General

Cheaper Than Dirt! Chats it up with ISSC Owner Mike Weisser

ISSC MK22

We recently had the opportunity to speak with Mike Weisser, owner of ISSC, the exclusive importer and distributor of the M22 range pistol and MK22 rifle. We discussed where the company comes from and the thoughts behind the ingenious designs they put into their firearms.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Tell me a little bit about how ISSC Austria got started and how they grew into the company they are today.

Mike Weisser: The founder of the company is Austrian Wolfram Kriegleder. He is a graduate of the Austrian technical college which awards degrees in gun engineering and design. It is the only such degree anywhere in the world. It has been there for a long time. Austria of course is a country, along with Germany, that makes very high-quality firearms in both handguns and long guns. Many of the people who are designers or engineers for the Austrian, German and Swiss gun companies went to this college. He originally started as a designer and engineer with WALTHER, a German company that imports into this country through Smith & Wesson. He designed a very popular pistol for them called the P22. After designing that gun for WALTHER and actually having some disagreements with the management of WALTHER over the design, which I’ll get into in a minute, he decided in 2008 to found his own company so that he could design the pistol that he really wanted to design. One thing led to another and he and I met at a trade show in 2008. The gun market is such that if you are not in the United States, you aren’t anywhere. I agreed to import and set up a sister company over here which is also called ISSC and to import and service the American market for his products. So ISSC was founded by Wolfram in Austria 2008, and I founded a separate company over here with the same name in 2009.

Cheaper Than Dirt: So does the United States-based company take the parts and symbols and assemble the gun here?

Mike Weisser: No, the gun is wholly manufactured and completely assembled in Austria, then shipped to us.

Cheaper Than Dirt: I see, so this meets import regulations.

Mike Weisser: Correct. All our guns are made in a factory in Austria which is outside the village of Ried, in western Austria about 40 to 50 kilometers from the German or what we used to call the Bavarian border. Cheaper Than Dirt: Now why did Mr. Kreigleder choose to focus on training pistols, specifically the M22? Which, if I’m not mistaken, was the first one developed by ISSC.

Mike Weisser: Correct. First of all, when he and I met, he had not yet made a definitive decision as to what kind of gun he wanted to design from the prospective of caliber. He knew he wanted to design a full-size gun. That was the argument that we had with WALTHER management because the P22 is actually not a full-size gun. It’s  very small, almost a replica of a full size gun. For a whole bunch of reasons he wasn’t satisfied with that as a size. When he and I sat down and began talking, the question was, should we bring a centerfire caliber 9mm or .40, or should we bring in a .22 into this country. Now part of the discussion had to do with import requirements for rimfire. They are not as strict as they are for centerfire.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Now there’s a whole set of rules that have to be followed with regard to barrel length and weight.

Mike Weisser: Well that’s true for rimfire, too. However, there are additional rules for centerfire guns, which we could have done, but it adds to the tooling and design. The bigger issue is the fact that if we had brought in a centerfire gun in under a company that nobody had ever heard of before. We would have been competing with at least a dozen brand names that everybody knows—Smith, GLOCK, Ruger, and Springfield. You name it; everybody makes a centerfire and in most cases a polymer grip gun. What we saw right from the get-go was the kind of market that existed for a gun that would look and feel like a centerfire but, because of the rimfire ammo, would cost a fraction of what a centerfire gun costs to shoot. It was more the fact of giving people the feeling of being able to go out and shoot a lot of ammunition, which people like to do, and not incur the costs of centerfire ammo. A hundred rounds of rimfire ammo costs you a third of what 50 rounds of centerfire ammo costs.

Cheaper Than Dirt: So basically Wolfram saw a niche in the market that was not being filled.

Mike Weisser: Correct.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Well, people have the conversion kits. Let’s touch on that for just a second.

Mike Weisser: The truth of the matter is, that most of the conversion kits, to be polite, don’t work that well.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Well, in the defense of the ones that do work well, you could almost purchase two full M22 pistols for the cost of a conversion kit.

Mike Weisser: Exactly, and the reason for that is to get them to work well, they have to have a lot of hand polishing and a lot of hand shaping and it’s the labor that really creates the cost for any pistol or conversion kit.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Being designed from the ground up, the M22 didn’t have any of those problems.

