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Praise and condolences are rightly pouring in from all over the world at the news that Steve Jobs has logged off of this mortal coil. He’s a member of a very small fraternity of business genius-innovators – along with Ford, Edison and Bell – who have truly altered the world in which they lived. All of them invented products and services that changed the way we all live and operate on a day-to-day basis. Clearly, people of the magnitude of a Jobs just don’t come along that often. It’s been a few years since Henry installed his assembly line in Detroit. Will the gun industry ever see anything even approaching that level of innovation?

Granted, the nature of the gun biz and its products probably has a good deal less world-altering potential than the electronics industry did where Jobs made his tectonic plate-shifting marks. So let’s grant that, if someone does come along with a Jobsian sense of industry vision combined with almost flawless design skills and marketing sense in the firearms bidness, he or she may have less of an opportunity to bring about the degree of change in the lives of as many individuals as did the guru of Cupertino.

Or would he? Guns and other armaments may be the single class of industrial products that affect more peoples’ lives around the world – both for good and for bad – on a daily basis than any other. And it’s hard for me to speculate what kind of change might profoundly alter that. If I knew how someone with Jobs’ gifts might change the way people defend themselves and how wars are fought, I’d have more money than RF. Well, I’d have a lot, anyway.

But when someone invents…oh, I don’t know…a personal impenetrable invisible force field generator that clips to your belt and runs for a month on two AA batteries, that might change a few things about self defense, aviation security, police procedure, Presidential protection and a whole host of additional societal functions I can’t begin to fathom. Something like that might have a few follow-on effects for gun makers.

OK, that’s a crazy example. Maybe. But then who would have thought 15 years ago that you’d be able to jog with 10,000 songs strapped to your arm, you’d be able to video chat with your kid at college on your phone, the music businesses would have been turned upside down and the most valuable company by market cap – however briefly – would be a niche computer company in Silicon Valley? Change happens fast and usually when you least expect it. Anyone wanna buy some Kodak stock?

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  1. I’m not holding my breath. Weapon design and development is driven by military contracting, and not the mythical ‘free market’ of individual customers. The military contracting world is so small, corrupt and incestuous that snake oil often sells better than ‘the better mousetrap.’ Look at all the useless, over-hyped or unproven playthings that Mack (not Mac) grimly pimped for “Futureweapons.” Or just look at our history of small arms procurement, where the choice of the M-14 over the FN-FAL is one telling example.

    Even in the civilian market, building guns, supercars or airplanes is the kind of business ventures that my law professor (Big Daddy Don Large) warned us not to get involved in. “Most of you in this class are destined to pass the bar and become lawyers,” he said, to cheerful applause, “And some of you will become quite wealthy.” We clapped really enthusiastically for this, since I didn’t realize that the last bit about ‘wealthy’ wouldn’t apply to me…

    “From time to time you’ll be approached by inventors, investors and dreamers who will regale you with lots of fascinating ways to shred your money and stuff it down the sink disposal, but they won’t describe it that way. If you ever hear about investment opportunities for building the things that fascinate you, I’m talking golf clubs, or airplanes or fast cars, I want you to run like hell in the other direction with your fingers in your ears. There’s something about lawyers, and dentists too, that makes them terrible venture capitalists, and I want you each to promise me that if you really need to gamble you’ll take the short flight to Law Vegas and blow your money on fast women and slow horses. You’ll have a lot more fun there, and it’s not like you wanted to tell your wives about losing money building hang-gliders anyway.”

  2. Gaston Glock for pistols and Kalashnikov for the AK47 rifle. The concepts of simplicity and fewest possible number of parts is what gun makers go by today.

    • No. Jobs would never produce anything as aesthetically heinous as a Glock pistol. As for the Kalashnikov, the AK-47 is to guns what Windows 95 is to computing: generally functional but tacky, unimaginative and cheap.

      Both weapons are completely tasteless, which was a cardinal sin as far as Mr. Jobs was concerned.

      • Some people like the simple, utilitarian look of Glock. Sometimes simple is beautiful. Taste in style is as varied as taste in weapon or caliber.

      • The one and only Glock I previously owned crashed a lot, too. It was the Windows ME of firearms.

  3. I’m thinking the next innovation is more along the lines of the guy who invents guns that do not use ammunition as we know it today. Like inventing a projectile that isn’t propelled by gun powder, or a cartrage that does not need to be extracted/ejected. Instead it will be burnt up along with the charge. I hope this is where the next major advancements will come from.

    Instead we are moving toward guns w/ RFID’s and ammo w/ serial numbers. Sheesh! We need to liberalize markets, and then innovations will begin take place. Don’t steer markets; set them free.

