Innovation In The Gun Business
Remington debuted the R1, a new 1911 pistol in basic configuration at the recent NRA Annual Meetings in Charlotte, N.C. Ithaca also climbed aboard the 1911 train but with a high-end model that will sell for around $3,500.
The 1911 is entering its centennial year in 2011 and I'm not surprised that a lot of companies are seeking to capitalize on Old Slab Sides. At the same time, it reminds me that America was once the leading innovator of firearms in the world.
Today, however, American gun companies tend to imitate more than innovate. If you pick, say, 1980 as an arbitrary dividing line, the most innovative firearms (especially handguns) have come from across the Atlantic. Glock is the most obvious example, although the SIG P250 is highly original as is the Hammerli 280 target pistol. The Blaser M93 rifle is novel bolt-action and several guns from HK, like the G36, have broken the mold on rifle design.
Meanwhile, in America we have seen a trend toward a better-safe-than-sorry mentality that's all too often the approach of the bean-counters that seem to run the major companies.
It took a small, entrepreneurial company in Florida, Kel-Tec, to come up with a slick little .380 to address the burgeoning concealed-carry market. What did the big American gun makers do? Imitate.
Ruger basically took a Kel-Tec .380 ACP and, with slight changes, introduced it as the Ruger LCP. When sales of Ruger's .380 took off, Smith & Wesson saw the dust trail and started chasing. A year later they introduced the M&P .380 pistol with a built-in laser.
Of course the best example of Me Too in the gun business is the Glock. Today, every American gun manufacturer has a polymer framed 9 mm pistol of some sort.
Consider the SIG 250, a modular pistol that can convert calibers and grips in seconds. How about the aforementioned Blaser M93? Not your granddaddy’s bolt action. The new R8 version can “plug” into a Zeiss range finding scope so the range finder is activated when you take the R8 off-safe.
An Italian handgun is our U.S. service pistol. A Belgian manufacturer, FN, was chosen to develop a possible replacement for the M16, and Steyr invented the AUG, a design that is now being—guess what?—copied in the U.S.
In the arena of competition shooting, it’s also a Euro world. What do most Olympic trap and skeet shooters use? Perazzi and Krieghoff. How about rifles? Anschutz and Walther. Pistols? Hammerli and Walther.
However, what the American firearms industry lacks in firearms inventiveness, it more than makes up for in ammunition development. Truly significant advances in propellant technology, bullet technology and cartridge technology have all come from American makers, most notably Winchester and Hornady.
Why are we so unimaginative in our gun designs? I believe the reason is that accountants, not engineers, run American gun manufacturers. As a mature industry, gun companies can’t count on millions of new customers like cell phone manufacturers. The way to compete is to take market share away from a competitor and the best way to do that is to knock off a proven product.
And mark my words. Remington isn’t going to get away with this 1911 move. Someone will introduce a pump shotgun, probably a copy of an 870.