I’m notoriously bad at predicting the future. Not that I don’t try. There was a time in my life when I could carry everything I owned in a backpack. I was one of those wandering dirt-hippies busking on street corners in Santa-Fe, playing bluegrass for tips. I had no idea then that I’d be here now, gazing into my crystal ball, trying to decipher the future of the civilian firearms industry.
Yet here I am. And I’ve got my finger on the pulse, as they say. If I can look back for just a moment, I’d say that 2013 was a lost year. The crazy shake ups in politics, and the ensuing consumer spending, left the industry trying to keep up with all of their back-orders. While that’s great for business, it slows development.
But 2014 will be different. Here’s my take on what to expect.
The ratio of (more) power to (smaller) size has left the handgun industry on a roller coaster. Single-stack .45s now come in under an inch, like the Springfield Armory XDS. There’s a literal 9mm arms race (Nano, LC9, XDS-9, etc.). But we’re still missing an entry from the undisputed leader in the polymer pistol market. Glock. Will 2014 finally see a single-stack Glock in 9mm?
Maybe. Probably not. Instead, Glock is getting into the .380 race with the 42. Glock has taken some considerable flack from the public for not opening with a single-stack 9mm, but the 42 is going to sell. And why not? The .380 market is still deep. And having a back-up gun that works exactly the same as your primary gun (assuming it is a Glock) makes training much easier. I’ll pick up a 42 just as soon as I see one, guaranteed. I don’t care what anyone says.
Will there be anything truly special for revolver fans? Doubt it. Smith & Wesson has a new nine-shot 9mm revolver, and I can’t wait to get my hands on one, but it doesn’t seem like a gun that will push the limits of the field.
The years 2012 and 2013 saw a couple of rifles that were genuinely innovative. The Ruger American Rifle and Remington 783 brought affordable accuracy to a market dominated by much more expensive options. These rifles are a utilitarian mix of polymer and steel, perfect for unpretentious hunts in demanding environments.
Now, 2014? I’m expecting product creep, more low cost adaptations in more obscure calibers. If there’s a real gem that surfaces at SHOT, it will be a genuine surprise.
Ruger is making news with the reintroduction of their Red Label line of sporting guns. And about time. Ruger, a powerhouse in the American market, makes guns people can afford. They rule the rimfire scene. They have devoted revolver fans, and are edging into the pistol and 1911 markets. Their center-fire line is vast. Why not wrap it up with some scatter-guns?
If Intrepid’s RAS-12 is any indication, 2014 will see more ambitious tactical shotguns. The RAS-12 is a true AR-style shotgun and it has changed the game. Success like that breeds competition. 2014 may see a new race that takes us away from the bullpup and into a more familiar shotgun platform.
Modern Sporting Rifles
2013 was almost a big year for black rifles. There were a couple of news makers at this time last year that had us all drooling. The IWI Tavor was one. Beretta’s ARX was the other. We’re still waiting for the ARX. Otherwise, 2013 was all about production.
Why would you make a new gun when you can sell everything you make? Remember, it was about this time last year that people began to take stock of the empty shelves and dwindling supply lines. The rest of the year was dominated by back-orders. There’s no need to innovate under those circumstances.
2014 should see more movement. If the Tavor and ARX are any indication, we’ll see 5.56 rifles that move farther from the form of the AR-15. I bet we’ll also see new AR-15 makers, too. And we are already seeing a stabilization of the supply. If you want an AR, you have actual choices. There’s a very good chance that the pendulum will swing back in the opposite direction. If so, the bottom will fall out. Prices will plummet. Manufacturers will panic, halt production, and get back to good old fashioned R&D. The payout will be seen in 2015, 2016. Maybe.
And as long as we’re being optimistic, I’ll put in my 2 cents concerning ammo. As with the black rifle supply, ammo is coming back. I can buy almost anything I want, as long as it isn’t .22 LR. I’m still struggling to keep up there. It is getting better. I came home from holiday travels with a brick. I’ve been able to order some. I still can’t bring myself to pay the outrageous prices being asked by some online retailers. But it is getting better.
Production is also going up. And that’s where we’ll see the shift. Demand went through the roof, so we bought up all of the available supply. Demand didn’t dwindle, so manufacturers ramped up production. We’ve bought up everything they’ve offered, even thought we’re not shooting it. We’re stock piling. At some point, we’re going to look like hoarders. We’re going to begin second-guessing the size of our own supplies. It will happen gradually, but manufacturers will be the last to catch on. As such, the shelves will fill and prices will fall.
In the end, we’re only just beginning…
Like I said at the start: hard to tell for sure. One thing is certain; we’ll head out to Vegas next week and see everything there is to see. We’ll document it all, try to make sense of the changes, and dish it up as quickly as we can. The SHOT Show is a great place to see what’s coming, though it is often just a glimpse into a future that arrives at a glacial pace. And I, for one, am not good at waiting.