What’s the most innovative company in the gun industry?
Before we answer this question with our opinion, it should be made clear: this is about current market competition, in 2020-2021 and also covering the past few years. There could be a very good argument made about past innovation. This is more about which companies are thinking and innovating right now.
Furthermore, this is not about which companies make the best guns, or the most popular. It is simply our take on companies that are thinking outside of the box and trying new things. This article may even praise companies for pure ideology and attempts at innovation, even if they have seen failures with some of that innovation.
Lastly, this is about larger companies that have a realistic chance to innovate across a larger portion of the market, and we are talking about GUNS, not accessories, or optics or other items. This is primarily about innovative thinking in the manufacturing segment of the firearms specific market.
So which companies are acting like true innovators in the Firearms market?
You can start with the obvious companies, like Browning and Ruger, HK/Benelli and FN. These are perennially good companies when it comes to innovation. You can also add in Kriss, who had a very interesting entry into the spectrum with the Vector. It since turns out, that while the thinking was innovative, it was not as innovative as initially believed. But it is still interesting and popular. Add in companies like Kel-Tec, who seems to try to produce every one-off firearm they see dreamed up in an internet forum discussion and the Philippines based Armscor, that is playing around with some very cool ideals; and now you can have a legitimate discussion.
You have to give an honorable mention to the massive IMI group in Israel, though, it’s pretty clear they operate in some part as an unofficial arm of the government at least in some ways. They are also innovating on the military side more than the civilian side.
It’s important to note that there are plenty of very cool “new to the market” companies and products that could be seen as the MOST INNOVATIVE, but it doesn’t really speak to the ideology or the future R&D of the company.
The Browning name is synonymous with innovation, especially in the early days of the industry. John Browning’s name has been associated with all the different ownership groups from it’s storied past. Currently (and likely in perpetuity) Browning is a wholly owned subsidiary of the FN Herstal Group – itself an innovative company.
But this isn’t about theory, it’s about implementation. Year over year you find Browning innovating on bolt actions and shotguns – especially trap and sporting shotguns. You will find innovations related to materials, recoil dampening and shot delivery almost yearly, and there is a robust R&D budget assigned to this market sub-segment. Only a handful of companies spend the time or money on this type of design innovation. It’s even rarer to see a big company push so many unique products on a yearly basis – Browning isn’t scared to produce this type of firearm because its fans are loyal and this R&D spending gets new customers hooked when they see so much attention to customer satisfaction.
While the Browning name is most tied to military arms of yesteryear and 1911’s and Hi-Powers – most consumers would be shocked to know that they don’t even sell traditional versions of any of these legendary designs currently (they still sell a 1911 style .380 and .22LR, however). It’s all about new innovative sporting long-guns general year over year.
Another major brand that continues to spend in R&D, H&K has never been a slouch when it comes to market firsts. The original polymer pistol was a Heckler & Koch. The MP5 is still considered an elite submachine gun in many parts of the world. The P7M8 and affiliated guns are still considered one of the best handguns and most innovative, despite being discontinued for more than a decade (after a run for nearly three decades).
Unfortunately the majority of innovation on the HK side happens in the Law Enforcement and Military catalogs, and not the civilian versions. Benelli on the other hand has had some incredible shotguns the past few years, focusing heavily on sleek, lightweight designs and composite materials mostly.
Because it innovates mostly in its acquisition of other companies and on the military and law enforcement side, we aren’t pushing Fabrique Nationale as a top spot here, because of a bit of a disconnect with the civilian market. That said they did release novel concepts in the 509 and 503 over the past couple of years.
Kriss hasn’t been super innovative in the market since the Vector was released, but the way they think is interesting. They went all in on the accessory shop concept and that extends the Vector’s appeal; as well as introducing an AR style concept and a 22LR Vector. We’re hoping their next product release “rethinks” another concept and offers more innovation across their product portfolio to keep them in this list.
Probably the most daring company on this list, and easily our favorite for most innovative, despise commercial success on a couple product releases being somewhat shaky. Doing crazy stuff with one of the hardest cartridges to work with – the .22 magnum, makes Kel-Tec daring and interesting. But releasing stone-cold winners like the KSG (now several years old) and then re-focusing on guns like the P50, a 5.7 pistol that reminds of the P90 from FN, means they are here to stay in this list.
Kel-Tec, for all their nagging issues right at release of each gun (it seems), offers innovations that very few companies can compete with, and they can produce millions of firearms, not just hundreds, so they are a mainstream producer.
If there was another year or two of successful mainstream launches, the Armscor brand would be our favorite. Instead we put it on the honorable mention list, because we need to see a bit more mainstream adoption before it makes sense for the big list. That said, they are the most promising company on this list. The VR-80 shotgun is super interesting,and gaining some traction, even in a COVID environment that stymies production. The lifetime warranty is innovative anymore as well.
The 22 TCM is super interesting if you want to play with a 2000FPS 1911 that might have some legitimate defensive potential, given the 40 grain projectile and the 300+ Ft. Lbs. of energy.
The 1911 .22 Magnum is pretty interesting too – they call theirs the XT22. We are awaiting the reliability record to see how it fits with other .22 Magnums in the market.
The Armscor company is doing very cool things, and once they get more mainstream adoption, we see no reason why they cannot lead the market with innovative firearms.
Ruger produces more guns than any other company for the civilian market. They have been historically well made and innovative. Most recently they have dabbled in the AR and 1911 games as well as releasing the 5.7 chambered Ruger 57, that seeks to capitalize on the popularity of the screaming fast 5.7 from FN.
Unfortunately, Ruger knows what butters their bread of late, and it isn’t necessarily being risky with R&D. Instead they have taken a profit first motivation to ensure good fundamental bottom line performance on the financials. We cannot blame them for that. We hope they will find the bug to innovate a bit in the near future, and are holding out for it.
Innovation isn’t dead in the firearms world. The companies innovating are getting smaller and smaller however. Most of the innovative companies are playing in the fast and small realm, including .22’s and screaming fast low caliber options, but you can also find some innovation regarding shotgun and hunting guns too. Most of the huge conglomerates are focused on military and law enforcement markets.
The most successful companies are trending towards protecting older catalog items, while the best true innovator of the last few years is Kel-Tec, with a very deserved honorable mention going to Armscor. What will be most interesting is what comes out in 2022, given the knockout punch from COVID and the downtime. I imagine R&D departments were appreciative of the cost cutting that comes from the lockdown environment, but also, with companies struggling to keep up with backorders from 2019 and 2020, they must be looking to diversify the production schedule and tooling with the money they have made in a growing market.