The Column, No. 68:

Editorial Policy Regarding Firearm Aesthetics

By Chuck Hawks, Managing Editor

As the Managing Editor of Guns and Shooting Online, it is my responsibility to set and maintain some sort of journalistic and editorial standards. One of my pet peeves, as Senior Editor Randy Wakeman pointed out in his recent review of the Benelli Super Vinci shotgun (see the Product Reviews page), is ugly sporting firearms. Understand that I am referring only to sporting arms, whether rifle, handgun or shotgun. Military type weapons designed for killing enemy soldiers, whether trench shotguns, army rifles, service pistols or bazookas are beyond the aesthetic purview of Guns and Shooting Online, which is written by and for recreational shooters and hunters. Certain specialized civilian arms, such as tactical firearms, target rifles, competition shotguns and match pistols, will also not be evaluated in aesthetic terms.

That said, the great majority of the guns reviewed on Guns and Shooting Online are recreational arms intended for informal target practice at the shooting range, hunting and plinking. These are SPORTING firearms. Among their traditional benefits is (or at least should be) pride of ownership. They should be effective and handsome representatives of the gunmaker's art. They should make you want to display them in your den, or over the mantle in your front room.

Smooth and trim lines, polished metal finishes and handsome stocks (in terms of material, shape, design and finish) do not detract from function and greatly enhance pride of ownership. Indeed, they usually benefit handling in the field, as classic sporting firearms' shapes were developed over hundreds of years of practical trial and error. Most of the bizarre-looking, Euro-trash sporting guns actually compromise fast, smooth handling by the incorporation of overly tight pistol grips, weird forearm angles, thick wrists, oddly shaped trigger guards and so forth. In addition to being less user friendly than traditional gun designs, they are sinfully ugly.

This is not my opinion alone, it is the consensus of the entire Oregon (home office, if you will) Guns and Shooting Online staff, gun lovers all. We realize that any comment about aesthetics is inherently judgmental. That's okay, judgment is how you separate good from bad. Being judgmental and having the guts to say so is not politically correct, but it is necessary. We feel we are qualified to be judgmental, having spent our entire adult lives (over four decades, minimum) as admitted "gun nuts." We are, collectively, willing to take the heat and I, as Managing Editor, am personally willing to accept the responsibility.

In the past, some Guns and Shooting Online contributors have commented on the aesthetics of the sporting guns reviewed and some have not. In most cases it was not necessary, as until recently manufacturers tried to build the most appealing guns they could at the intended price point. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Cost cutting, in the form of time and labor saving metal finishes (read "unpolished"), shortcuts in construction, the cheapest possible plastic stocks and even "dipped" overall finishes have become all too common.

This trend applies not only to economy guns, but to expensive guns, such as the recently reviewed Benelli Super Vinci. The Vinci is only one example among dozens, but because I just finished editing its review, it is fresh in my mind and the specific product that brought this subject to a head. This butt ugly autoloading shotgun incorporates so many cost-cutting measures that its stratospheric MSRP is practically sinful. Saying that it functions correctly is no defence, since guns are supposed to function correctly and the great majority do, at all price points.

As a result, from this point on, aesthetics will be considered in every Guns and Shooting Online firearms review. If a gun functions correctly and reliably, we will continue to say so. If it doesn't, we will continue to report that, too. If it is loaded with cost cutting, quality reducing "features," we will mention them. If it is ugly, we will say so straight out. If the author of a review omits such comments, I will personally add them in a sidebar.

What has been a sort of unspoken personal policy, unevenly applied, is now an official, universal Guns and Shooting Online editorial policy. We are going to hold sporting arms manufacturers responsible for the quality, fit, finish and aesthetics of their products. As far as I know, Guns and Shooting Online is the only publication, electronic or print, to take a stand on this issue. This policy is bound to create some controversy, but we gun lovers at the home office believe it must be done, before profit enhancing cost cutting measures make beautiful and functional sporting arms, and the pleasure that comes from pride of ownership, a fading memory.

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Copyright 2011 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.