs and the Corvettes both of which used the same rear suspension as a truck.
There were, of course, exceptions. The Ruger Blackhawk has always been a tank. Maybe not the most accurate, maybe not even the prettiest, but you can always count on it to go “bang.” Then you had the Remington Nylon 66, long held to be one of the toughest guns ever invented.
Today? You can walk into any Cabela’s (or any other gun shop for that matter) and pick up new rifles, like a Savage Axis combo, that will shoot rings around plenty of Pre-64 Model 70s. You can get a GLOCK 19 that puts many an older handgun to shame. IMO, modern guns, like a Ruger Blackhawk, is still built like a tank! Now to just talk Remington into making the ’66 again…
What about your favorite guns though? Do you think older guns were better than modern firearms? Or do you think new guns just look better?
More from The Truth About Guns:
12 Insanely Expensive Guns We All Wish We Could Buy – Pre-1964 Winchester Model 70, Howdah Pistol, Titanium Gold Desert Eagle, Barrett M82A1, Krieghoff Trumph Drilling (with one shotgun barrel, one rimfire barrel, and one centerfire barrel), Sharps Model 1874 Creedmore, Pederson Self-Loading Rifle, 1903 Springfield, Chapuis Savana Double Rifle, Winchester 1886, Beretta Imperiale Montecarlo Shotgun (skeet gun), Holland & Holland “Royal” Deluxe Double Rifle