How Should Gun Reviews Work?

For those who might not have been following, there’s currently a huge backlash among gun writers over an article that appeared on The Truth About Guns bashing Richard Mann for a review he did of the R51 in NRA’s publication Shooting Illustrated. I’ve never been a fan of propping yourself up by tearing down others, which in my perusing of TTAG is their modus operandi. As I’ve said previously, I think their content can often be very good, so it’s a shame they aren’t better members of the community. There’s also the issue that there might be some personal animosity between the TTAG contributor and NRA Publications. That said, there is a legitimate debate over how gun and gear reviews should work.

Most print publications, and some new media publications, don’t do bad reviews. That’s not to say there’s dishonestly going on, just that if a gun or gear doesn’t pass muster, it’ll be returned to the manufacturer with feedback. This isn’t really just an issue with the gun community, since most media in any hobby have tended to work this way. The reason is because your advertiser base will tend to be the source of products you’re reviewing, and it’s never a good idea to pan your customers’ products in public if you want them to keep offering up test and evaluation samples, special visits, factory tours, access to insiders, etc. This is the way of things. There are exceptions, Consumer Reports exists and doesn’t take advertising because they sought to be an impartial source for product evaluation and wanted to build trust with consumers. Blogs also can achieve more flexibility because the advertising model is very different (and not nearly as profitable) than traditional media, but blogs still are dependent on access and good will from manufacturers if they want to get in early on the buzz about new products.

In an ideal world, I tend to think the objective model is better, and is what I prefer. A writer ought to give his honest opinion, and it should be a base expectation of manufacturers and product designers that’s going to be the case. But we don’t live in the ideal world. I don’t think the traditional model is evil incarnate therefore must be destroyed. I don’t rail against it. There is something to say for what your mother taught you, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say it.” In the traditional model, bad products are deprived of the oxygen they need to succeed in the marketplace. As long as a writer is honest, and doesn’t try to tell you a turd sandwich is really pumpkin pie, I have no issue with a publication choosing to follow mom’s old advice. I also don’t have any issue with a publication that chooses to go the route of objective reviews, good or bad. Each has its own merits. But even for those of us who would ideally prefer the objective model, I’m pretty certain we’re not going to change that world by crapping all over it.

15 thoughts on “How Should Gun Reviews Work?”

  1. Honestly, I’d prefer the honest, objective review. The NRA type mags will sugarcoat a turd, but sights like TTAG will be honest about it.

    The Keltec KSG? It’s a turd. The R51? It’s a turd. I’m glad sites will call em what they are because these things are EXPENSIVE and people’s lives will depend on them.

    On this particular situation between Remington and TTAG, Remington deserves a good ass-kicking in the gun press. The fact is: their shit isn’t quality anymore. It’s shit. The R700 trigger issue? The R51 turd? Someone has to hold them accountable!

  2. Wow, it sure seems TTAG readers are…umm…passionate? I’m amazed that people have such loyalty to and conviction for a blog.

    The quality control over at Remington is obviously sub-par these days. Some R51s are great, many won’t function reliably out of the box. But the personal mud slinging back and forth certainly doesn’t make me interested in reading any of those parties’ opinions in the future.

    On a side note, anyone that bases their choice of defensive side arm on a single review – regardless of source – is an idiot.

    1. I’m honestly not big on reviews. If you don’t live with a piece of gear, I don’t think you have any reasonable basis to offer an opinion on it. That’s one reason I will rarely do reviews. The other reason is that what I like might not necessarily be what you like, and what works for me might not necessarily work for you.

      1. Most gun reviews take place in a context-free zone, namely, the range, which is like Motor Trend reviewing minivans at Watkins Glen. I’m not a huge fan of NutNFancy’s stuff (Dude, EDITING!), but I do like his “Purpose of use” approach to reviews, namely, what is this gun supposed to do, and does it do it well? I also like Todd Green’s “2000 round challenge”, as it gives a much better approach to how the gun operates in the long term.

        Going back to the car rags, most gun reviews are of the “WE TEST THE LATEST AND GREATEST FROM MARANELLO/STUTTGART/TOKYO” variety, designed to appeal to the gadget freak and the status seekers, while the REAL aficionados flip back to the long-term road tests to see how their cars will be around for the long haul.

        Also, you ever notice that guns are never compared against each other by a cross section of writers so as to avoid bias, something that’s very common in car pubs? I don’t know why that is, but it’s something the gun mags should look into.

  3. Grant Cunningham’s take is the best.

    It’s a new world, and the gun industry just hasn’t figured it out yet. This business, by and large, still plays by the old rules: give a hand-picked media presence a hand-picked gun in a controlled environment, and don’t let any others have a chance to try it before articles get published and guns get shipped. In this case, the old ways failed; crowdsourcing has won.

    And TTAG, et al, are “sites’, DevAdvocate, not “sights”, and cites are what you do when quote them. TTAG obviously gets the readership it deserves…

  4. I’m tempted to go with the “Bad Blood” from Sheriff Wilson’s point of view. It could be that Jay G. got the Editor’s Job, not the other guy. And ever since the Pittsburgh NRAAM, there’s been some “tension” between TTAG and other Blogs. And since Jay G. came from the Blogosphere, well…

    All I know is, that if Jay signed off on ANY Article, even if one disagree’s with it, then it’s about as good as it gets.

    1. The tension between TTAG and other blogs predates Pittsburgh. Though, I seem to recall something happened there, but I can’t remember what. What do you remember?

  5. heh. when i saw the firearm blog pimping a masterpiece arms ar15, it was actually a public service, because i realized they would whore themselves out to anyone.

  6. There is a magazine, or at least was, that was a gunnie’s version of Consumer Reports.
    Gun Tests.
    Also no advertising, side by side reviews and comparisons of guns, pointing out good and bad points and testing reliability, accuracy, etc..
    I used to subscribe to it when I had a gun shop, can’t really see paying for it now that I’m only buying for myself and on rare occasions at that.

    1. There is a magazine, or at least was, that was a gunnie’s version of Consumer Reports.
      Gun Tests.

      They do (did?) their best to be objective but if I want to read well-meaning people who really don’t know much about guns but are very enthusiastic, I can do it for free on the intertubes now.

      1. This was back in the early 90’s, alot of today’s internet didn’t exist back then, and is also why I’m not sure they are still in print today.

    1. Only thing is, it seems most of the anti’s also like to keep guns around themselves, either in the form of armed guards or actually owning a few guns. Or both.

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