What happened with the Remington R51? A tale of colliding generations and expectations.

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Photo courtesy of Paul Carlson/Safety Solutions Academy

Remington’s only indigenous handgun, the R51, debuted last December to rave reviews from journalists in attendance. The reviews of production models have not been nearly so kind. What happened in between?

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I, like many others, was intrigued and excited by Remington’s announcement of their R51 pistol last year. Here was the thin, modern, efficient single stack 9mm many of us had been pining for but not getting from the more expected sources. It looked like a gift from heaven.

Its introduction was via a press event at Gunsite in December 2013, but it’s fair to say that the event wasn’t structured around the new pistol. Over a three-day period the hand-picked gun writers played with Remington’s new shotguns, rifles, and ammunition, and then on the last day were shown and allowed to shoot the R51 pistol.

The reports were almost universally positive: raves were given for the gun’s feel, its accuracy, and even its reliability. It looked, according to the people who were there, like Remington had hit one out of the park.

Come mid-January, at the all-important SHOT Show Media Day at the Range, and the R51 was conspicuous by its absence. It was just a scheduling mix-up, everyone was assured, and when they got to the show proper the next day there were plenty of display models on hand.

Rumors began to fly: were there problems with the new gun? (I confidentially told a colleague that despite my enthusiasm for the pistol, we had to remember this was the same company that couldn’t manage to make a Marlin rifle that worked correctly. Little did I know how prescient that comment would be.)

As guns trickled out to the public, a different story about the R51 emerged: the triggers were awful, the slides felt like they were moving in a sandstorm, and worst of all: the guns just didn’t run. People wrote of not being able to shoot a full magazine successfully, and accounts of broken parts and incorrect factory assembly were being pasted all over the ‘net. It was turning out to be a disaster of a new product.

So, why the disconnect between the introduction and the gun that got shipped? I think there are several contributory factors, each of which we should all recognize and remember for the future.

First, the pistols shot at Gunsite were likely specially selected and hand-prepared (at least two, according to accounts, were prototypes or pre-production test units.) It’s always tempting to believe that what comes out of the end of the assembly line is just like the examples used to set up those lines, but that’s not always the case. We’ve certainly seen this kind of difference in other consumer products, such that the test protocols for media outlets in other fields require production examples. That’s not so in the firearms world, or at least it’s not the norm.

Second, I note that of the writers invited to the press event, there were no hardcore defensive training types; most of them are primarily hunting writers. To be sure, even those folks will occasionally write about defensive handguns and sometimes defensive shooting, but there were none of the major names from the so-called “tactical” side of the industry. Why might that be important? I think it’s fair to say that people whose primary outlook is self protection might be a little more critical of little issues with a gun being marketed for that purpose.

The people who were there aren’t stupid, it’s just that their perspectives may be different than, say, my own. I’m also not saying that they can’t ever write about a defensive arm, only that those of us who eat, sleep and train in that segment of the business might just be a tad more qualified (and motivated) to judge a piece of equipment for that use. If I’m potentially going to use it to defend my life, or I’m in the position of recommending such a product to my students, I’m probably more likely to look at that product much differently than if I spent most of my time talking about shotguns and deer hunting. Having lots of training experience and seeing lots of gun failures in the training environment gives one a perspective that I believe is critically important when talking about a defensive firearm.

Third, the writers in attendance had been wined and dined for three days. While everyone in this business says that those kinds of paid junkets don’t affect their opinion or outlook, it would take superhuman effort to set aside that “favor” and report perfectly honestly on their experience. Positive press is why these events happen; the writer who pens a critique is unlikely to be invited to another. That’s called “motivation”.

Finally, company management isn’t stupid: they’re not going to spend all that money on people (and/or the magazines for whom they write) who they know are going to give them a scathing review. Despite vehement denials, advertising revenue so often drives magazine editorial content that it’s almost comical to pretend it doesn’t. I’m sure the folks they invited are good people (I’ve met some of them), but let’s be honest: they were sent to Gunsite on Remington’s dime for a reason.

Luckily for us (and not so luckily for the R51), gone are the days when the media outlets were controlled by the manufacturers. Today the product gets into many hands and those many hands are able to bring their experiences to many hundreds of thousands of others through blogs, social media, and YouTube. Users who paid their own hard-earned cash to buy a new gun only to find that it didn’t live up to their expectations are free to make their opinions known, and the rest of us can easily find them and decide for ourselves if they’re applicable to us.

It’s a new world, and the gun industry just hasn’t figured it out yet. This business, by and large, still plays by the old rules: give a hand-picked media presence a hand-picked gun in a controlled environment, make sure the gun gets on the cover of the next issue, and don’t let anyone else have a chance to try it before the articles get published and the guns get shipped. In this case, the old ways failed; crowdsourcing has won.

I’m still excited about the R51 and really hope that Remington can rectify the issues and make it into a good product. I’d like the R51 to succeed, but I have to acknowledge the reality that it’s just not looking very good.

I’m depressed now. I think I’ll go read a gun magazine, where everything is rosy all the time!

-=[ Grant ]=-

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About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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