By Massad Ayoob
Drawing more than 80,000 attendees, the NRA Annual Meetings (NRAAM) held in Indianapolis April 26–28 provided a wide-open forum for more than 880 exhibitors to show their wares to the gun-buying public. SHOT Show is obviously the premier showcase for new firearms and related products, but the NRAAM’s profile has elevated in recent years — with some companies electing to debut additional new products during the spring show. Thus, it represents an excellent petri dish to examine current trends impacting the market.
Entry-Level Guns Make An Impact
At the 2019 NRAAM, we observed a strong movement toward less expensive guns.
The low-priced introduction to get the most publicity was Ruger’s new Wrangler, an economy-grade version of the Single-Six .22 revolver of 1953. An entry-level plinker, its MSRP of $249 represents an attractive option. Even in Ruger’s Q1 2019 earnings call, President and CEO Chris Killoy highlighted its value: “In this market, we know just how effective that price point can be,” he said.
Of course, single action gate-loading Frontier-style .22s aren’t exactly defense guns, so let’s turn a page in the “new” section of the Ruger catalog to the Security-9. This simple, reliable 9mm auto was introduced in a new sub-compact variation at NRAAM, and like its larger predecessor, it will undersell most of its competition while still carrying a name associated with quality and robust reliability.
A program first unveiled Jan. 2019, Springfield Armory added to its new Defenders Series at NRAAM with the 1911 Mil-Spec in .45 ACP. The theme is: take a proven model whose R&D expenses have long since been amortized, package it in a plain box instead of a cool carrying case, sell it with just the one magazine and keep the cost as low as possible in hopes of putting the most attractive price tag on it when it hits the dealer’s showcase.
Take, for example, the Mil-Spec 1911. No bells, no whistles, just basic all-American styling and .45 ACP goodness. The Mil-Spec is already a solid value at suggested retail of a bit over $700. Packaged as part of the Defender series, it carries an MSRP of only $549 — and you can probably let it out the door at $500. For a name-brand 1911 today, any buyer who has done his homework will recognize this as an absolute steal.
On the polymer/striker-fired side of the house, Springfield took the first generation of their popular XD 9mm SC (sub-compact) with 3″ barrel, and in Defender trim will advertise it at a mere $339 retail. Bear in mind that in reliability and “shootability,” the XD series seems to keep pace with the GLOCK and the Smith & Wesson M&P series: You can honestly tell the customer they’re getting the quality and confidence of a $600 handgun for just a little over half the price.
Other End Of The Spectrum
Of course, serious enthusiasts with significant discretionary income will always pay more for refined designs with higher performance. These were not neglected among the exhibitors at NRAAM.
Wilson Combat is a manufacturer of premier-grade pistols and rifles. A couple of years ago they introduced the EDC (Every Day Carry) X9, a GLOCK 19-size 1911 with 15-round 9mm magazine. It was so successful it quickly become the company’s bestselling handgun. At NRAAM, Wilson Combat introduced the X9L version, with a 5″ barrel. (I had an opportunity to shoot it before the NRA event, and found it sweet indeed.) People were drooling all over it in the exhibit hall, and none seemed cowed by its $2,995 MSRP.
Among serious handgun enthusiasts, world champion shooter and ace pistolsmith Ernest Langdon has led a renaissance of popularity for the Beretta 92. He works closely with Beretta and they listen to him — with the introduction of the 92X Performance model evidence. At MSRP $1,399, it has an all-steel frame that brings the weight to over 47 oz. unloaded, which further dampens the already-mild recoil of its 9mm round. A 1911ish frame-mounted safety allows cocked and locked start, and what Beretta calls its Extreme-S trigger has a very short reset with a very nice pull. The connoisseurs among your customers will be looking hard at pistols like these.
Defensive revolvers continue to make an impact in the marketplace.
Kimber has again expanded its K6 line of .357 Magnum compact concealed carry six-shooters. Colt added the 3″-barrel King Cobra in the same caliber at SHOT Show, and at NRAAM had a bright polished stainless version of the .38 Special Cobra with bobbed hammer for faster, more snag-free draw. There had been rumors NRAAM would see a sort of “Kit Gun” version of the 3″ King Cobra .357 with adjustable sights. It didn’t happen, but be on the lookout for some further refinements from the company.
More manufacturers are going with “package deals” — with from-the-factory upgrades such as night sights, lasers, integrated lights, etc. G10 grips as a manufacturer’s upgrade is one example. Instead of something the ultimate consumer has to buy and add on his own, it’s now available on select models from mainline manufacturers.
SIG’s pistols come direct from the factory with their own ROMEO carry optic sights, another burgeoning trend in the self-defense handgun market. Optional night sights have been there for a long time; high visibility fiber optic sights have joined in the trend.
A good example is also on display at Smith & Wesson. The S&W Performance Center now offers a package with the popular Airweight Model 442 five-shot .38 snub, a model dating back to the Centennial Airweight of 1952. However, this new model is outfitted with factory-furnished Crimson Trace Lasergrips and a Performance Center action job rivaling some of the best available.
One-stop shopping is certainly an appeal — the customer only needs to lay his or her credit card on your counter once. He or she doesn’t have to come back for the Lasergrips, or send the gun out for weeks to a custom revolversmith for the action tune. This level of convenience and immediate customer satisfaction makes the higher price absolutely palatable.
The Performance Center now offers the M&P EZ .380, already a success because it was designed for the slide to be manipulated by weaker hands, now with the addition of barrel and slide porting. The rationale is the aging baby boomer or other customer who does not have the hand strength of Sgt. Rock may also appreciate absolute minimum muzzle jump on firing. For this customer, the ported Performance Center EZ .380 may be the ideal pistol for fast, accurate defensive shooting.
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