Mike Weisser: Exactly. Basically, the only issue that we had, and it was very important for us, was that we built the gun with a very heavy slide. This would make it feel more like a centerfire gun, and secondly, we wanted a lifetime shooter. We wanted a gun that would shoot literally thousands of rounds without the slide cracking, or getting damaged, or anything else from the pressures. That meant people would have to shoot high velocity ammo out of it, but that’s a minor concern from a design point of view. We could immediately see where a full-size .22 pistol was something that nobody else had done. In effect, that kind of niche would allow us to get into the market, and then once there, we could build our brand, rather than coming in with another centerfire gun that everybody else has. The bottom line is: we all buy the components from the same contractors. You know in the old days you took a piece of steel, melted it down, put it into a mold and made a gun out of it. That’s not the way it’s done anymore. Now you buy your components from the various sub contractors. Its MIM technology [Metal Injection Molding] and everybody is basically paying the same price. So if you are coming in with a centerfire gun, that looks like all the other centerfire guns, you aren’t going to price yourself differently from anybody else. Therefore to come in without a brand name that is well-known makes it very difficult to crack that market. At this point, there are just too many well-made guns out there. So we said let’s make a gun that’s really well-made, but that does something different than anybody else does. It’s been very successful.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Let’s talk about the various models of the M22. You have two different slide finishes and two different barrel lengths, right?

Mike Weisser: Correct. All the guns have the same metallurgical composition, are not stainless and carbon, they are all carbon steel. The only difference is we have a two-tone model which is a painted finish. We call the color titanium white. We don’t publicize that because people will think the gun in made out of titanium, which it isn’t. Titanium white is actually a pigment developed over the last eight or nine years for the jewelry industry. It’s that pigment that we use in painting the slide of the gun. So we have the gun in black as well as two-tone, both in 4 and 5.5 inches.

Also coming into the market now, we have three more models that all have black slides. One has a pink grip that we call Blush; it is a pretty bright pink. We also have a gun in tan we call Desert Camo. We also offer a threaded barrel model that is black on black. That gun is very popular. That is the M22 SD. You should also be aware that these guns were just approved at the U.S. test lab for sale in California and Massachusetts.

Cheaper Than Dirt: That’s good news because we have a lot of customers in those states that have trouble finding firearms. Let’s talk about the design principle; you mentioned that it’s a single action.

Mike Weisser: It is a single action, or what we call a blowback design. It’s an old design originally designed by John Browning for the Browning Hi-Power.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Now why go with a hammer single action design rather than a striker fire?

Mike Weisser: Because, in addition to wanting a gun that was a training gun, we wanted a gun that would be extremely accurate. The problem with striker fire guns is due to the design of the linkage between the trigger and the hammer. You cannot get that crisp shot. So you cannot get the kind of accuracy from any striker fire gun that you can get from a hammer fire gun, assuming you have a decent linkage and you are using the right materials on the internal components. Our gun is extremely accurate.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Can you fire it in double-action mode?

Mike Weisser: No, it is single action only which makes it also more accurate.

Cheaper Than Dirt: So it’s very similar to the 1911 style then?

Mike Weisser: Well it’s not exactly like it, there are two differences internally in the linkage; but it’s very similar to the 1911, it’s very crisp.

Cheaper Than Dirt: One of the more striking features people notice is the slide-mounted safety. Why go with the slide-mounted safety? Is that simply because it’s a single action?

Mike Weisser: It’s because it’s a single action and we wanted a very safe gun. The gun has five safeties, and incidentally the more safeties a gun has, the higher it scores on the ATF Import Test.

Cheaper Than Dirt: But the more safeties you have the more difficult it is to have a trigger that is crisp.

Mike Weisser: Yes and a problem with that safety is it does give a little creak, but the good thing is that creak is very consistent. Guns are kind of like software, you can’t design anything that does everything. You have to compromise on various points along the way. We knew putting that extra safety on was a compromise. We also felt that because this gun was not a carry gun and primarily not a defense gun we wanted it to be as safe as possible.

