As other elements in gun culture take center stage, guns themselves are becoming somewhat less of a factor. Guns will surely remain the core of the culture, but accessories that can be put on guns and even the social identity of those who use them are coming to the fore at a fast rate.

What’s going down in the shooting sports industry is a whole lot more than simply guns and ammo. Attitude, look and identity are words to focus on these days.

They’re important keywords that lead to capitalizing on this new, exciting phenomenon. As much as many modern firearms are modular, so is the market. In parallel, as the base of gun owners and shooters has expanded over the past decade, the same has occurred with the intensity and level of participation of the various types of owners and shooters.

In that evolution, no genre of firearm/owner has diminished significantly. Rather, the experience has been that at worst, some of the genres have remained rather constant while others have grown — or skyrocketed. To better understand this phenomenon, it is best to look back and understand how we got to where we are at this point in time.

From our August issue

Although home and self-defense always have been factors in the gun culture, historically a majority of folks in that culture entered it either via hunting or organized target shooting. Since form follows function, the very “look” of guns was different. Certainly all owners and shooters have been aware that firearms are effective defensive tools, but the mindset about them was different historically.

Most rifles and shotguns were designed or altered for hunting. Some were slight variants of hunting designs. Handguns tended to be general purpose in nature, although there did exist a significant number designed for defensive purposes — pocket pistols, dresser drawer dragoons, etc.

Trap and skeet dominated the shotgun-target sports, while bull’s-eye blasting ruled supreme for riflemen and pistoleros.

Cowboy action shooting and IPSC changed the handgun game at about the same time as sporting clays put a different face to shotgun-target games. Rifle silhouette shooting and its several variants made targets come alive as compared to circles on paper. A common denominator in all of those new disciplines was “action shooting/interactive targets.”

Quickly the gear race was on because each discipline evolved in ways that demanded specialization in guns and all the gear associated with them.

Then came the black guns. Next the “tactical” evolution. During all of that, the rapidly expanding customer base took on a life of its own and guns were then just part of the package.

The new modular guns spawned an entirely new series of sub-industries to feed the gadgets and goodies beast at the heart of the newfound buying impetus.

Thanks to modern manufacturing and space-age materials, mere performance of firearms is at best passé — assumed. Couple that with firearms designs that are modular in nature and the flood gates open for all kinds of other things like the looks of the gun, what all can be hung onto it, etc.

Literally, it is a daisy chain of form following function, following function following form. Doesn’t matter what came first, but it does matter what comes last.

To illustrate this point, consider but a single part of the AR rifle — the handguard. First, options became different sizes and shapes. Then rails and other ways to attach stuff to the handguard. Now, art has entered that picture via handguards that display everything from geometric designs to way out art. The owner can alter both functionality and identity in the gun to match his or her psyche.

Simply put, accessorizing guns has become much the same as accessorizing a car, a dress or a bathroom. With that phenomenon has come the desire to work those accessorized items into an overall lifestyle.

This means that the look and style of the gun is being integrated into its varied usages in individual ways that has not been known before. The evolution of and into the gun culture is complete.

Like other products and activities surrounding them in the greater world, the gun culture has matured to the point where that way of life now demands that previous voids be filled to round out overall life experiences.

Total lifestyles now are becoming possible within the gun culture. Witness the “Long-Range Rifles, Suppressors, Cigars and Coffee” article in the April 2017 issue for just a few of the ways this materializes.

Or what about sporting clays where there is now a “look” among shooters’ clothing, guns and gear — all the way to fashion statements exhibited in and on the golf carts on the course.

The same phenomenon is true in the 3-gun world, and, of course, became a dominant factor as cowboy-action shooting progressed.

As the number of active shooters expands into all of the disciplines, both what guns are and how they fit into the expressions of those who own and shoot them proliferates, as well.

Opportunities to address this kind of market demand increase geometrically as shooters and hunters demand more equipment and more specialization. Literally, it is limited only to the degree that their imaginations and buying power allow — and that is a whole bunch.
Is this exciting? No, it is exhilarating! Too much is not enough.

Featured image: iStock