The Continuing Saga of the R-51

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Against the urgings of every strand of my DNA I had planned to sit this one out. Honest, I did.

But I can’t.

By now, I am assuming that most of you are aware of the Remington R-51 controversy. I am not talking specifically about the gun itself, but the dust up on the internet. Here is the backstory.

Remington has had a long tradition of holding an annual new products introduction seminar. This goes way back and it’s an honor for any gun writer to be invited. Traditionally they were showing hunting guns, with perhaps a trap or skeet shotgun mixed in. After all, they were the driving market forces in firearms for decades. But then Remington started growing and the market changed. Once Cerberus bought them and created Freedom Group, they started buying up gun related companies. That created some problems for the seminars, as they became bloated and unwieldy. Recognizing that there is a clear line between hunting and tactical firearms, they decided to split into two seminars. Of course there is a little overlap, but the two are very different events.

The “hunting” seminar was held in Florida in October of last year. Remington, Bushmaster, DPMS, Para, Barnes and AAC, the “tactical” side, had their seminar at Gunsite in Arizona in December. It was at that event Remington introduced their new compact, semi-auto, 9mm handgun, the R-51. They also introduced a bunch of other guns, but you would never know that from what’s being said about the event on the web.

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I was at both events, so I speak with a little authority about all this. The writers were shown a handful of R-51 pistols. It was made very clear that they were prototype, engineer-created handguns. To a man, we were impressed with this little handgun. It shot extremely well, functioned almost flawlessly and was very easy to shoot. Collectively we put 5,000 rounds through 12 (I think) different handguns in just a few hours. With that many type A personalities, of course you are going to get some feedback. But it was just about all positive. Nobody that I am aware of mentioned any operational issues. I heard things like, “I would prefer a wood grip,” but nobody had any issues with the way the pistol worked.

Gunsite is a dusty place and as the day wore on the guns got incredibly dirty. So, near the end, we did see a few jams. But, these were experienced gun writers who recognize that when you have that many rounds put through any gun in a short time, then add in some wind-blown dust, an occasional jam is to be expected. Nobody, myself included, saw any evidence of a faulty gun. In fact, we were all looking forward to having one of our own to carry.

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Meanwhile, the NRA and Shooting Illustrated magazine wanted to get the jump on telling the world about this handgun. (Full disclosure, I am a Field Editor for this magazine.) They assigned another Field Editor, Richard Mann, to write the article. I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s safe to assume that Richard received one of the same pistols we were shooting. No doubt cleaned up a bit, but probably not much else done to it.

For the record, those of you who think we writers get handpicked or hand tuned test guns are way off the mark. I can’t tell you how many times I have received guns to test that sucked. It puzzles me, and if it were my job I would make sure they worked before I sent them out for review, but it just doesn’t happen much.

Richard tested the gun, and then wrote a review on what he found; which was for the most part, positive. Those of us who know Richard Mann would have expected nothing less. While Richard and I don’t always agree on things like cartridges or bullets, I would never, ever question his honesty or integrity. Same thing with Adam Heggenstaller, who was editor of Shooting Illustrated at the time. These are two, proud honest men who would take a beating before they lied to the readers.

I sat back on writing much about the R-51 because this was not my first rodeo and I know that there is a wide cavern separating prototypes and production guns. Remington proved that the R-51 is a fine and functional pistol, but they did not at that seminar prove they could mass produce guns of the same quality.

The trouble with large corporations today is they are often run by people with the inability to see past the immediate. They usually are not looking long term, but are thinking of the next quarterly report. I don’t know what happened, but I suspect that somebody was pushing to release the gun before it was ready. There are always problems when ramping up production. Always. The key is to never ship a gun until those problems are eliminated. But the MBAs don’t always understand that. They are seeing all the pre-orders that are not being filled and are worried about their numbers. No doubt, somebody pressured somebody else to start shipping guns before they should have.

That’s always a big mistake, particularly today with instant media. It’s very hard to recover from a bad first impression. Some of the internet writers bought guns and discovered they didn’t work. All well and fine if it had stopped there. This is not an uncommon occurrence with a new gun introduction. In all likelihood the only one hurt would be Remington when the gun didn’t sell due to the bad publicity.

But that’s not how the internet works. It’s a wonderful invention, one that has great social and economic benefits for the world. But at the same time it’s the habitat of a lot of petty, nasty people. These are the kids who were bullied, who got wedgies and were locked in lockers. They are the marginal people in society who never had any power. They discovered that they can post on the internet, usually anonymously, and suddenly they do have power. At least in their own minds. But, that “power” always seems to turn to the dark side.

At first they ripped into the R-51, which some might argue was deserved. But then, they started attacking the writers who had a good experience with the firearm. There were a lot of blogs and forums spouting off about how all the writers at the seminar were “bought off” by Remington so we would promote their defective pistol. I like to think that most intelligent readers could see this for what it was. These petty people are not part of the traditional gun writer society. They claim they have created their own, new, cutting edge cult of gun writers and there might even be a bit of validity to that claim in some instances; certainly the new generation gets a lot of their information off the internet. But a bitterness rose up, one that had to attack the long established gun writers, the guys who have paid their dues and worked their way to the top in the traditional markets.

It always amazes me how these guys who are not part of our side of the industry have it all figured out. These keyboard warriors started making speculations on things of which they had no knowledge. So, they just made it up.

There are a few internet bloggers who are gaining a respect and a following from the traditional gun culture. There is no doubt that the internet is a huge part of the future, including gun writing, and some of the bloggers were doing a good job.

One guy who I knew and actually thought was in that category decided to post a blog on one of the more popular sites. He decided to completely trash the entire print media gun writer industry. He attacked Richard Mann, the NRA, Shooting Illustrated and every single print writer. He claimed that Richard, the magazine, the NRA and all of us at the seminar were corrupt and that we had been bought and paid for by Remington. It got very personal, very nasty and dishonest and was completely uncalled for.

Of course, he was dumb enough to mention later in the blog that he had interviewed for an editor’s position at NRA and was passed over, which made it abundantly clear this was a hit piece.

I might also note that I have been at other press events where that same writer was attending and he was being wined and dined; so he is also being a hypocrite at best.

I have been in this gun writing business a very long time. With a few notable exceptions, most of the writers are among the most honest and honorable men and women I know. The gun industry attracts the best we have. Those who are not, usually don’t last long. Or at least they didn’t before the internet. How they fare there in the long term remains to be seen.

Most, I think, take the same approach that I do. I write for my readers and I never lie to them. Markets come and go, but without your readers you are done. That said, in three decades only once have I had an editor pressure me to say good things about a bad gun. I refused and it was the only article I ever wrote for that magazine, by mutual agreement.

The internet is here to stay, it’s part of the gun culture now. This petty bickering is just exposing the flaws in that system. I would hope that market forces will weed out those who would resort to these kinds of petty, vicious, hateful and dishonest personal attacks.

Like ol’ Rodney said, “can’t we all just get along?” (Probably before you blogger’s time, but Google it.)

As for the R-51. I might mention that as a “bought and paid for, corrupt writer” (in the eyes of the blogger who inspired this) I am still waiting for my pistol and will hold off until I actually can test a production gun before passing judgment.

I will say that this pistol has the potential to be a game changer. Clearly Remington blew it with the introduction, but there are reports coming in now that they may have the problems solved. It might be smart to watch this as it continues to develop and don’t write off the gun just yet. Once they get it running right, I think you are going to like it.

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