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Trust No One: an insider’s perspective
by Todd Louis Green, pistol-training.com
Trying to decide which pistol to buy? If so, you’re probably looking for one that is guaranteed to be durable and reliable. Well, I’ve got bad news for you. There is no such gun. The day when you could point to a particular brand or model and be certain it would work 100% out of the box and last forever is gone.
After ten years in the firearms industry, including jobs at two major prestigious gun manufacturers, I have come to a very simple conclusion: no one makes a gun that you can be certain will work. Bias and personal preferences aside, most of the major manufacturers are more or less equal nowadays in quality. It wasn’t always that way, but as price became an increasingly important factor in buying decisions of both individuals and government entities, everything changed.
As major gun companies began losing marketshare to Glock, surveys of customers made it very clear that price was one of the driving factors. So what could gun companies do? They had to start competing on price.
The result is, throughout the industry, reduced attention to quality. Both companies I worked for, when I started, had a strict policy of test-firing every single pistol that left the factory floor. Each gun was subjected to two or three full magazines of shooting before it was given the stamp of approval. By the time I left each job, both companies had stopped test-firing pistols destined for the commercial (non-law enforcement, non-military) markets … and in some cases, they stopped testing the LE guns, as well. Why? Test-firing costs a lot of money. You need a range, specially trained and equipped employees, and of course, ammo … lots of ammo. Test-firing a pistol easily adds $25 or more to the price you pay at the gun shop.
But you can guess what happens when companies skip the step in production validating that a product actually works. The number of inferior guns goes way up. Duh! But gun companies are ok with that, because so few handguns ever see 10,000 or even 1,000 rounds of use. Most problems never materialize, or they don’t appear until years down the road when it’s either too late or too bothersome for the owner to deal with. So while gun companies are going to have a higher percentage of guns showing problems, that expense is offset by the savings they get from cutting production costs. In other words, low quality saves them enough money to deal with the occasional squeaky wheel gun owner.
Some people think that brands and models which have been around a long time are not as subject to these problems. One friend of mine has adopted what he calls The Five Year Rule … he won’t carry or depend on a new design until it’s been on the market for five years so that all the bugs can be worked out. That sounds smart in theory, but in reality it just doesn’t matter. How come? Glad you asked.
Gun companies are constantly changing their dimensional specifications, materials, parts vendors, and quality control procedures. Beretta, Glock, H&K, SIG, S&W … everyone is making changes all the time and often to major components. The gun you think comes with a precise cold hammer forged barrel made in Europe now may actually come with a much less expensive and totally unproven barrel that was made on an EDM machine in Canada due to a production change made last year. Your pistol of choice might come with that brand new stainless trigger bar (which replaced the tried & tested carbon steel version used for decades) that’s too soft because the manufacturer hasn’t exactly figured out the proper heat treating process yet.
Doubt it’s true? Go to any brand-specific forum and look around. Complaints abound. Sure, there are still some who drink the kool-aid, and even some who want to force the kool-aid down other people’s throats. But you’ll hear about broken rails and springs at Glock Talk, improperly assembled guns or poor finishes at SIGForum, or mag drops and feeding problems at MP-pistol.com. Not every day, but read about the problems people have experienced over the past few months and you’ll see that no brand is immune to mistakes.
As for law enforcement agencies, it’s easy to identify departments having one serious problem or another with just about every model of every brand of gun in service if you know where to look and who to talk to. Finish flaking off firing pin blocks, out-of-spec chambers, broken hammer struts … even high-profile customers are subject to problems ranging from the annoying to the catastrophic.
So perhaps it really is worth the money to spend a fortune on a custom 1911. But wait! Within the past year I’ve seen problem guns come from the biggest and most respected names in the 1911 world like Les Baer, Wilson, and Nighthawk, too. Having a $500 service pistol experience trouble is one thing. If I just plopped down $3,000 for a custom 1911 that couldn’t reliably feed and fire, I would lose my mind.
You may think I sound like Chicken Little crying “the sky is falling,” but that’s not really true. After all, I carry one of these things (actually, two of them) every single day, too. But I don’t expect any gun to be perfect. Everything gets tested before it leaves the house in my holster. And even then, I’ve managed to suffer breakages and failures in just about every brand of handgun: Beretta, Glock, Heckler & Koch, SIG, Smith & Wesson, and Taurus.
We want to believe that the gun we carry is Excalibur, perfect in every way and indestructible. Truth is, most of the (insert your favorite brand here) guns being produced will never give you a bit of trouble. But they are all mechanical devices designed and built by humans, subject to the same Mr. Murphy as everything else in life. There are no exceptions. We should stop pretending otherwise.
Train hard & stay safe! ToddG