As a gun writer I have the luxury of shooting some of the best guns on the planet. I put them through their paces and offer some humble insight into their performance. The feedback I get is always interesting and in many cases is centered on gun prices.
While I shoot a spectrum of guns, in many cases the pistols especially fall into the premium category. What is inevitable are comments essentially saying, “How much?!?” This is followed by descriptive phrases like, “Holy crap!” “What the heck?” “That’s too expensive!” and other much more colorful thoughts.
While sticker shock is a part of life in everything of quality, handguns seem to elicit the greatest reaction. Because of that, I would like to offer a few thoughts on getting over handgun sticker shock.
A Different Build
All guns are not created equally. This is the truth of life. The factors that dictate the cost of a gun are generally based on the design and construction.
Guns that start to enter the “expensive” realm are in many cases partially or even completely hand built. Not just assembled, but hand fit and tuned. All of this is especially true in the world of 1911s.
The act of making the components are precision centered as opposed to just stamping out parts. The slide and frame are meticulously mated and fit to provide the absolute best performance. Individual parts are hand finished and painstakingly put in to assure a proper fit and function. These guns are a mix of superior function and art.
High-end handguns are the product of craftsmen that are experts in their trade. These skills can only be developed over time and with great effort and expense. Throw into the mix the fact that most of these guns are not mass produced and require premium raw materials to even get started and the price begins to grow.
The Car Comparison
One of the best analogies I have heard compares the gun market to the car market. You simply aren’t going to find a BMW at a used Toyota price. Why? Because of what you get with BMW.
The quality and performance difference, which is a driving factor in cars, is the same in guns.
One factor I attribute this disconnect on gun prices to is simply a failure by many people to understand what is involved.
We live in a modern world where presses and machines spit out parts without blinking. These are then assembled by hired help who are in most cases genuinely concerned with the quality of their product. However, inserting a spring then pushing it down the assembly line is a world away from a firearm built by a gunsmith.
In most high-end shops only one or two people will be the ones working on a gun. They will literally build it by hand. Every part involved is adjusted, fitted, finished and installed by these smiths. The product of this type of dedication is a handgun with exceptional performance and function.
The gunsmiths are able to do things to the gun that mass production cannot. In many cases they take the time to chamfer edges and polish any potential sticking points. What you get is a gun that can go from the box to holster without modification.
With most mass produced guns the first thing most people do it change the trigger or the sights or whatever.
A good example of this is the Nighthawk Custom Shadow Hawk Government 1911. This gun is a collaboration between Nighthawk and Steve Fisher.
The Shadow Hawk is custom designed, with every part of it carefully considered. From a machined steel one-piece mag well/mainspring housing to a black flat faced trigger, Nighthawk designed the gun to excel at every turn.
Nighthawk topped the pistol with Trijicon tall tritium night sights to mate perfectly with a Trijicon RMR. It is a fantastic design to say the least.
While the Nighthawk looks the part of a custom gun, the master smiths over at Wilson Combat can make magic with something that looks “ordinary.”
The Wilson Combat Classic represents a classic looking gun that has every bit the custom attention as the rest of its guns.
It is a marriage between the timeless look and function of a traditional 1911 pistol and modern custom features; these include Wilson Lo-Mount Adjustable Rear Sights, a High-Ride Bullet Proof beavertail grip safety and beautiful Cocobolo Double Diamond grips.
Mix into that the standard Wilson commitment to perfectly fitting all components and you have a gun that is more than you see.
Final Thoughts on Gun Prices
I feel compelled to state that I have no problem with most mass-produced guns. Manufacturing practices and new materials allow companies to build good guns at a very affordable price. These guns fill a very important role in the firearms world and have been instrumental in helping many people get their first firearm.
We must, however, draw a distinction between an off the rack suit and one tailored by experts with high-end material to fit you. That is the difference that matters.
The debate then rages on to, “Is it worth it?” Well, that is a personal decision.
While there are multiple points regarding custom guns that are measurable, such as accuracy, much of its appeal will be personal.
What causes a bit of a chuckle at times when I encounter an “it’s not worth it” shooter is experience. I acknowledge that their new polymer blaster is a decent gun, but I ask if they have ever shot the expensive gun in question. More times than not, the answer is “no.” In fact, after a little more digging I find that they have never strayed beyond their striker-fired world.
Once again, there is nothing wrong with that. What I would suggest though is to at least go handle one of these high-end masterpieces. If life allows, get one onto the range. What you will soon see is that there is a world of difference between off-the-shelf and custom.
I would warn you to be careful because the experience will ruin you for cheap guns. It’s like going from bargain whiskey to good Scotch: you will not want to go back.