Reader Henry Hale writes:
It’s good for firearms to be idiot-proof. The fewer ways there are to break something or screw up, the better. That said, I abhor the fact that a great many of today’s firearms are designed with the mentality that they should only be serviced by a company-ordained technician. Some gun makers ensure this by shrouding the disassembly process in secrecy, sometimes even requiring specialty tools for the process.
The Browning X-bolt, while a good bolt-action hunting rifle, is a clear example of this. The bolt can be removed from the receiver, the scope can be dismounted, and the stock may be removed, but that’s the limit to which you can easily take the gun down. That prevents the user from addressing a range of malfunctions or shortcomings on their own.
Is the ejector getting stuck? Too bad kiddo, that sounds like a job for one of the adults! This design approach runs counter to what’s been commonly done in the past and demeans the intelligence of consumer. This can leave a firearm with a weakness that only the factory can correct. Additionally, this practice hinders the ability of a shooter to squeeze optimal performance from a firearm by customizing it.
Some assemblies are complex, containing numerous small parts. Modern trigger assemblies for bolt action rifles ensure a good trigger squeeze for most production rifles without need for much handwork from the factory. These assemblies consist of dozens of parts and typically come in a “packet”, a sheet metal enclosure which prevents tinkering and protects against dust and dirt. The design philosophy is understandable, but these assemblies should be removable from the rifle in a simple manner.
A non-user serviceable firearm is more difficult to get repaired. To ship a firearm back to the factory, it needs to be properly packaged, fees need to be paid, and there’s always the possibility that the firearm will be lost or stolen. This is compounded if the owner lives in a rural area; possibly an hour or more away from the nearest shipping facility or dealer.
It can also be a hassle to find a good gunsmith who can work on a specific firearm. If a mechanism is complex but common, a local gunsmith might be able to help, but servicing smaller brand names can become a daunting prospect.
Take, for example, the recent Remington 700 trigger recall. Some Remington owners sent their rifles back, while others took the opportunity to upgrade their rifles with a better, safer aftermarket trigger. All these people needed to accomplish the fix was a hammer and a punch.
Lots of gun owners think, if it came out of the factory, why change it? Why fix what isn’t broken? The reason for changing out an already functional part is that what’s “perfect” for one person might be lacking for another. A firearm is a tool, and the tool that suits the situation is the best tool for the job.
Non-user serviceable firearms seriously limit the capabilities of the tool. That’s because there are fewer — or sometimes no — aftermarket parts available.
In the article “Modern Rifles: Over-Engineered and Over-Whelming” by John Barsness (Rifle Sporting Firearms Journal, November 2014), Alaskan guides recount many of the shortcomings of the rifles their clients have brought into the field. One major potential failure point for these rifles is their trigger assemblies. While the design keeps dust and dirt out, the salt in the Alaskan air makes its way into the assembly and quickly rusts the small parts. On the other hand, older rifles with simpler mechanisms tend to still function in those harsh Alaskan conditions.
Factory triggers may be sufficient for 90% of customers, but there will always be those with particular needs and wants. There’s no reason for gun companies not to accommodate that. When a firearm can only be reconfigured or repaired by the factory, it limits the owner’s options, and who might purchase it.
There’s always room in this world for firearms that are enigmatic, Rube Goldberg contraptions. Odd balls and idiosyncratic. The problem isn’t that there are complex firearms on the market; the problem is that some of these designs have been pushed outside of their niche and into the broader mainstream use. The result of this has been a lo of firearms that are “one-size fits most”. They may fit, but they don’t necessarily fit well.