    I would also like to see laser guns and hover boards. I’ve always wanted a hover board like the one in back to the future.

  4. Seems to me Gaston Glock comes closest with his combination of technical innovation and marketing skills.

  5. I vote for Browning as our Jobs surrogate.

    At Omaha beach the first MG that opened up on the Americans as they landed was a Browning! The Poles had licensed produced a MMG in 8 x57mm, and it could sustain fire longer than the German MG-34 or MG-42.

    • Not so, not at all. The Browning would sustain fire on one barrel longer than an MG34 or MG42. But with the MG34/42, you could rapidly change barrels without the use of tools and without having to worry about headspace. Try that one an M1919. There were MG42s that fired continuously for hours on D-Day. I don’t see that happening with an M1919, maybe an M1917, an even more unwieldy design.

      The MG34/42 were substantially superior to the M1919 in both the medium and light machine gun roll. They had higher rates of fire, longer sustained fire potential, dramatically less weight, a much more reliable metallic belt systems. The MG3 is basically an MG42 chambered for 7.62x51mm NATO, it’s still in service with the German military. The only machine guns in this class that I would say are definitely better than the MG3 are the FN MAG 58 (M240B/G in US parlance) and the PK/PKM.

  6. You mean someone who revitalized an old and somewhat stale industry, brought out innovative products that made people sit up and notice, did things that others said couldn’t be done, followed up each success with another success over a number of decades, and was almost single-handedly responsible for his company’s success?

    How ’bout Bill Ruger?

  7. I don’t own any jmb designed guns, but they were all influenced by him. John Moses Browning is my vote for the equivalent to Steve jobs in the gun world. One can only hope another one will come soon.

  8. Perhaps Nikola Tesla’s ‘Death Ray Gun’ from the 1930s or a non-lethal version of it will be developed for the civilian market. Upon his death in the 1940s, it is commonly believed that the FBI broke into his room, took his plans, and locked them away in the FBI’s vaults. The plans and details of the design have still not been released.

  9. Actually, a personal force field shield that had a 5 minute on time regardless of battery type would be of a huge benefit. That would be plenty of time to get out of a sticky situation.

  10. Unless the core component of the ballistic firearm changes to be exponentially more versatile or user friendly then no single person or company will have the same proportional impact on weaponry that Steve Jobs had on technology.

    Make a handgun as reliable as the current standards that will fit all or most current handgun cartridges without being picky on magazines. Make a handgun as easily handled as a .22 across all calibers. Or…create a handheld and practical laser for civilian use and carry.

    The first was attempted and for the most part a flop in the P250 by SIG-Sauer. Quality and reliability did not come together in the design and it still required a bunch of regular disassembly that essentially made it several weapons with only one fire control mechanism. That made it several incomplete guns. The pricing of the kits as I saw it did not endear that weapon system to me as much as several higher quality weapons in multiple calibers that I use from a single manufacturer.

    The second seems more an action type miracle. The AA-12 appears to do it for 12 gauge quite well but such a miracle for handguns is not as forthcoming. Do it for handguns and you take a large piece of the caliber debate and destroy it. And make them much less intimidating and user friendly to boot.

    Sell a handheld laser to the general public. The weapons world will be set on its ear and the actual world will end. Epic and game changing I would give to the inventor though.

  11. I would say the gun industry has seen individuals as brilliant as Jobs– many have already been named. But will we see another visionary who will cause a major revolutionary change to firearms in the way of, for example, the autoloading pistol?

    No, I doubt it. While it is certainly possible to make a gun that shoots faster, more accurately and with greater usability than what currently exists on the market, it is unlikely that such a weapon would ever: 1) Be legal for civilian ownership, 2) Be produced in enough quantity to be feasible to build in the first place.

    The big milestones of making firearms “better” have already happened. We have weapons that are very safe, amazingly reliable, and ridiculously accurate. There isn’t really a whole lot you can do beyond the current level of technology in firearms manufacture. Exotic composites and metals? Caseless ammo? Built-in ballistic computers and ever smarter sighting devices? Sure, those are potentially better mousetraps, but they’re nothing like the paradigm shift that was any of the major Apple innovations over the last decade. Or, for example, metallic cartridges, smokeless powder, automatic weapons, and the other big moment in history innovations.

    The difference is that a firearm is a very simple mechanical device, and past a certain point, there’s only so much you can do to make it faster, more flexible and overall “better”. In the consumer electronics and software worlds, there is quite a LOT you can do to improve efficiency, speed and workflow.

    About the only thing that comes to mind are energy weapons, and those are a long, LONG way off in any soft of practical, man-portable, average-joe-affordable form.

