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"walls of the city" logo conceptualized by Oleg Volk and executed by Linoge. Logo is © "walls of the city".

kibitzing from the sidelines

Is anyone else getting bored with the firearm industry? More and more it seems like fewer and fewer companies are willing to try something completely new and revolutionary, and, instead, are just seeing how many different materials they can make existing designs out of, or how many calibers they can shove in a similar frame, or how many colors of paint they can slap on their lineup (what, did Ruger – the king of stealing ideas – get tired of Tactical Solutions improving on their idea?), or how many companies can rebrand the same basic idea, or how small they can make a handgun before it just explodes in your hand.

I get that "new and revolutionary" is synonymous with "risky and potentially flop-generating", but, hell, a good flop would beat the current borderline-stagnation we are "enjoying" right now…

And, yes, this is my way of whinging about not being at the NRA Annual Meetings this year, collecting my bags full of swag and cards full of pictures. Y’all who can make it have fun.

40 comments to kibitzing from the sidelines

  • Ooooof. I see both sides of this one. Seems like Keltec is the only one really trying new things, but then they have to wait for Ruger or someone else to put the polish on ‘em. ;-) And then there’s the Taurii of the world, with things like the Judge… or Rossi, with the Ranch Hand…

    Other companies are doing newish stuff but it isn’t quite as visible, incremental upgrades or internal things that Just Work – e.g., the rotary bolt of the Beretta PX4, or the self-sealing gas ports of the Remington VersaMax.

    I’m sad to not be there too, but there wasn’t THAT much swag last year. ;-)

  • What WOULD be totally new and innovative? The only things I can think of involve putting electronics in and on the gun, and that’s one thing I personally would NEVER pay money for… too much rom for political abuse.

  • SGB

    I want a 9mm single stack with a periscope.

  • Bluesun has a very good point. As the Tam is wont to say, cartridge firearms are a very mature technology.

    If it seems only new things are mfg and mtl, well… that’s how it’s been for nearly half a century.

    Striker fired, rotating locks, rearwards feeding, wooden bullets, all those ideas were tried about a hundred years ago. What we see now are merely refinements.

  • Yes.

    It’s actually becoming difficult to find gun industry news worth writing about. Smith and Wesson just released a single-stack 9mm M&P… throw that onto the giant pile of newly released single-stack 9mm pistols.

    I believe part of this derives from the fact firearms are a mature technology so the number of revolutionary jumps is going to be very small. It would be great to hear about a company working on an electromagnetic man-portable firearm but that would take a huge investment for, likely, little return since a gun that uses electromagnetism to propel a round isn’t going to be all that different than its gunpowder burning equivalent.

  • bluesun wrote:

    What WOULD be totally new and innovative? The only things I can think of involve putting electronics in and on the gun, and that’s one thing I personally would NEVER pay money for… too much rom for political abuse.

    I see what you did there. ;-)

  • Tam

    Firearms are a very mature technology.

    Look on the bright side: You could be a hand tool enthusiast, bemoaning that hammers and saws haven’t changed much in the last two hundred years… ;)

  • Dang! Almost called the Tam quote ;)

    As for magnetic propulsion. That’d take some napkin calculations to check energy density.

    As a potential energy sotrage medium smokeless powder is pretty handy on an energy per mass and energy per vomume basis. It’s also a compact and fairly simple (in component count) way to convert potential energy into kinetic.

    So any magneto system would have to overcome those advantages, if it were to move beyond novelty purporses.

    As recent naval developments have shown for sip-scale methods show progress, but as always there’s the question of scale-down.

  • Braden Lynch

    One word…Phasers.

  • Tam wrote:

    Firearms are a very mature technology.

    This explains the immaturity level often shown by the anti-rights crowd.

  • Knives are even more mature, but we still see subtle improvements and sometimes new designs even today. A lot of knives aren’t in any way new tech, but just a combination of the old features, materials, and manufacturing. Sometimes, they hit on the proper combination. If kel-tec had made the right combination, no one would buy the Ruger stuff cause the Kel-tec was already good enough.

    Now, I’d be excited when someone manages to make a super reliable and reasonably accurate gas-piston rife with good ergos that can use AR mags AND costs just a hair more than a mini-14(say 650-750).

