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Will gun magazines save journalism?

Posted Aug. 24, 2013, at 7:37 a.m.
A recent issue of Handguns.
handgunsmag.com
A recent issue of Handguns.

Though print journalism largely remains in the financial doldrums, there’s at least one sector that’s maintaining its buoyancy in these days of political ferment and latent social unrest: gun magazines. AdWeek recently reported that four separate firearms publications saw significant circulation boosts over the first half of 2013.American Rifleman and America’s 1st Freedom, both published by the National Rifle Association, saw circulation increases of 14 percent and 8 percent, respectively, compared with the first half of 2012. Guns & Ammo and Handgunsmagazines, both issued by the publisher InterMedia Outdoors, saw respective jumps of 16 percent and 7 percent. These numbers are especially impressive when compared with those of other magazine sectors; fashion magazines and celebrity weeklies all reported reduced single-copy sales.

What makes these magazines so popular? The obvious answer is that a lot of people like guns. (End of blog post—thanks for reading!) But is there anything else to it? I went to a bookstore and bought the latest issues of Handguns andGuns & Ammo to see what I could find. I also picked up a copy of Rifle Firepower, a newer magazine that is all about—you guessed it—rifles and the firepower they so ably provide.

My main takeaway is that these are all essentially car magazines. They feature money shots of various guns, plenty of product reviews, and geeky, unbridled enthusiasm for their subject matter. They rarely stray into politics. If you don’t own a gun, there’s no real reason for you to read them. But, in the interest of science, I read them cover to cover all the same. Here are a few highlights.

Handguns. The title isn’t a lie. Handguns is, indeed, all about handguns: how to get better at shooting them, how to properly conceal them, and which ones to buy. This single-minded focus will thrill handgun owners and scholars, but is likely to bore everyone else. The well of the October/November 2013 issue is filled with reviews of various handguns, like the Nighthawk Falcon Commander—“as nice (and expensive) a custom pistol as you’re likely to find”— and the Beretta Pico .380, which comes in pink. There are also a few other features, like a front-of-the-book column that explains that California is requiring that every new handgun sold in the state feature “microstamping” technology that imprints a unique identifier on each casing it fires. The author darkly opines that, far from being a tool that could help police officers solve crimes faster, the law is actually a sneaky back-door attempt at banning handguns entirely.

Guns & AmmoGuns & Ammo is geared toward mature gun owners more interested in hunting and history than paramilitary fantasies. Its pages are loaded with photographs of middle-aged men: holding tiny handguns, holding slightly larger handguns, crouching triumphantly over some sort of dead hog. Give Guns & Ammocredit for knowing its target audience, I guess. It features a lot of gun reviews, as you might expect—Guns & Ammo also reviews the Beretta Pico .380—but the magazine’s spirit shines through elsewhere. Garry James’ “Gun Room” is an Antiques Roadshow-style column wherein the historical firearms expert answers readers’ questions about whether their old guns are valuable, or of historical interest. A long article by Layne Simpson tells you everything you’d ever want to know about triggers. Enough about the guns, what about the ammo, you ask? Not to worry: Editor-in-Chief Jim Bequette gets to the bottom of the “great ammo drought,” and finds that ammunition supplies are limited not because President Obama and his cronies are conspiring to take ammo off the market, but because gun sales are at an all-time high.

Rifle Firepower. This magazine’s November 2013 issue features seven exclamation points on its Table of Contents page. Rifle Firepower is an enthusiast’s magazine through and through, written for (and, apparently, by) people who want to get the most out of their rifles. There are lots of reviews, yes, but the nonreview content is useful and interesting, too. A helpful column titled “Flying with Guns & Ammo” offers a step-by-step guide on how to do just that (cheat sheet: make sure your guns are unloaded and packed in a locked, hard-sided container, and be sure to tell the airline that you’re flying with a gun). I liked F.W. Demara’s “Long Gun Legends” feature on pioneer John C. Garand, who designed the military-issue M1 semi-automatic rifle. And I was happy to see the magazine taking the time to check in with America’s favorite everyman, Joe the Plumber, in an interview at the very end of the book. The writer asked Joe what he would do if he weren’t a plumber. Answer: “I used to be a plumber, but now I run a website. I just want to get the truth out there.” There you have it!
Justin Peters writes for Slate.

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