  12. The next innovative idea that pops into the mind of any leader in the gun industry will die of loneliness.

  13. I’d say that, based on the age in which he lived, the way he spread his genius around with several companies, and his prolific designs, John Moses Browning qualifies as the Edison of his generation.

    I can’t think of anybody (yet) that is the Jobs of guns. It would have to be someone that is the CEO or chief designer of a relatively large company, that he either founded, or helped grow from virtually nothing, to a market leader, through his marketing skills and design sense. Jobs most important traits was that kind of no-compromise attitude that “good enough” was never good enough. Second to that was his innate understanding that form and function are two sides of the same coin. One without the other is only half a product.

    I suppose Glock would come the closest to Jobs, but close isn’t close enough. Glocks have a functional esthetic, but they are to guns what Jeeps are to automobiles – functional, but with a look that only a fanboy can appreciate. For Glock to reach Jobs lofty status, he’d have to completely redesign Glocks to beat the ugly out with a stick, and come up with something that doesn’t let style get in the way of function, but doesn’t let function get in the way of style, either. A gun that, when you see it, it begs to be picked up, held, even caressed. A gun that is a status symbol. A gun that is as reliable as is humanly possible.

    • John Browning was born in 1855 and died in 1926, Thomas Edison was born in 1847 and died in 1931. They were the same generation. Not to mention that Edison really wasn’t the contemporary genius of his industry during his time period, he was the best at maximizing profits via intellectual property rights. Nikolai Tesla was the genius, Edison was the business man. I don’t think anyone during Browning active years really compared with him.

  14. I’m surprised and hurt that nobody has nominated that Will Hayden(?) and his amazingly articulate team from red Jacket Firearms.

    I am certain that within the next 5 years, everyone who has an ipod or iphone will be switching to Red Jacket’s new .380ACP/MP3 player, or their 9MM/4G cell phone for all of their communication, entertainment and defense needs.

  15. I’m surprised and hurt that nobody was intelligent enough to realize the genius that is brewing down in Cajun Country, and nominate Will Hayden and his wonderfully articulate crew at Red Jacket Firearms. With all of the innovation that they have brought to the Saiga-12 and Alligator Kill Stick markets, they must be the next new thing.

    I’m sure that all of those hip Apple fans of today will soon be trading in their ipods for the new Red Jacket MP3, .380ACP personal defense entertainment system. Or maybe they will take the leap for the 4G, touchscreen, 9mm cellular communication gun combo. Considering how reasonable priced their Saigas are, I’m sure the average consumer should be able to get the new phone for under $600 with a 5 year contract.

  16. It will be difficult to satisfy all facets of the Jobs analogy. JMB changed the way guns work, Glock changed the world of LE. If I had to throw an analog, it would be George Kellgren. No one would ever confuse his team’s design esthetics (or pricing) to Apple’s, but he paved the way for inexpensive, small guns. The LCP, TCP and Diamondback are his stepchildren. And he had the idea to offer lifetime warranties and service to offset the impression (sometimes true) of questionable quality. Kel-Tec is one company that doesn’t imitate and isn’t motivated by military or LE contracts. (And no, I don’t work for them.)

  17. George Kellgren. His design esthetic is the black to Apple’s white, but he paved the way for small, inexpensive handguns. Every modern pocket 380 and 9mm is the stepchild of the P32/3AT/Grendel 10/12. His marketing genius was to offer lifetime warranties and service on his products to overcome the impression of low quality. Kel-Tec doesn’t copy other gun companies and they’re not motivated by military or LE contracts.

  18. Sorry, everyone. I didn’t realize commenting was busted and re-typed my comment after I thought it was lost.

  19. What exactly did Jobs accomplish in the last 20 years?

    He established a monopoly that made even Bose blush with embarrassment.

    He convinced people pay more money to buy a computer from a monopolistic company; a computer that also had minimal software support from 3rd party companies, which handicapped its utility.

    He convinced people to spend more money on a music player than they had to, and to let that device control their media library and channel them into buying music only through Jobs’ company.

    He convinced people to spend more money on their cell phone bill every month, and to upgrade perfectly good phones for new models with no decisive advantage over the old model. And when the flawed design of the phone became public knowledge, Jobs went on the attack and accused his customers of being too dumb to know the secret method of holding their phone.

    Jobs was a brilliant marketer. But he wasn’t much of an inventor once the Apple II had been launched.

    And aside from his marketing savvy, the guy was an egomaniacal douchebag. He shafted Steve Wozniak and a multitude of other people throughout his career. His overreactions when he felt someone had been disloyal to him were legendary for their viciousness.

    Frankly, I don’t want the gun world to have someone like Jobs.

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