  • @ ZerCool: Well, the Ranch Hand is just a resurrection of an older design, if I am not mistaken, but, yeah, in fairness, there are companies out there trying to push the envelope in their own particular fashions, with Chiappa and their Rhino being added to the list as well. And, yeah, things like the VersaMax are a nice, incremental – as you say – improvement on existing designs (and one that I might be interested in if they ever market it to something other than hunters), but when held up to the original A-5 (which, granted, is not gas-operated, but you get my point), we are just polishing the finish.

    I was kind of hoping things like the Rhino and the RFB would encourage other companies to start exploring more radical designs and concepts, but the former was dorked up with a trigger that would give Hercules pause (and reliability issues to boot), and the latter was screwed by Kel-Tec being Kel-Tec.

    Companies keep releasing “new” things, but the differences between them is getting harder to distinguish.

    @ bluesun: Damned if I know dude – I am not an R&D engineer for a firearm firm, but that could be a fun job :). And while even though simply pointing out a problem without providing a solution is not strictly a bad thing to do; it would seem as though caseless ammunition was attempted and discarded back when such things might not have been technologically feasible regardless (and may still not be, but it might be interesting to try), and whatever happened to MetalStorm? Hell, it would be fun to go back and explore all of the “dead ends” of firearm development and see if they really were dead ends, or just failed because of material limitations of the time… Getting someone to pay for that would be another matter…

    @ SGB: http://accutact.com/anglesight.html

    I am sure there is a way to mount it sideways on a slide or something.

    @ Jack: Well, in terms of feeding, the new Boberg gadget may be mixing that up a little, but it falls under the “past attempt at a concept that may not have been feasible at the time” heading.

    @ Christopher Burg: And you could not exactly use an electromagnetic rail gun anywhere near your wallet these days…

    But, yeah, press releases are not doing it for me any more, and it was totally that “new” “Shield” (what a stupid name, by the by) which prompted most of this post. I get that single-stack, slim 9mms are a currently burgeoning market, and I completely understand why any firearm company wanting to make a profit would be exploiting that market as best they can, but treating it as something new and revolutionary when it is anything but just grates on my nerves.

    Guess I could never work for marketing.

    @ AuricTech: Bwah! I totally paradigmed that out.

    @ Tam: Well, true, but original hammers and saws have swung back around to being “pretty” and “classic”. I do not think either of those terms will ever accurately describe a Glock.

    But, really, there are only so many ways to put a nail into a piece of wood (though, I guess, the advent of pneumatic tools was something of a game-changer); I guess there are only so many ways to put a firing pin into a primer, too.

    @ Braden Lynch: Given that lasers capable of inflicting any real harm on anything are still very much in their infancy and come with all kinds of nasty side-effects, I think we might be waiting a while for that particular advancement.

    @ AuricTech: Well, it does put their book-burning anti-technology rantings and ravings in perspective…

    @ Roadkill: Now that is a good point… even though knives have been around, well, forever, we still see some pretty substantial developments now and then. BESH edges, different locks and deployment methods for folders, and so forth.

    I would just love to be excited over something actually different, rather than being told to be excited over an effective rebranding.

  • weambulance

    Hmm, it hasn’t occurred to me to be bored with the industry. I’m totally uninterested in 99% of what is coming out, sure, but that’s always been the case. A few years ago my needs were entirely met with a few 1911s, N-frames, and M1As. Now it’s Gen 4 Glocks, N-frames, and DI AR-15s. I have never had any use for DA/SA guns, so that eliminates a solid 90% of the handgun industry right there, and rifles and shotguns have never held the same appeal as handguns for me. I just pick a long gun platform that fits my needs, buy a few copies, and roll with them.

    I’ve made a real effort to stop focusing on equipment and start focusing on increasing my skills in the last couple years though, so I don’t really pay attention to the hardware “developments” anymore. Even if they do come out with something really cool, I can hardly justify switching platforms again, so I’ll just have to make due with what I have.

  • kfg

    @Linoge: What Tam said, and what I said on the other side of the record. A gun is just a tube. There is only so much you can do to “innovate” a tube. Bicycles matured at about the same time as firearms and are in the same boat. There is a certain amount of refinement that has been made over the past century and some new materials to play with, but for the most part differences between brands are there to try to differentiate what are really quite fungible items. Like the Taurus Judge “innovative” bikes are the product of the marketing department more than the engineering department. They aren’t concerned with making better guns/bikes, because they really can’t. They are concerned with making more marketable guns/bikes, often by dipping into what has already been done but the buyer is ignorant about so it appears new.

