Those who are veterans of the SHOT Show know the drill.
For a few days in Vegas, all the major manufacturers (and minor ones as well) introduce their products, often to well-deserved fanfare — and sometimes with enough hoopla to create sufficient demand that several months pass before we actually see the guns in the flesh.
So, with this in mind, we decided to take a look at several of this year’s SHOT debutant pistols to see how well they’ve filtered from the show down into the retail display cabinets. Since self-defense is always the bulk of the handgun market, we’ll look at the pistols that made the biggest splash from Glock, SIG Sauer, Smith & Wesson and Remington.
Some of these much-anticipated side arms have flown off the shelves, others have made steady inroads with consumers while others have had a much bumpier road among the buying public. So which of the 2014 newsmakers should you have on your shelves? Read on and get the low down on what’s hot and what’s not with the shooting public.
Glock — whose stock in trade has generally been one of making variations on their outstandingly popular theme — introduced two new models at the SHOT Show: the G41 and G42. The 41 is a longslide .45 along the lines of its 9mm and .40 caliber models 34 and 35, which are generally used either as tactical or competitive pistols. Featuring their rough textured frame surface and interchangeable backstrap, the 4th-gen Model 41 uses a narrower slide (the same width as the Glock 34) to reduce the gun’s weight 1.5 ounces over their bulky, full-size Model 21 in .45.
While Glock has made a .380 for many years, that pistol was built on the same size frame as its smaller 9mm and .40 pistols. It was also not available in the United States, which makes it that much more gratifying that they’ve finally brought a subcompact .380 to market. Well-scaled down from even the usual subcompact Glocks such as the 26 and 27, the model 42 weighs in a tick over 12 ounces, is less than an inch thick, and holds six rounds of .380 auto in its barely-staggered-column magazine. It’s the smallest pistol Glock has ever offered, and well timed for a market where pocket .380s and micro-9mms are still maintaining their popularity. In addition to being an excellent CCW pistol, the slim profile makes it “great for shooters with smaller hands,” according to KC Eusebio of Team Glock, who uses one as a daily carry gun.
As anticipated, both pistols were well received at the SHOT Show, and according to Glock, the handguns began shipping during the show. While they’ve been no doubt in demand, it was fairly easy to find them for sale both by internet retailers and brick-and-mortar shops. According to Benton Shooters Supply, one of the larger gun stores in the Southeast, they were able to keep up with demand for both models. But the G42 seems to be the more popular model among their customers.
“Every one of them wants it,” we were told by a Benton insider. Glock confirmed that as of July, the diminutive .380 was their best seller for the year, while the longslide 41 was predictably popular with competitive shooters. This squares with what we found: the only distributor that would provide us with availability info had a fair number of 41s available, and no 42s.
The Striker P
SIG Sauer’s most significant introduction of the year was its P320, a multi-caliber, modular, striker-fired pistol that carries over many of the features that debuted in the innovative double-action only P250. Clearly intended as an attempt to make inroads into the Glock-saturated law enforcement market, the 320 is readily convertible between 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, and .45 ACP. And like the chassis-based 250, can easily accept a mix of slides, barrels and grip frames to accommodate the pistol to different uses and users.
Although this does make it possible for a single pistol to be used both on and off duty — since it can be made more concealable — the real selling point is that an agency can adopt a single pistol that can then be tailored for officers who have smaller hands. It also makes the gun more attractive to civilian shooters living in jurisdictions such as New York that limit the number of pistols you can have or carry, since one “gun” can be a full-size .45, a subcompact 9mm, or anything in between. Multi-caliber pistols have long had a relative popularity in Europe for this very reason.
Incidentally, the 320 is also available with an optional thumb safety, a feature that seems to be rising in demand over the last several years, perhaps as agencies have contemplated that when an officer winds up in a fight for his duty weapon, the gun going off immediately when you press the trigger is not always a highly desirable feature.
An even more significant safety feature is that the 320 is designed to be field-stripped without having to pull the trigger — a perpetual criticism of the Glock, where there have been more than a handful of negligent discharges when the person taking the gun down didn’t clear the chamber before pressing the trigger. This is especially a problem in law enforcement, where officers often aren’t gun people, and SIG’s inclusion of it was a wise decision given its desired market.
It bears mentioning that Smith & Wesson incorporated both the no-dry-fire takedown and an optional thumb safety in their M&P line of pistols, which were also intended for the LE/military market.
According to SIG, the P320 is out and about in both full and carry sizes in .40 and 9mm. It’s not surprising that a gun with such a comprehensive variety of options might not be immediately available in every conceivable form, nor is it surprising that they focused first on delivering them in .40 and 9mm — which has begun to make a surprising resurgence in law enforcement.
What is surprising is the somewhat cool reception the 320 has received. With a reasonable suggested retail of just over $700, the 320 is priced about where you’d expect for a higher end service pistol, and the list of features is well-thought out for Sig’s target market.
No doubt, firearms sales have slowed, and SIG recently announced a layoff of 100 employees due to a reduction in sales. The company did not point the fingers at any particular models, but it stands to reason that a soft rollout for a new model such as the 320 in which they obviously invested R&D could be partly responsible.
