Gun Magazine Articles: Industry Advertisements?

I have been reading gun magazines off and on for 20 years and have come to the conclusion that gun articles are just thinly veiled advertisements for the industry. At one point, I subscribed to seven monthly gun magazines at the same time for 6 years. It was during this six year period, I began to notice some interesting problems in the gun articles I read and I would like to get on my soap box and get them off my chest.

I subscribed to and read gun magazines because I am very interested in handguns and rifles and have owned and traded many over a twenty year period. I subscribed to and read the gun magazines to gain knowledge, and look to experts with more experience then me for advice or recommendations. Now the writers’ in the gun magazines and the gun magazines themselves try to give the impression that they do product evaluations of guns and other related accessories. Some even say they are writing the article specifically to test the gun or ammunition for the readers benefit.

Now back in college, when you said you were going to do a test and evaluation, that required certain protocols to ensure that the results were not spurious, but were valid and repeatable. Now, the only way to give results with any validity is proper “research design”. Unless the testing process provides barriers against any unknown variables, tester bias and maintains consistent methods, the entire procedure and results are useless. Good research design is not that hard and can be done with just a little planning. Unfortunately the gun writers often stumble on the first step.

For example, gun writers often begin a test and evaluation article by saying that a particular gun was mailed to them for testing by the manufacturer so they grabbed what ever ammunition was available or called an ammunition manufacturer for some more free ammunition. If you think about this for a minute you will realize immediately that there is already inconsistency in the ammunition tested, and a potential conflict of interest in the results. Ammunition is a key factor in how in how a gun performs.

A 230 grain .45 caliber cartridge from Winchester is not the same as a 230 grain .45 caliber cartridge from Golden Saber. A given cartridge consists of several parts such as the bullet, powder, brass case and primer. A change in any one component can drastically affect the accuracy and performance of the bullet. Additionally, if the gun writer calls up an ammunition company and requests free ammunition, there is a conflict of interest here. Can I trust the gun writer to give me an honest evaluation of the cartridges performance? If he gives a bad review, does the company stop sending him free ammunition? Would you give free stuff to some one who gave you a bad review a year ago?

Moreover, if you test Gun A with a 5 different brands of bullets of various weights and types and then compare it to a test of Gun B with different brands of ammunition of different weights and types, is the comparison valid? I often find it amusing that they give an impression of trying to be serious and precise when the basis research design testing procedure is so flawed, the results are not valid.

The gun articles also tend to just be predominately puff pieces instead of concise and complete reviews of the product. I frequently try and guess in what paragraph the writer will actually begin to directly talk about the product or what the thesis of the article is. In a small minority of writers, I may find the actual beginning of the article in the second or third paragraph, but for the majority of gun writers I find the actual article starts in the 10th or more paragraph. The first ten paragraphs were personal opinion on life, the shooting publics’ perceptions of hand guns or some Walter Mitty dream of being in a dangerous spot where you can count on the product that is the subject of the article.

Next time you read a gun article read it from the point of view of a good editor. Does the writer tell me what the object of the article is in the first paragraph, and formulate a position or opinion? How much actual relevant information directly related to the product is in the article versus fluff and filler about other topics. If you hi-light in yellow the facts and key points of the article you will be surprised how much filler there is and how much text you could delete and make the article shorter and better.

I have even read some articles where the author even states that they just received the gun and were excited to test the gun immediately. So they grabbed what ever ammunition was available and went to the range. Some even say they didn’t have a certain brand or the type they preferred at home so they could not test the gun with that ammunition.

At this point you have to laugh. When I read statements like this I find myself saying to the article “ Then go buy some!” or “Delay the test until the desired ammunition can be obtained”. Duh!

Then when the writers gets to the range they all test fire the guns differently. Even writers for the same magazine do not have similar testing protocols. They test at different temperatures, benches, and gun rests. Some will test with Ransom Rests and some do not. The best laughs I get are from the writers who refer to themselves as old geezers with bad eye sight. After acknowledging their bad eyesight, they then proceed to shoot the gun for accuracy and give an opinion on how well the gun shot!

Now, I do not know about you, but if I was a gun manufacturer, I would not want my new gun to be evaluated by some self described person with bad eye sight. Moreover the magazines themselves should try to establish some testing protocols and younger shooters to do the testing.

Now after the shooting at the range, the writer says the gun shoots well and then describes his six shots into a 4 inch circle at 24 yards or some similar grouping. Ok, I am thinking, what does this 4 inch group represent, given the inconsistency in testing procedures? Is this 4 inch group a result of the good or bad ammunition, the guns inherent accuracy/inaccuracy or the shooters bad eyesight or all three? If all three factors are involved, what does the 4 inch group really represent?

Lastly, after reading hundreds of articles, I can’t ever recall reading an article where the writer said the gun was a bad design, the finish was bad, and that they would not recommend it. Even on guns that are on the low end of a product line or are from manufactures that make junk guns, no negative reviews, if deserved, are ever given. Especially if the accuracy resembles more of a shot gun pattern, the writer often says “the gun displayed good combat accuracy”. Since most shootings occur at about 3 to 8 feet, this means the gun will hit your 30 inch wide attacker at 5 feet away. (I hope so!) They will not say the gun is a piece of junk that could not hit an 8 inch target at 15 yards if your life depended on it.

Why? Because gun writers and the magazines do not buy the guns they test, they get free test models. Only “Gun Tests” magazine buys their own guns. So the writers have to say only good things about the gun and down play negatives, or the manufacturer “Black Balls” them from future guns. The disservice is you, the consumer. You get faulty reviews.

How do you trust what ever the writer is saying? For me, I do not. In fact, I pretty much let all my subscriptions run out years ago, except for American Rifleman.

Now, I read mostly read articles on historic guns. Not articles trying to SELL me on a gun, sight, laser, or certain bullet.

Repetition to Death is also another gripe of mine. Over the years, not that many truly new gun models have come out. Mostly manufacturs’ will issue an existing gun with a new color, night sights, finish or some other minor feature. The trouble is the gun magazines and writers treat the new gun color as if it’s the best thing since sliced bread and write a four page article. These articles are usually the articles that contain information that is 95% rehash of information already said for years about the particular gun. Usually in these four page articles only two paragraphs is actually new information or interesting.

The gun magazines also tend to repeat articles about the same gun in the same year and year after year. The 1911 is a great example. Start keeping track of the number of times the 1911 model is the subject of articles in gun magazines each and every month. Now the 1911 came out in 1911, and has been written about ever since. Is there really anything out there not known about the 1911? If a new feature on the 1911 is created, does it WARRANT a four page article on a “feature” that could easily be adequately described in a few paragraphs?

If you want to read gun magazines go ahead, just read them with a critical eye. When I read. I read for content. I try and get the following from an article:

1. What is the writers’ reason for writing?

2. What is the writer actually saying?

3. What new information was conveyed?

4. Are the results of any testing process described valid?

5. Did the writer provide any background qualifications or experience?

6. What do I take away from the article?

Handguns are expensive, and unfortunately the magazines are not much help in providing an honest comparison for the beginner. They only say positive things about all guns, the industry and never criticize a brand and or model. “They are all good guns, some are just better then others”? Yeah right.

My recommendation to the beginner. Talk to someone who has been shooting for awhile and has owned and shot a variety of different guns, and has no vested interest recommending one model or brand.

These are only my opinions, but after years of reading the gun articles, I have come to the conclusion that the writers really do not know how to do consistent testing, and the editors have very low standards for accepting articles. I am not perfect either and love shooting, but I would not say every gun is a quality gun or deserves to be bought.

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