    This isn’t to say that some further refinement isn’t possible, but I think you might find that areas where this could actually be done are in those areas prohibited by law.

    @weambulance: Shooters don’t buy guns, they buy ammo.

  • MrHPlus

    @ ZerCool:

    Not to argue, but what did ruger put the polish on? The LCR polishing the PF9? I know they added features, but they also added weight and at somewhat reduced reliability. If defensive, concealed guns are meant to be the pinnacle of lightweight, reliable, “save your life” guns, then how did going back on the PF9 design principles add polish? Not that much difference, but it still seems that their added “polish” was also just added revenue because they didn’t have to do the R&D. It’s companion, the LCR, we all know is pretty much a loss for Ruger, and that idea was actually original.

    Compare the problems of the gun industry with the video game industry and the similarities emerge. No big company will take any risk because they need big revenue to keep up. No small company will take any risk because their ideas will be stolen by large companies. It’s a recipe for very few new ideas. Kel Tec went ahead anyway, keeping their batch numbers small to minimize risk, and they still get nothing but criticism for being overmarketed. It’s a no win situation for creative entrepreneurs.

  • @ weambulance: I will never argue that training will trump equipment (in most circumstances), but that is not really what I was talking about :).

    @ kfg: I dare say that if you sat a flintlock down next to a KRISS, we could agree that firearms are more than “just tubes”.

    @ MrHPlus: Kel Tec fucked up pretty much every way imaginable. I remember when the RFB was announced five+ years ago, and they are just now getting to dealers. If you are going to wait four years between announcing a product and then actually putting it on the market, you really do not get to complain when people repeatedly and accurately point that out.

    And given how firearms are selling these days, “big revenues” for the big boys really is not that big of a concern – Ruger is posting record sales, and S&W just had to add a new production shift.

  • Chad

    I pretty routinely hear radio ads for Ruger hiring over in NH.

  • kfg

    @ Linoge:
    Remove the tube from each and fire them. Then I will produce a tube, just a tube with no moving parts, and fire it. It is the necessary and sufficient part of a gun. Everything else is just an attachment.

  • @ Chad: Yeah, having spare money with which to pursue R&D topics really is not a problem for the firearm industry these days…

    @ kfg: And when I remove the spring arm or bolt (or even firing pin) from the devices, you will be left with very nice walking sticks.

    You are grossly oversimplifying the technology in play.

  • kfg

    @ Linoge:
    ” . . .very nice walking sticks.”
    Make quite serviceable guns, if you make them from a tube.

    “You are grossly oversimplifying the technology in play.”
    No. I am reducing it to its essentials; and no further. The fact that a gun is just a tube is the reason why gun control laws can never prevent someone from obtaining a gun. They are easily made from readily available materials; once you realize they are just a tube. The idea “gun” is the most critical component needed to make one and that cat left the bag several hundred years ago.

    The auto loading attachment revolution which occurred more than a century ago was not so much an advance in guns, but rather an advance in ammo: the cartridge. The necessary machinery was already well understood. There has been no significant advance in gun technology since then; only refinement.

    Similarly a timepiece is nothing more than an oscillator. We attach various things to the oscillator to auto-count the oscillations, making it easier to use, but the actual time keeper is simply the oscillator. If you think that grossly oversimplifies the technology in play, bear in mind that the first measurements of the rate of a falling object were made with just an oscillator, which led to the science of ballistics.

    Being able to see things in their essentials (say, a swinging chandelier) is often the only difference between something being impossible and actually getting it done. A bolt is nothing more than an end plug for a tube. And so breech loading is done.

    The tube is the gun.

  • And none of that changes the fact that if I remove the firing mechanism – whether that is a pin or a complicated wheellock – you have no more a “gun” than if you remove the barrel.

    All of this is just as pointless and somewhat stupid as the BATFE arbitrarily deciding that the lower half of a semi-automatic handgun is the ‘gun’ portion in all cases except the Ruger Mark series and a few other exceptions. Once you simplify something past the whole, it is no longer the whole.

