One of the big announcements of this year’s SHOT show was a new Browning High Power. Yes, an all-singing, all-dancing new and slightly upgraded version of an 85 year old pistol, all for the bargain price of around $1400. As a special bonus they have kept the gun recognizable while somehow, in some indefinable way, stripping it of it’s elegance.
I feel like a Scrooge. All year we wait to see what’s coming down the road in the firearms world, and with each year that passes it feels like more and more of it is… *yawn* Just more of the same.
The thing is firearms are a mature technology. Here’s an example: take a modern AR15 rifle, go back in time and hand it to a Vietnam-era soldier. He’ll recognize it, know exactly how it works and be able to use it immediately. Depending on the optic that’s mounted it might take a minute or two to figure out, but that’s it. Yes, a soldier from half a century ago would find our modern service rifle familiar and completely comprehensible. We’ve been trying to replace it since the 1960s and haven’t managed it yet. Why? Because we couldn’t come up with something enough better to make it worth bothering. We’ve fussed with the details and accessories, but the basic rifle is the same.
It now looks like we’re finally getting something new, but it won’t be because we’ve made a radical leap of firearms technology. It will be because more of our potential enemies will be wearing effective armor, and the current platform and caliber cannot reasonably be stretched to defeat it. Several novel and efficient weapons have been submitted, but the only ‘new’ thing the most extreme of them boasts is a new application of an old idea for a telescoped composite cartridge.
Innovation is not dead by any means. The Laugo Alien is easily the most innovative handgun of the 21st century so far, but even that is mainly a cunning combination and arrangement of familiar features, and the principle of operation has been around for more than fifty years. It’s a very clever application of existing technologies used in new ways… and if you handed it to a soldier in WW1 suss it out in seconds.
With the base technology established the market is expanding to fill every niche, and options abound. Guns are getting better, but what we’re seeing are refinements, specialization and more affordable options. A lot of stuff coming out is cool and fills a niche that we might not have even known existed, but the underpinnings are familiar. That’s not really a bad thing; knives have been a mature technology for a couple thousand years or more, and we’ve manage to keep them entertaining. We’ll do the same with guns for as long as they remain useful, I’m sure.
It’s really not that people aren’t doing interesting things or bringing cool products to market. It’s that as new offerings get more and more specialized they are less and less likely to be applicable to my personal preferences, so it feels like there’s little of interest on offer. But the deeper I look the more I see. I just don’t care about a lot of it, but it’s there and someone obviously does.
There is an area where serious innovation can, has and will continue to occur: the user interface. Red Dot sights have become ubiquitous, and have developed into robust sights small enough to mount on a concealed-carry handgun. There’s an iPhone app that will do your ballistic calculations for you. There’s even a sniper scope that will automatically adjust for range and even pull the trigger for you. Then there’s this-
Magpul and Maztech have collaborated on a modular, integrated information and fire-control system for small arms. It features a shot counter, rangefinder, in-scope display etc., all networked and cooperating to make sure the shooter can know what they need to know to do their job and survive. It’s seriously sci-fi, and it’s coming to market.
While the big deals in firearms this year seem to be rehashes, updates and more than a few answers to questions no one was asking, there still some genuinely cool products and a few new niches being filled. I just have to dive a little deeper to notice them.
Affording them… yeah, that’s a whole ‘nuther question. *sigh*
Well, season’s greetings, and I hope SHOT-Show-Santa brings you everything on your list! Stay safe and take care.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 18 January 2022
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