At this magazine, we do something that a lot of other magazines and websites do — recommend firearms that our readers might like to buy. We also do something else that most other outlets would never consider — telling our readers what guns not to buy.
Based on correspondence with readers through the years, I’ve been told repeatedly that when a firearm comes up with a B or lower grade, it really doesn’t matter what the grade is. The winning gun sets the pace for the test, so readers usually say, “Why would I buy what Gun Tests says is a second-ranked gun?” That logic is hard to refute. So, when you’re at the gun counter and are trying to find a rifle, shotgun, or handgun you might like, it’s helpful to know what to buy, of course. But sometimes a well-meaning retailer will offer another choice if the store doesn’t have your A-ranked model. That’s when information about which firearms were not our picks comes in handy.
I mentioned a couple of issues ago that I might be truncating reviews for the B or lower-grade guns so we can squeeze in more guns in the magazine. My mail has run mostly positive for that change, but with some pretty big “yeahbuts.” That is, “Yeah, but cut the fat, don’t cut the meat.” A note from Gun Tests Reader Don M. expressed it like this:
As far as less treatment on B grades and lower, I have serious misgivings about that. I want to know all the problems, if possible. We need to know all kinds of problems and what it might take to solve them so we can fix, or at least diagnose, problems with older guns that we already have, or that friends or relatives have, or that we may come in contact with in the future. I absolutely want to know why a gun gets an F, a D, and so on. Was it just an assembly-line guy missing something, a quality-assurance person asleep on the job, or was the designer on drugs and the problem is not fixable? I want to know all of that. I do not think you have slipped much in the latest editions on what you tell us. I do not care if the B grades and lower cover problems faster in less words, but I want to know all the problems.
If Gun Tests were just reviews so we could know what to buy for new guns or the occasional used old gun, I would not have subscribed this long. That information is very valuable, and we need it. But reading Gun Tests is education, not simply a list of buy and don’t buy. For example, years ago you mentioned a handgun caliber that went through windshields and car doors better than others, based on a reviewer’s experience in police work. That info was not the point of the review, but it was the most useful info in the article to me — and all the other info was still useful.
Another article on hunting rifles mentioned how one gun could do a raking shot if needed. Not in the standard review, not revealed from your tests shooting paper targets, but very useful information to hunters. Your added content on how some of these calibers came to be and what makers were trying to do is so useful to know. Do not cut down on any of that. List all the problems on B and lower guns, even if you have to do a list of sentence fragments to get the detail in. But get all the info down, one way or another. I have been reading Gun Tests for at least 10 years now. You are getting better all the time. Removing knowledge on failures would not be a step up in my opinion. Shortening it is OK. Removing it is not. Thanks.
That’s pretty good advice, Don. Thanks for writing and hanging in.
Regarding Reader Don’s letter to you, Cut The Fat, Not The Meat. Talk about spot on and to the point. He made a lot of sense and built a solid case concerning your B, C, D, E and F review results.
If all I wanted to hear about were great gun reviews then I would just buy other gun magazines. To be blunt, I love reading the reasons why a particular gun failed in your testing process. As an average American guy, I don’t get to try out as many guns as Gun Tests does. Not even close. My local gun range doesn’t have all that many that I can rent. So when you guys give a gun something less that an A rating I want to know why. It’s the same reasoning and logic as reading Amazon reviews. You want to read the good, the bad and the ugly. If Gun Tests doesn’t give its’ readers the nitty gritty, who else will? Please don’t editorialize yourselves by condensing the reviews on failed products, if anything, I want either the same or more information.
I’m also interested in the gun manufacturers themselves. Take a huge company like Sig Sauer. They are an innovative company. Sig seeks out and lands defense contracts. They have their own optics department, R & D, etc. When you buy one of their guns you expect to receive a perfect product when you open the case. Well, that doesn’t always happen. They make mistakes and have problems too. Now look at a company like Bersa. They rarely come out with a new product (I don’t consider new frame colors or finger grooves to be innovative). If Bersa has its own R & D department they must be on long term sabbatical. The only defense contract they have is with the police department in their own country. Nothing wrong with any of that, they are just not a Sig or a Ruger. But when you buy a new Bersa and open the case, again, you expect a perfect product. Doesn’t always happen. Bersa makes mistakes too. Both companies have their place in the gun world.
The point I’m trying to make after writing that long, drawn out paragraph is that consumers long to read the truth, preferably before they buy a product. That’s why the readers of this magazine subscribe to you. If all we wanted were glowing reviews and slick advertisements then we would read grocery store gun magazines.
Feel free to print this letter in your magazine. Edit it however you see fit. Keep up the rockin’ good work!
Regarding your new “truncating reviews for the B or lower-grade guns”, I going to vote against it. It is important to know why you downgraded a gun and what criteria you are using. Your reviews tend to set evaluation criteria based on a particular use, like pocket carry or service revolver. Which you have to do to set up your evaluation criteria. But just because a gun doesn’t do well against those set of standards doesn’t mean it is a bad gun for another use.
For example about 10 years ago you were reviewing a gun I was considering buying. You gave it a “D”. After reading the article, I decided to buy it anyway because what you graded it down for wasn’t important to me. But I was able to make an informed decision based on what you said. I still have the gun and like it to this day. As a matter of fact you reviewed the same gun several years later for a different use and gave it an “A-” as I remember. Different criteria, different grade.
The point is, respect your readers enough to make up there own minds up. I depend on your reviews to make observations I can’t before I buy something, and you do a great job of that. The grades are helpful for a specific use, but I may be thinking of another use. Report the the facts as you found them, the grades are a subjective interpretation of of those facts. To me the details are the meat, the grades are a side dish.