I may have kicked the hornet’s nest a little bit. The Remington R51 review I wrote and the subsequent calling out of Shooting Illustrated, caused something of an internet kerfuffle. Now that things seem to have calmed down I wanted to take a second and collect my thoughts about what makes gun reviews unique and why my personal standards are a little different from other reviewers . . .
With most things in life, buying the wrong product isn’t necessarily the end of the world. Buy an AMD processor instead of an Intel and your computer will still work. Buy a Chevy instead of a Honda and you’ll still have a functioning car. Well, mostly.
But when it comes to guns, things are very different. If a computer or a car breaks down, the worst that usually happens is you get inconvenienced for a little while and spend some money getting it fixed. With a firearm, the stakes can be much higher: this is a tool which you may use to protect your life and the lives of your loved ones. Guns need to work the first time every time. Period.
For as long as I’ve been writing for TTAG, that’s the standard which I’ve applied to my reviews. We aren’t opining on some new toy or trinket — this is a firearm, something that someone might depend on to keep them alive. When it comes to a product that important it’s imperative that people know the absolute truth about the item they’re planning to purchase, whether it’s good or bad. We’ve built our brand on that dedication to telling the truth about guns in our reviews, and it’s something that I make sure to instill in every new writer that wants to write a review of a firearm for the site.
One of the common cries that I kept hearing after I published the R51 review was that I had edited the post after it was published. Here’s a secret: I do that to just about every review I write. I even did it to this very article. The wonderful thing about the internet is that nothing is set in stone, and if you’re not happy about the current state of your article you can change it. Usually I only need to fix a typo or change an instances where Robert changed “trigger” to “bang switch” (I hate that term), but every once in a while there’s a need to make a more substantive change.
Every couple months I like to revisit my reviews and see if there’s anything new I can add. With some of these guns, I paid the company to keep them after the review and I continuously update the write-up to include things I’ve learned from my longer period of ownership. For example, I just recently updated the Primary Arms 4-14 FFP scope review to include a note about long term reliability of the scope on my gun, since that was one of the concerns I’ve heard about it.
Some guns I become more impressed with as time goes by and some guns fall apart after a few thousand rounds. All of these are things that readers should know when researching a firearm, and due to budget and time constraints they aren’t necessarily things we can test for every review. So we do our best when first publishing, and update the review if more pertinent information comes to light. The reason I make this extra effort to edit post-publishing is that while reviews are popular, the vast majority of people read them months or even years after they are first published. Keeping them up-to-date ensures that we provide the most accurate information possible no matter when someone may read them. The truth, in other words.
With that R51 review, before it even published Robert and Dan took a look at it. I made sure to talk to Robert about the content and thrust of the review, especially since we didn’t always have the best relationship with Remington. Unfortunately the product they sent us was problem-ridden, and the review you may have seen when it first published was the end result. While it might have been nice to give the gun a good review and get in on Remington’s good side (maybe soak up some of their ad dollars in the process), but that wasn’t possible. The gun that looked so promising wasn’t the hoped-for home run. It had some serious issues so I gave it a mediocre review; three stars.
Immediately after the write-up posted, the Remington fanboys started crawling out of the woodwork. I had included some statements about how the only people to give the gun a positive review were on a Remington-funded junket prior to the gun’s launch (I wasn’t there). My intentions with those statements were to point out that this was a gun so bad that the only people who gave it a pass were practically paid to do so. Instead it was interpreted as my being annoyed that I wasn’t invited. After consulting with Dan I realized that it wasn’t really contributing anything to the review and I pulled the language. I also clarified some statements that were being misinterpreted about the relative force of the R51’s recoil.
Throughout these changes, though, the tone of the article never changed. The technical content never changed. The findings never changed. And the end result never changed. Sure some of the wording was amended, but the details remained the same. As Dan and Robert can attest, the intent and spirit of the article remained unaltered from day one — I simply clarified my original statements and removed the ones that were being misinterpreted and didn’t contribute to the review.
Weeks after the review published though, I started making some more significant changes. One of the reviewers that I trust absolutely and completely is Tim Harmsen at the Military Arms Channel. He has the same mindset as I do when it comes to reviews, and he started reporting some major malfunctions with the R51, above and beyond what I had experienced. Using different R51s, he also duplicated some of the problems I was seeing. I edited the article to include the details of his findings, as well as his video review. Based on his experience and subsequent discussions with him, I eventually downgraded the results to the point you see today.
It all goes back to my original statement: gun reviews need to be the unadulterated truth, good or bad, and need to reflect the ability for a firearm to function when lives are on the line. I couldn’t in good conscience recommend a gun that had stopped running with rounds left in the magazine, had obvious QC issues in the manufacturing process, and had been proven on camera to fire out of battery. These are details that the buying public needs to know when they consider purchasing a gun, even if found by another writer. I have, however, clearly identified the difference between malfunctions I personally experienced and malfunctions Tim experienced in the article so the reader can form their own opinion based on our combined experiences.
Months after Tim’s and my reviews came out, Shooting Illustrated published their own review of the R51. What really ruffled my feathers and compelled me to write my article was the fact that by the time they published it, SI already had months to see if there were any reported problems with the gun. Yet they chose to do their write-up based on their experience with what seems to have been a hand picked pre-production sample. In the meantime there had been hundreds of reports from people all over the country verifying our findings and including issues of their own on the Remington forums and elsewhere. They couldn’t have missed it. But just like with video game reviews, the old school print media ignored the negative feedback and chose to appease their benefactors.
The backlash against my post was predictable — the older generation ran to the support of the older media. “He’s just pissed they didn’t give him a job!” Yes, I interviewed with American Rifleman, but if memory serves they wanted to pay about half of what I was asking. I never harbored any ill will towards them for that decision, and ended up taking a much more lucrative position in a much less expensive part of the country doing much more interesting work. And the level of editorial freedom I currently enjoy is something that I never would have been allowed at AR or any other dead tree publication. In short, anyone who actually knows me and my history understands how little I care about not getting that job. Caesar’s wife and all I suppose.
What really made me laugh, though, was one competitor’s statement on the matter. “He’ll never work for a print publication now!” Knowing what I know now about print media, I’m pretty comfortable with that fate. My integrity isn’t for sale, and I think the R51 proved it. Remington was dangling a carrot just in front of my face, offering the opportunity to attend those well-catered junkets if I just gave the R51 TTAG’s blessing. In the end, the result was something I was unwilling to alter. I knew that people were going to trust their lives to that gun, and I couldn’t even get it to work on a square range with a properly maintained and clean example of the firearm.
Robert named the website “The Truth About Guns,” and I do everything in my power to meet the standards he set out. We don’t just regurgitate the technical specs of a firearm, we put them to the test and verify the manufacturer’s claims. When a gun exceeds those expectations we praise it, and when it falls short we make sure to let our readers know. And especially with high profile guns, I like to include information from other people’s reviews where appropriate to ensure that the reader is as well-informed and educated about the gun as they can be before they decide to slap their hard earned cash on the barrelhead and trust their lives to an object.
We will continue to present our findings truthfully, warts and all. And I’m sure that those without the same rigorous standards or who have some personal skin in the game will continue to throw stones and try to discredit us for it. It’s my hope that others — especially in the established gun media — start to follow our example. Recoil Magazine has shown some potential in that area by publishing a rather hilarious negative review of a Hi-Point handgun, and I sincerely hope to see Iain Harrison continue that trend. Because when it comes to guns, I can’t morally justify ignoring problems and don’t understand how others can either.
As our friends on the other side might say, if I can save just one life by providing an accurate review, it will all be worth it.