  • Kristopher

    I want an x-ray laser rifle. One powered by expendable small chemical rockets blowing copper laced exhaust into an induction chamber will do.

    Something similar to the Airforce’s current efforts, but man-portable.

  • Don’t forget the cupholder.

  • @ Kristopher: My only problem with X-Ray lasers is that that phrase is invariably preceded by the additional phrase “bomb-pumped”, and lord knows I do not want a small nuclear device strapped to my waist.

    Unless it was powering a full-blown exoskeleton suit.

    @ Jerry: You think you are joking

  • Will

    @Linoge:

    Up till now, without a barrel, you never have a gun. Period. Talking about F-Troop is a red herring. kfg is correct, and you are arguing for the sake of arguing. I thought you were better than that.

  • Your idiotic personal slights aside, I have never argued that a tube is an integral part of a firearm, however, a tube, in and of itself, is not a firearm, and a gun is not just a tube.

    Unless, as I said, you can convince a projectile to move down that tube by way of a chemical reaction with nothing but the tube. Best of luck with that.

  • the dude

    It may just be improvements all stacked up on top of each other. Off the top of my head, I can think of two pieces of current technology that would create a whole new brand of firearms, provided the technology can be shrunk down enough.

    I think the navy just tested a rail gun that could wind up being deployed- very low recoil with an automated loading system that can also be manually loaded by a single person. Size and battery power is an issue, but if these could be solved and shrunk down, we could be looking at rail guns in gun shows in a few decades.

    Also, there’s the High Impulse Weapon System. Hell, this thing is practically battle ready, though I’m sure there’s a few kinks left in the system.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyAl9qK3Rlg

    The point is that existing technology that isn’t necessarily firearm related will come into play at some point. How it does that is anyone’s guess.

  • Tam

    Linoge,

    All of this is just as pointless and somewhat stupid as the BATFE arbitrarily deciding that the lower half of a semi-automatic handgun is the ‘gun’ portion in all cases except the Ruger Mark series and a few other exceptions. Once you simplify something past the whole, it is no longer the whole.

    The point being, if the government is going to pass laws regulating “guns”, then the have to delineate what is actually the gun.

    Otherwise you get the similarly reductio ad absurdum of “I’ve removed the magazine/slide stop/front sight, so it’s not a gun anymore.”

    The obvious solution would be to follow the Constitution and 86 the regs on guns, but as long as we have gun laws, we need to define what constitutes the gun. It’s ghey, but there you have it. :(

  • @ the dude: Heh. “An issue”. Have you seen the size of the capacitor banks feeding that damned thing? It is awesome as all get-out, but it suffers from the same problem that is, coincidentally, hamstringing electric vehicles – high-density electrical storage.

    Of course, on the flip side, it gives me no end of warm fuzzies that the same technology which would make EVs actually feasible would also help move us towards man-portable directed energy weapons… I bet that will give hardcore greenies FITS.

    And that high-impulse thing is just crazy… looks like they took the whole “long recoil” system about as far “long” as they could…

    @ Tam: From the legislative point of view, I completely understand why the federal government has to pick something to point at and say “This, in fact, is a firearm”.

    But that does not make the statement any less stupid, especially when they flip their decision back and forth on a whim. But I would feel just as dumb pointing at a just-milled AR-15 barrel and proclaiming “that is a gun” as I feel about pointing at a bare-assed lower and saying it is a “gun”.

    Both could be parts of guns, with the introduction of various and sundry other parts, but they are just subsets of a whole.

  • Will

    Linoge:

    if the subject is a gunpowder gun, you only need a barrel. That’s all the first guns were! Additional parts added only improve performance/utility. No barrel, no gun, EVER. That is the point you seem to want to ignore. Doesn’t matter what some bureaucrat wants to label a “gun”. You can pile up all the parts in the world, you will never have a real gun without a barrel in the mix.

    I might point out some (all?) of the European countries control barrel accessibility,and consider that the registrable part of a gun, as they rightly know that is the heart of a gun.

  • Seerak

    It would be great to hear about a company working on an electromagnetic man-portable firearm but that would take a huge investment for, likely, little return since a gun that uses electromagnetism to propel a round isn’t going to be all that different than its gunpowder burning equivalent.

    It might still be a gun, but it wouldn’t be a *fire*arm, by definition.

