Old Guns New Generations?

Younger Doesn’t Always Mean Uninterested
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There’s no .22 like an old .22. A High Standard 107 (top) and an S&W K-22 will put a smile on anyone’s face. Note the S&W is a classic “5-screw” and minty!

At the age of 34, I don’t consider myself particularly young anymore, but to the best of my knowledge it does make me one of the younger contributors around these parts. It also makes me a millennial — technically. As word has it, your average millennial is characterized — often fairly — as a self-entitled, self-absorbed, gun-phobic hyper-liberal with no interest in or awareness of history. For this reason, I try to be as good a brand ambassador for my generation as I can be.

About a month ago, I brought home a Steyr-Hahn model 1912. It fit in well with the rest of my gun collection, which I’d estimate would have an average birth date of 1965 if you lumped them all together. As I was oohing and ahhing over the Steyr’s mechanical simplicity, its precise Austrian machining, and its unmistakable design, I had a small out-of-body experience. Was it just me who cared about a bygone era of firearms in this generation of striker-fired, plastic pistols?

After a bit of thinking and talking, I realized there are a lot of younger guys and gals out there who know about older guns. And it may surprise you to note they often revere them just the same as shooters from older generations. And honestly, the reasons aren’t too surprising

Don’t forget long guns, too! A Stevens 520 pictured with a Colt 1908. Both are John Browning designs. Can you say timeless?

Practicality

New guns don’t have a monopoly on running well, and I’ve seen a lot of S&W revolvers and 1911’s in the gun collections of millennials. Part of the reason is they just plain work. Sometimes it’s fascinating to me that in more than a century, mankind would have figured out a better way to make a revolver or substantially improve upon John Browning’s classic designs — but it just ain’t the case. There’s something extremely comforting about knowing the same models in my safe have been continually battle-tested by what I can only imagine have been tens of millions of past soldiers and police officers.

In the rare cases when the classics don’t work due to neglect or parts failures, there’s almost always a local gunsmith or supplier who can get the gun back up and running. Whether it’s a shot-out barrel or a snapped firing pin, I like the fact most any gun-related malady is a temporary inconvenience. It means never having to put a good friend out to pasture.

An S&W I-Frame in .32 S&W Long rests on modern gadgets. A collision of cultures or a natural melding of old school and modern tech savvy? We’d call it “crossing borders.”

Finding Info

They say your rack-grade millennial has the attention span of a goldfish, but the one thing they excel at is finding information. The Steyr-Hahn I mentioned before? Within five minutes and a few Google searches, I had a century-old design field stripped.

For the inquisitive and open-minded, there’s no better time to learn about older guns, which in turn makes them much less intimidating. One of my favorite things about gun shows are the stacks of old books and magazines vendors have for sale. Back issues of Gun Digest, American Rifleman — and of course, American Handgunner — allowed me to tell a Whitney Wolverine from an AMT Automag. Vicariously, I learned the importance of gunsmiths like Armand Swenson, Bill Wilson and Jimmy Clark when it came to the evolution of the “modern” 1911. Prolific as he was, I became exposed to Jeff Cooper’s fondness for the 1911 and the CZ-75. The enthusiasm is as infectious now as it was at the time of writing.

Of course, our modern world has allowed us to interact with one another via online forums. Here, you take the good with the bad. Armchair “experts” are in no short supply, but through avenues like Sigforum and RimfireCentral, guys like me made lifelong friends and tapped into the passion and wisdom of generations. I find there’s often a convergence of evidence when it comes to what designs have stood the test of time — and how best to maintain them for posterity.

Two combat handguns separated by more than 100 years, a Beretta “92” series and a Steyr Hahn. Even younger shooters can appreciate both ideas.

Charm

I’ll just say it — most polymer, striker-fired guns have all of the graceful lines of a television remote. Nowhere in the design or craftsmanship of such pistols do I find much to stir the soul. To me, owning a gun like a GLOCK is like owning a well-made hammer. I have assurance it will work when I need it, but it’s not something I’m going to pull out just to look at. Conversely, Colt’s Python revolvers have a lot in common with a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer shades. They looked good in the 1950s and they still look good now.

I also think old guns have — surprise — a stronger connection to a time and place. I wasn’t around in the days of the wild west, but in fairness, you weren’t either. One man’s Gunsmoke or Lone Ranger is a younger man’s Red Dead Redemption, a video game western selling more than 15 million copies. Using myself as an anecdotal piece of data, it probably also sold a lot of Colt Peacemaker clones.

With this in mind, a lot of you might be amazed at how much exposure us young guys have had to guns through movies and video games. I’d guess about half of all Call of Duty video game players — and there’s a lot of them — would be able to identify a 1911 by sight alone. My friend Jeff, owner of American Gun Works in Burbank, CA, told me an interesting story: “I had a nine-year old in the other day who could name every single gun in the store. He’d point at the walls and say, ‘That’s an Enfield,’ or ‘that’s an AR-15,’” If this isn’t a future gun owner and military surplus enthusiast who will continue to carry our torch, I don’t know who is.

True classics, the Model 1873 Peacemakers and “GI” style 1911’s will always live on, even as clones, copies and custom guns.

True classics, the Model 1873 Peacemakers and “GI” style 1911’s will always live on, even as clones, copies and custom guns. Younger shooters bring info-gathering savvy to the table so aren’t afraid to dive into old guns.

Are We So Different?

My friend Dennis has been a shooter here in the Southern California area for most of his life and was fortunate enough to know legends like Bob Munden and Don Nygord. I asked him what he saw as the difference between the familiar faces at our range and the new breed. “I think most young guys enter shooting today with a combat mindset rather than a target mindset,” he said. Dennis cited the number of young men who have done a few tours of duty. Due to issues of comfort and familiarity, it wouldn’t be uncommon to find an AR-15 or Beretta 92 in their home collection.

I also think about Sam, a former student of mine, who’s now in his mid-20s — about where I was when I first started collecting the old gems. Sam’s collection currently consists of a GLOCK 19, an AR and a Remington 870. However, Sam learned to shoot on his dad’s old bolt-action .22 Remington and cherishes a Colt Woodsman that’s been in the family since the ’50s. When he was old enough, Sam’s grandfather bought him a 1911 of his own. “I don’t see it as much different than guys who have classic cars,” He said. “You have the satisfaction of knowing you’re taking care of something functional connecting you to a different time.”

For me, the time recalls a more romantic era of shooting. A time where families spent afternoons learning the basics of marksmanship together and congratulating one another on a good group. A time when fine walnut and blued steel signified guns were not simply tools, but honest-to-god heirlooms. A time, I should mention, when the thought of starting a high school rifle team would merit nods of approval rather than shrieks of hysteria.

Long story short, young guys are indeed out there who see the clear appeal of guns “not of their time.” Keep this in mind the next time you’re in a gun store and walk away from the absolutely cherry pre-war S&W, figuring it’ll be there next time. If I happen across it, it’s probably going home with me!

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