When we checked some of the larger retailers online, Bass Pro Shop did not list the 320 on its website, and did not have them in the location that we called. Both Cabela’s and Gander Mountain listed the pistol on their websites, with Cabela’s showing it on sale for $649, less than their usual $699 price, and Gander Mountain advertising a price reduction from $649 to $629, nearly $100 less than the high end of MSRP.
We were unable to find the 320 easily at an internet retailer or distributor, and according to one large retailer, the pistols weren’t selling well. This doesn’t seem to be due to any discernable fault in the gun itself: the same retailer said the 320 purchasers they had were happy with it. Ed Head, a retired Border Patrol agent and former Director of Operations for the highly-regarded Gunsite Academy, has been testing one and had only good things to say about it, finding it easy to shoot all day and accurate out to 50 yards.
Smith & Wesson’s major introduction in the compact self-defense field was the laser-less version of its Bodyguard .380, which was originally released in concert with its Bodyguard revolver — both of which now come with an integrated laser sight. While it’s been selling well, according to Paul Pluff, Smith’s director of marketing and communications, “by far our top seller is the M&P Shield.&rdquo
A subcompact derivative of Smith’s popular M&P service pistol, the easily-concealable Shield comes in either .40 or 9mm and has the familiar features of the larger M&P combined with an axe-handle flat grip that still manages to hold a barely-staggered magazine. While the Bass Pro location that we called carried the new Bodyguard .380 (as did Cabela’s and Gander Mountain), they didn’t have any in stock. While their demand for the Shield was a little lower than it had been earlier in the year, they were still selling a lot of them, and in the earlier days after its release, “couldn’t keep one in stock.”
While the .380 still remains a popular pistol for self-defense and pocket carry, it tends to be a beginner’s carry gun, while the growth in the subcompact 9mm market shows a maturing of those who are new to concealed carry and want more power in a package that still doesn’t require major lifestyle or clothing changes to conceal. Smith seems to be well in step with this trend, as they reported “that 35% of guns we sold” were to first time buyers, and that “when we follow up with these customers they bought their second and third guns … they’re committed; they’re enthusiasts.”
This bodes especially well for Smith, with the breadth of its line. In addition to the more serious defensive guns it offers such as the M&P 10 .308 Winchester variant of the AR, and M&P pistols in the heavier calibers such as .45 and .40, Smith & Wesson also has an extensive line of “trainers” (such as its .22 M&P pistol and rimfire AR) that are more approachable for those just learning to shoot and carry.
The company also maintains the name recognition that comes along with its long history, and the enviable reputation of its revolvers, which have seen quite a bump in sales in their smallest J-frame size. According to Pluff, “Traditionalist like these. … Their grandfathers had it, or they carried it when they were on the force.”
By reducing the costs on some of the storied older models that the company has reintroduced, it’s also “made it extremely affordable to own some of these classic designs.”&
Not all of this is nostalgia: the revolver, especially the compact J-frame in all of its guises, is still the go-to gun for those who want a simple, functional weapon that requires minimal training to use. And even considering that much of its sales are from revolvers, 75% of Smith’s sales (which go up every time a new state passes a concealed carry law) deal with personal protection and concealed carry.
R 51 Woes
Remington’s R51, unfortunately, remains the cautionary tale from SHOT. By far the most talked about new pistol at the show, its reintroduction of the Model 51 pocket pistol originally made between 1918 and 1934 is a slim, racy-looking pistol chambered for 9mm +P. The striker-fired, grip safety-equipped R51 has an extremely low bore axis to reduce felt recoil, and with a price under $500, was poised to be something of a game-changer in the subcompact 9mm field. At first revealed slowly to a handful of writers ahead of its formal release, the initial guns met with rave reviews, and the people we know who shot the early guns were uncharacteristically impressed.
Unfortunately, once the production pistols began sifting into the market, bad reviews surfaced with ominous regularity. By the time we started the research for this article, we were unable to find one from the distributor we called, and while some had crossed the counters at retailers we spoke with, the pistols weren’t regularly available, apparently because production had been stopped due to customer complaints.
Remington did not respond to either our email or phone calls asking about the gun, and on July 25— bad news often drops on a Friday — Big Green issued a statement saying the entire model run would be replaced when production of the gun was started again in October. While recalls across a line are not unheard of (Walther had a similarly broad recall of its lightly-redesigned PPK a few years ago) the dramatic solution of total replacement shows that what was released at production was deeply flawed compared to the pre-production guns.
It’s not uncommon for just-released pistols to have issues, and there is a lot of truth to the idea that the better gun writers serve as a sort of outsourced R&D by ferreting these problems out. Generally, though, this results from sending out early production guns, and these are minor flaws that are quickly solved. What appears to have happened with the R51, however, is that rather than sending first-run guns to be tested, writers were sent pre-production guns that were either manufactured or tuned differently and bore little resemblance to what later came off the factory floor.
Although this is common practice for some companies (and we aren’t speculating as to whether Remington has done it before) it’s possible to run the risks inherent in that practice with well-established designs such as the M1911 and AR, knowing that the basic gun is so well proven that there’s little chance of major failures. With a pistol as ambitious as the R51, however, the end result left everybody looking bad.
To Remington’s credit, however, they are correcting the problem, and in addition to a new gun, will be sending a free Pelican hard case and two new magazines to those who return pistols for replacement. We’ll look forward to seeing the promising design of the R51 come into its own when production recommences.