High-End Firearms: Perception vs. Performance

In reality, most of the guns on the market will shoot better than the shooter can shoot them, but the perception for a lot of folks is if they cost more, they must shoot better.

» QUESTION: My family and I live in an upscale part of the country where most everybody shoots as a pastime. There isn’t a lot of crime in the area, probably because almost everybody is armed and the bad guys know it. The biggest source of conflict, more often than not, is what I refer to as “gun snobbery.” It’s very much like who has the tallest truck or the fastest car. The competition regarding who has the fanciest or most expensive gun that shoots further, flatter and faster than the next one is sometimes fierce, even amongst some of the women.

My tendency is to be a little more practical with the guns I buy and the vehicles I drive. In fact, I get a few snide comments about my “box-stock” guns and my “store-bought” holsters from the guys with the handmade custom holsters costing hundreds of dollars and their custom 1911s costing as much as a compact car. When it comes to range time, I can hold my own with the best of them with my “box-stock, store-bought” equipment, so I don’t let it bother me when they give me grief about it. In questioning these boys about why they pay what I consider outrageous prices for their equipment, the stock answer is, “Because I can.”

In reality, is there that much difference in a custom-made product and a factory product made on an assembly line? I can spend the money if I need to, but from a practical sense, I just can’t connect the dots.

» ANSWER: Being a practical kind of guy myself, I tend to look at vehicles, guns, tools and like equipment from an objective standpoint. All these things have a purpose, and I look for what will best serve that purpose. Price might have some impact on the decision, but the objective that I need to accomplish drives the decision.

My wife, on the other hand, offsets my practical side by buying what she wants, not necessarily what she needs. We would have never had some of the niceties of life that we both enjoy if it weren’t for her perceptions on what we needed (and she wanted) compared to what might have met the objective as I saw it. In fact, I have some really nice guns in the inventory that, had it not been for her perspective on value and utility, I would have never owned.

In studying our differences in perception of reality, we found that our early lives combined with our direct experiences throughout our lives were largely what we based our decisions on. By accident, or on purpose, we usually accept the other’s point of view, which has allowed us to live together happily for over four decades.

Looking outside of our spheres of experience, I find that there are as many reasons for buying higher-end, more expensive products or services as there are individuals.

Consumers want to have the same equipment as the champions, even though they have little likelihood of excelling to that level.

In a broad sense, the phrase, “You get what you pay for” has some validity. Of course, the question of what you are paying for should have an answer to qualify that phrase. Only the indivdidual making the acquisition can determine the differences between want and need, choosing the one that weighs out over the other.

In polling some of my high-end custom gunmaker friends who make a living selling one-of-a-kind hand-built guns at hair-raising (for me) prices, I got a lot of the same answers as to why they were selling their products as fast as they could turn them out. Some of the prevalent answers were “the best raw material to start with,” “precision machining,” “hand-fitting,” “proprietary finishing,” “pinpoint accuracy,” “customer-directed options,” “made in the USA” and “overall quality.”

In polling some of their customers, the overwhelming response was brand recognition. To them, owning an XYZ brand gun said it all. Obviously appearance, fit, finish, accuracy and perhaps trigger pull and how well they could shoot the gun had something to do with it, but the name on the gun seemed to mean more than anything else. In their eyes, to own an XYZ gun meant a step up in social status — an emotional means of peer recognition for owning such a fine piece of equipment.

Brand recognition not only comes from the name of the maker but the names of users as well. Every time a well-known competitor using a particular product wins a significant match, demand goes up. Consumers want to have the same equipment as the champions, even though they have little likelihood of excelling to that level. Having a likeness of a winning product makes them feel good about themselves, whether they can wring a winning performance out of it or not.

For most of us, the objective of shooting — be it personal defense, competition or hunting — is hitting the target when and as often as we desire.

There was a common phrase in NASCAR racing years ago that held true: “Win on Sunday. Sell on Monday.” It’s the same thinking in most sporting events. Everybody wants to be associated with a winner and, to varying degrees, is willing to pay a price for that association. Be it guns, holsters, ammunition, accessories, clothing or anything else, many people want to (or have to) be associated with winning products, and cost is really secondary.

On the practical side of the coin, actual performance in meeting an objective is what really matters. For most of us, the objective of shooting — be it personal defense, competition or hunting — is hitting the target when and as often as we desire. This is usually a result of a working gun and ammunition combination in the hands of a competent shooter.

Economy-grade guns, ammunition, holsters and accessories often perform as well and, in some cases, better than the more expensive members of the same brand. Comparative testing of the desired performance measures will prove the definitive differences, if any, from a practical perspective.

In reality, most of the guns on the market will shoot better than the shooter can shoot them, but the perception for a lot of folks is if they cost more, they must shoot better. This could be true, but until it is proven, it is pure speculation.

For most people who own a vehicle and own a gun, there is a direct correlation between what they drive and what they shoot.

The high-end custom guns sell as well as they do as much for their “cool factor” as for their performance. They might have some appealing features and benefits that set them apart, but in my way of thinking, owning a high-end custom gun is just as much, if not more, of an emotional pleasure as it is a practical necessity.

It’s certainly more fun for most of us to be seen riding in an eye-catching, high-performance sports car than it is to be seen in our everyday work truck, even though the truck is infinitely more practical and useful. For most people who own a vehicle and own a gun, there is a direct correlation between what they drive and what they shoot.

Your friends enjoy having the bragging rights about what they own. It gives them pleasure, and if they can afford it, why not? On the other hand, if performance is the primary objective, the proof is in what works for you. As the old-timer once said, “You pays your money and takes your choice.” One person’s perception isn’t always another’s reality.

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