In the gun world, we've become used to a general litany of doom and gloom over the last couple of years. Colt is on the mat, seemingly down for the count. US Repeating Arms, d/b/a "Winchester", had to euthanize its US operations, in the process axing three of the better-known lines of long guns in the country. Charter Arms and Ithaca had to be dragged from the surf where they had yet again been found bobbing face down.
In light of all this, the 2006 attitude of two manufacturers is refreshing to see: Smith & Wesson and SIGARMS are coming out swinging this year.
S&W is a company that never really recovered from the gradual turn to autopistols by the US sport shooting and LE markets. They did okay through the early years of the semiauto cop gun, but their relatively expensive machined-steel autochuckers started hemorrhaging market share badly when a plucky underdog from Austria went aggressively after the LE market, more or less giving guns away in a shrewd maneuver to gain brand recognition. Smith's attempt at a counterpunch, the Sigma series, was rushed to market and cost them a pair of black eyes in the form of embarassing product failures and a lost lawsuit to the new juggernaut from Smyrna. After the nadir of the humiliating HUD agreement, the company was sold for pocket change to a bunch of former management types who seemed to gain title to nothing but a company on the ropes.
After a couple of false starts, S&W is picking up market share again with a multi-pronged assault. First, they capitalize on their heritage; recognizing that, like another American icon, Harley Davidson, some folks are going to respond to that. If somebody really wants a revolver, nothing else is going to make them happy, and Smith wants to market themselves as THE revolver company. Second, with products like the new X-frame in The Biggest and The Fastest revolver calibers, they are cultivating an in-your-face image that would make Inspector Callahan proud. The last leg of the triad becomes apparent with the M&P pistol and the M&P-15 rifle. The M&P is targeted directly at Glock, incorporating several features designed to play to perceived weaknesses of the Drastic Plastic: witness how the ad campaign touts things like a modular grip to fit any hand and, more telling, many references to being able to disassemble the gun without having to pull the trigger. (The fact that the LE wires are frequently abuzz with reports of negligent discharges caused by that is no coincidence.) Rumor has it that Smith is basically giving the guns to interested police departments, in exchange for their old guns as trade-ins. Obviously they figure that if it worked once for Smyrna, it'll work again for Springfield. The M&P-15, priced to go head-to-head with Bushmaster and Rock River, gives them another leg up in the LE market, as department armorers and accountants both love one-stop-shopping for pistols and patrol carbines. It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.
Meanwhile, up the road from Massachussetts, SIGARMS is introducing a blizzard of new pistol models. The if-you-can't-beat-them-join-them GSR is available in a bewildering variety of 5" and Commander-sized models now, both with and without rails. The absence of MIM is being heavily touted in the ad campaigns, no doubt a reference to the former employer of SIGARMS new CEO (who used to work down the road in Yonkers.) His influence also shows in the new offerings from SIGARMS' Custom Shop: The P-series Eclipse and CDP. Er, I mean, Equinox and SAS. Further, the venerated P-220 is to be available in a 3.9" configuration, called the 'Carry' model, and in a Single-Action-Only version, with a thumb safety positioned where God and John Moses Browning (who incidentally have never been photographed together) intended for it to be. Combine this with the announcement of the gizmo-laden SIG-556 rifle, priced to poke the AR market in the eye and guaranteed to have every sufferer of Iwannacoolgun virus beating down gun shop doors in late summer, and we see a company aggressively going after gains in the civilian market sized to match the fat federal, state, and local contracts it's been picking up lately.
All in all, 2006 should be a pretty interesting year in the gun shop. :)