    As the end user, you’d have more consumables, needing to recharge the gun as well as load it, and kaBooms would take on a whole new meaning too.

    I can just imagine the legal chaos for all those *fire*arms laws on the books, as well.

    Sounds plenty different to me, in details if not the basic reaction propulsion principle.

  • Tam

    @ Will:
    I might point out some (all?) of the European countries control barrel accessibility,and consider that the registrable part of a gun, as they rightly know that is the heart of a gun.

    Don’t believe that’s so. That’s why cased sets of shotguns with barrels in multiple gauges, T/C’s, and switch-barrel rifles are so popular over there. Just like here, they restrict the serialized part.

  • Will wrote:

    if the subject is a gunpowder gun, you only need a barrel. That’s all the first guns were!

    And if you remove those barrel’s firing mechanisms – whether it is a fuse, or the gunpowder itself, or flint and steel – you have naught but a large metal tube.

    Hell, if you want to start using legislation as an appeal to authority, you do understand that non-cartridge-loading projectile-throwing devices (i.e. old-school guns) are not “firearms” by the legal definition of the word here in the US, right?

    I think it is time for me to leave this here and back away slowly…

    @ Seerak: The legislative nightmare around railguns/coilguns/magnetic accelerators would be… interesting… given that they are already being commercially produced by kids in their parents’ basements (and I mean that in the kindest way possible). Granted, they are not (quite) up to “lethal” levels yet, but some of them would bloody well hurt at this point.

    Given the social stigma surrounding firearms, electric “guns” might very well be the perfect arena for us to accurately point out just how ineffective, pointless, and smothering “gun control” laws are, because if we can swing that energy storage problem, pretty much anyone could produce one in their own basement with the right battery and a hell of a lot of copper (and some other fiddly bits, of course, but nothing you could not find at a local hardware store… kind of like firearms).

  • Linoge: Enegery density my boy, energy density.

    As I’ve said before smokeless poweder is mighty handy when one needs to convert potential energy into kinetic in a relatively simple and compact and repeatable way.

    It’s the same set of reasons why petro-based fuels are so handy.

    That said, the development of electronic based weapons to something beyond novelty levels is interesting.

  • Will

    Linoge:

    “Your idiotic personal slights aside”…

    Sorry you took gentle chiding as an attack. I try to avoid any personal comments for exactly this reason. I blame it on the raging fever I was running for several days. I think I should try backtracking my ‘net travels, as this mistake may not have been an isolated one. Sigh…

  • @ Jack: Hm. Seems like now is a great time to start reconsidering the applications of the GyroJet concept… At the time, it was one of those things hamstrung by the material science of the period, but now… Could be fun :).

    But, yeah, until we get better electrical storage methods, we are kind of stuck relying on chemical storage, greenies notwithstanding.

    @ Will: It happens. No hard feelings :).

  • Will

    @ Tam:
    Tam,
    I think I may have mangled my memory of a file on the subject, that I lost in a computer failure some years back.
    I think I meant to say that they require any easily removable barrel to carry the same serial number as the “frame/action”. Hmmm, research time…

  • SouthpawPL

    Who here remembers Calico Arms? IMO, a fifty round spiral magazine on a moderately-sized pistol was a pretty good example of innovation. Unfortunately, they got AWB’d and regulated out of existence in short order…

  • Linoge: I think the big thing for GyroJet style is the ammunition. With modern materials and mfg, I’d bet that cost could be reduced, and reliability and accuracy could be raised. There’s also that the buggers take a good distance ~10m to get to velocity.

    I recall that the actual arm itself was quite light and basic, being prettymuchs stammed metal, given the presures involved made it so barrels and actions could be much much lighter and the lack of needing to eject a case.

    As for electircal storage, yeah them things don’t follow Moore’s law. Which frankly would be scary if they did.

  • @ SouthpawPL: In fairness, the Calico was more a massive change (not sure if it was an improvement or not) in the feeding mechanism for the firearm, and not necessarily for the firearm itself. It might have been the precursor for the P90, and I would love ot see them return, but boy were they wierd.

    @ Jack: The range problem would definitely limit their usefulness as handguns, but just imagine a rifle built around the general concept… Something tells me the BATFE would have fits, as would the anti-rights cultists, given the interesting variety of impact speeds and payloads available.

    Sarium Krellide batteries, baby!



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