By Massad Ayoob
Henry USA’s U.S. Survival AR-7, chambered in .22, is lightweight and highly portable. At 16.5 inches long when stowed, it can fit in a backpack, trunk or boat. Stocking unique products like this (as well as promoting their presence) will compel customers to stop in for a visit.
Way back in 1955 (the year Shooting Industry was first published, no less) the publication of Lewis Winant’s book “Firearms Curiosa,” devoted to odd and unusual firearms designs, was published. The text has been a staple in the library of gun collectors ever since, and its title has become a catchall term for oddball firearms, too. There are still some out there, more every year.
Remember the Chicago Palm Pistol? It was shaped like a large tin of Altoids with a barrel protruding from between the fingers and was fired by squeezing the hand and compressing a lever at the back. Or the belt buckle gun some Nazis wore during World War II? That’s what we’re talkin’ about here. (They didn’t become paradigm designs.)
There were exceptions, of course. Remember how we gunnies reacted when the GLOCK pistol first appeared in the early 1980s? “They’re nuts! Those things won’t stand up! They’ll probably melt if you leave ’em in a hot car!” Well, look at the handgun market — and the GLOCK in particular — now. Something similar happened when Colt first marketed its AR-15/MSR: Eugene Stoner’s design looked strange indeed to traditional American riflemen, but it has been the nation’s most popular rifle for some time now.
Let’s look at a few, shall we say, “out of the ordinary” designs that haven’t achieved the popularity of the iconic GLOCK and MSR, but have still managed to survive in a competitive market — and a few new products that may or may not.
The AR-7: Introduced by Armalite in 1959, this unique rifle never set the world on fire, but it has survived under multiple brand names, presently Henry. This super-light .22 Long Rifle semi-automatic carbine quickly breaks down into receiver/firing mechanism, barrel and short magazine, all of which go into its hollow synthetic stock. It stows neatly in a suitcase or backpack (but remind your customers not to just chuck it into a suitcase if they’re going to check it in at an airline baggage counter!). Designed as a “survival weapon” for pilots downed in the wilderness, it has probably seen more use as a fun plinker. It would be interesting to know how many of its owners bought it simply because it was “different” — a conversation piece, if you will. Nonetheless, it remains a functional, useful firearm.
Other takedown guns have likewise proven popular over the years. Encouraged by healthy sales of the takedown version of their already super-popular 10/22, Ruger this year brought out a takedown PCC (Pistol Caliber Carbine). My significant other loves 10/22s and won’t be taking her takedown version to a match anytime soon, but it’s the one she pulls from her safe when she feels like plinking on our backyard range. She reacted the same way to the 9mm PCC: “Aww, it’s adorable!” It’s not just a “cute” thing. Everyone on my test crew loved the PCC. We all agreed none of us would be taking one to a 3-Gun competition anytime soon, but everyone thought it was “neat” and “cool.” It generated more smiles than a cute puppy.
The NAA Mini-Revolver: A modernized, solid-frame homage to the first Smith & Wesson revolver of Civil War vintage, this little rimfire has been a staple item in a great many gun shops for decades. Some folks buy them because they’re so tiny; there are customers who are legal to carry but live or work in socially “non-permissive environments” (NPE) where they simply can’t afford to be spotted as pistol packers. A tiny, low-powered handgun that has to be awkwardly thumb-cocked for every shot is not what most of us would use as a primary defensive firearm, but it is a classic example of a “niche firearm.”
Krytos slides for GLOCKS: Sometimes, the oddity is an accessory for customizing an already-popular production gun. The lightweight Krytos titanium slides for GLOCK 17 and 19 pistols are an excellent example. Gun weight is reduced considerably. Price of the slide is the price of a whole GLOCK, but the weight reduction will be worth it to some of your customers. (I have one on order for testing at this writing.)
Any gun designed expressly not to look like a firearm pretty much fits the definition of “Firearms Curiosa.” More than one of these James Bond-ish products has hit the market of late.
Full Conceal: Out for a couple of years now, the Full Conceal is essentially a folding GLOCK pistol. Closed, it has about the same footprint as an iPhone 7 but with standard GLOCK thickness. When it first appeared, a great many gun people turned pale: The trigger was exposed — without a guard — when the gun opened. Last year, Full Conceal updated the design to include a triggerguard. The Full Conceal is definitely one of a kind and qualifies as genuine “Firearms Curiosa” of today, whatever we may think of the concept.
Ideal Conceal: Another “foldaway” handgun to recently hit the market is the Ideal Conceal, a two-shot break-open design in .380 ACP. It’s manufactured not only to be extremely slim and flat, but also to literally fold into a shape resembling an old-fashioned cigarette case. The concept is essentially an over-under derringer: super flat and folds away.
A word on these guns: We live in a world where most serious defense pistol customers (and, frankly, the great majority of industry professionals who read Shooting Industry) don’t carry a handgun they can’t draw and immediately fire. Something as simple as racking the slide can be fatally slow, which is why most professionals don’t recommend carrying a semiautomatic pistol with an empty chamber. A pistol that has to be unfolded and opened before it works is, of course, slower still. Nonetheless, there is the social NPE factor (where carrying guns is frowned upon, but not necessarily illegal), and a gun you can open up and then shoot is still better protection than a gun you’d have to go home to retrieve.
Keeping It In Perspective
Some of the “curiosa” mentioned above are extremely useful for certain applications. The AR-7, for one, isn’t really “curiosa” except in the sense of its unique design — since it has been around and in production for so long.
Some of the items mentioned above will serve certain specific customer needs. Others will be bought because the customer thinks they’re too weird to sell well enough to remain in production, and sees them as investments that will one day be valuable because of their rarity. Some will simply buy them because they’re distinctive, unusual examples of the gunmaker’s art and the innovative brilliance of gun designers.
And some will buy them simply because they are … different.
But the operative term in all the above is: some will buy them.