The Firearms Industry Needs More Innovation pt.1

I’m not the first person to say this. It’s a common enough sentiment that saying it is starting to become cliche. Now to prove my point, I will list off the entire state of the US firearms industry in about a eight individual guns. Watch.

PISTOLS

Every pistol is a Glock 17 copy, a revolver, or a 1911. And that’s being generous, as the Glock uses Browning’s tilt-barrel delayed blowback system. The Glock has a significantly different trigger system so I do think it’s different enough to be a different gun, but it is very similar to the other semi-auto in this category.

The best selling category of pistols in the US is the small EDC/pocket gun sector. This market segment used to be dominated by the S&W Shield, but is now dominated by the SIG P365. Both of these guns are small Glock copies. Polymer frames, striker fired, mainly 9mm, and very affordable, these guns are just small Glocks. The S&W Shield was a 6+1 round single-stack and the P365 is a 12+1 round double-stack. Both guns have lots of copies and competitors that are borderline patent infringement if not actual patent infringement. That of course also accurately describes the Glock as well, with its literally dozens of direct competitors, multiple patent lawsuits, and ever-increasing number of Gen 3 copies (Zev, Shadow Systems, Palmetto’s DAGR, etc.).

The revolvers are are only better in the regard that they don’t have a direct design heritage from the 1911. They do seem to all be the exact same gun, though. I know that there are significant differences between S&W, Colt, and Ruger, but they are all very subtle and are mainly differences in executing the same concept. Examples being cast frames instead of forged, a cylinder release that pushes forward instead of pulls back or presses in, stuff like that. Where it really matters they are all almost the same. Almost every revolver is a .38 special or a .357 Magnum, which also shoots .38 special. All these wheelguns are either small snubnose guns with 2″ barrels, or big stainless 4″ barreled range toys.

SEMI-AUTO RIFLES

Every semi-auto rifle is one of 4 guns. The vast majority are relatively mil-spec AR-15s in 5.56 with 16″ barrels and front sight posts. Yes, the AR is super modular, but those are just small variations on a very consistent base gun. A different handguard, or red dot on top, or flashlight with a pressure pad in different spots, or a different grip, it’s all small variations upon the same thing.

Its like someone just hit copy-paste a lot

The next gun is a distant second place, and that’s the AK. And if you think that ARs are fairly interchangeable, AKs are downright cookie-cutter! Different decades of production, different countries of origin, I can’t tell them apart at all. I’m sure that there are lots of very significant differences, but I just can’t see them. I’m sure that if I actually gave time to learning more about AKs I’d soon start to be able to tell them apart, but I just haven’t given the platform the kind of attention required.

After the AR and AK, the next most common semi-auto rifle is going to be some sort of not-an-AR chambered in 5.56. It is going to be a piston gun, and it is almost assuredly a direct AR-180/AR-18 copy. These not-an-ARs are so interchangeable that some people have started calling them “Pmag adapters”. And they aren’t entirely wrong for doing so. These guns may have slightly different stylings and different makers from different countries, but they are basically the same gun.

The newest and already mostly homogeneous kind of gun you’re likely to see is the recently popular 9mm PCC. This kind of gun really only came to prominence about 6 or 7 years ago. When it was a new concept, the PCC market was very diverse. Everyone was trying to find a way to make a 9mm rifle interesting, and a lot of people decided to modify mil spec AR uppers and lowers to accept the pistol cartridge. A lot of other people made ground-up new designs for sub guns that had 16″ barrels and were semi-auto only, such as the CZ Scorpion Evo and the B&T GHM9, among others. In the highly competitive commercial market certain things have been quickly proven to be a more optimal combination of affordable manufacture, performance, and public acceptance. That combination ends up usually being an AR style upper with a straight blowback operating system, fits a mil-spec lower, and feeds from Glock magazines. Its not a coincidence that rapid adoption and homogenization of these guns was fueled by the use of mags from the the most common pistol in the world.

BOLT ACTION RIFLES

They are all an updated version of the Mauser action. Remington 700, Savage Model 10, Browning X-Bolt, they’re all basically a cheaper and faster to produce Mauser action that doesn’t control-feed rounds into the chamber. There are also Mauser clone actions and they are almost the rest of the bolt action market. This is how it’s been since last century, and there’s no sign of it changing any time soon.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Now admittedly, I have painted a pretty dark picture. And everything I wrote here I firmly believe, but it isn’t the whole story. There are people out there toiling away in R&D departments and machine shops trying to make new and interesting guns. And I applaud them! We need more people like them to help us create the designs that will replace the status quo options that we are currently stuck with. I will shed a little light on where I see these unsung heroes’ efforts next week. [part two]

Until then, stay safe, and we’ll see you next Friday.

-S_S

7 thoughts on “The Firearms Industry Needs More Innovation pt.1

  1. I should probably wait until your second part is done before weighing in too much. I agree with the basic idea that every rifle is essentially an AR, AK, or Not-AR. And agreed that every handgun is a revolver, a 1911, or Glock.

    The next part you might address in the upcoming segment: I’m not sure I agree that it’s a dark picture. The AR/AK, 1911, Glock, and revolver all work really, really well. Those guns do what I need them to do. Modern guns work for tens of thousands of rounds without breakage and for thousands of rounds without malfunctions or stoppages. They are far more accurate than almost any user behind them. You can get them in every conceivable shape, size, with every feature your like or everyone you don’t. Necessity being the mother of invention, I’m not seeing glaring unmet needs in my firearms life.

    Unfortunately I’m as blind to what I don’t know as everyone else…if it were easy to see what is missing, well, there would be an innovation pretty quickly to fill that void. So my question, what are your unmet needs?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Like Justin, I should probably hold off until you publish the second part. That said…

    While the market may appear stagnant, there are some very important things happening behind the scenes at the manufacturer level. Manufacturing capability has gotten to the point where these incredibly reliable designs can be cranked out en masse at a quality level closing in on the custom market. The el-cheapo gunstore-special bolt-action rifle that is being sold for a suspiciously cheap price is performing on par with custom guns from the 60s. And that is where the innovation is. Lowering the cost for performance. Am I saying that a Ruger American is on par with a GA Precision? No, but gone are the days where you had to send a factory firearm off to have a bunch of work done to it to make it useful. In regards to the same style of gun, like ARs, the fact that so many companies can work off the same or similar enough spec to produce parts that are generally interchangeable is a big deal in my opinion.

    The other reason for a seemingly stagnant market is the cost of adoption. Due to the popularity of Glock and ARs, most people have magazines, maybe some spare parts. It is hard to buy into a new proprietary system when you have to add the cost of new magazines and parts. This is especially so when there is only one company making the gun vs the hundreds making ARs and AR stuff. While annoying, the internet joke of “but does it take Glock mags” has some merit.

    Liked by 1 person

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