Cheaper Than Dirt: So let’s talk about one of the other new exiting guns. Let’s talk about the one we were very excited to see at SHOT Show and that was the new sporting rifle.

Mike Weisser: Okay, we are slowly but surely doing what we call a family of sporting rifles. The first one being the one you saw at the SHOT Show, the MK22. It’s built to a certain extent, and I don’t want to push it too far, on the stock design of the FN. The reason we chose that stock was because we felt the FN was so popular in its centerfire version because it’s a stock that gives you a lot of options on how you rest your cheek against it. It’s a much more comfortable stock than any of the AR stocks. Again, we felt that we wanted a gun that while military in look, was also sporting in the sense that you would want to shoot it a lot. One of the things about all our products is that we will not make a gun unless we feel it will shoot forever. You will come off the range not feeling tired, not feeling like you have to do a lot of work.

That’s probably the premier idea in all of our designs and that’s what we wanted to do with our guns.

Cheaper Than Dirt: We’ve seen a number of .22 caliber training rifles imported within the past couple of years, one complaint that we have is that a lot of these .22 trainers -while they have the look, appearance and ergonomics of the full size rifles – they don’t have the weight, they don’t have the heft and more importantly they don’t have the feel. They feel almost toy-like.

Mike Weisser: Actually, our gun weighs over eight pounds and is made out of all metal components, except for the rear stock, which is polymer. It not only has the weight and the heft of a full-size gun, it sounds and feels like it.

Cheaper Than Dirt: I’m glad to see that ISSC has not partaken in that race to the bottom, to see how cheap and how low quality we can get away with.

Mike Weisser: Right. A lot of that has to do with the fact that if you go to the trade shows, you will see there are a lot of manufacturers who are not American who will tell you that they can make anything you want, at whatever price you want. It would almost defeat our purpose to bring in a gun from Austria, and have it be a cheap firearm. That’s not what Austrian guns are about. When you look at the quality of some other guns and then you look at the price, it just doesn’t add up. You can’t fool shooters. Most of them like to play with their guns and take them apart. They start seeing plastic components and too much die cast and they know that they are paying for junk. Ultimately the gun doesn’t hold up. If word gets around that the gun doesn’t hold up, you’ve got a big problem.

Cheaper Than Dirt: A lot of people are going to look at the Mark 22 pistol and they are going to think that due to the very affordable price, it almost seems like too good of a deal. How do we assure customers that this is, in fact, a very high quality Austrian-manufactured firearm?

Mike Weisser: The problem you have is always the problem of the online seller. Until the Internet came up, you really couldn’t buy a firearm until you put it in your hand to play with it. As an online seller, it’s always difficult making people understand the value of something that you can’t really feel until they get it in their hand. All I can say is that we had a sensational review last year in American Handgunner and a very positive review in Guns Magazine. We will have another review coming later this year in Shooting Times. Shooters tend to read these. If they read these reviews and word gets around, then they will understand that they really are getting quality. That is just something that takes time.

Cheaper Than Dirt: You have obviously set the bar very high with the quality of your guns.

Mike Weisser: We sent three of our guns to the Kansas City test lab. The way the test works is they do a torture test. Each gun is shot 500 times. You cannot have more than 6 failures in 500 rounds, or you are disqualified. In theory, since they were testing 3 guns, you could have up to 18 failures in 1,500 rounds of ammo and you passed. We had a total of 2 failures in 1,500 rounds.

Cheaper Than Dirt: This is impressive for any rimfire.

Mike Weisser: We had one failure in two of the guns, and the third had none.

Cheaper Than Dirt: Looking through the manual for the M22, we didn’t see any break-in instructions. What is the recommended break-in procedure?

Mike Weisser: The break-in procedure is very simple. Take the gun out, take the slide off, wipe down the rail and then shoot 100 to 200 rounds through it. Take the slide off again, clean it and then clean the feeding ramp. You want to avoid taking the gun apart any further than that. You might take a little bit of oil and make sure that the area around the ejection port is clean. Then reassemble the gun and that’s it.

Cheaper Than Dirt: So a very simple procedure then.

Mike Weisser: Yes, you don’t have to take the whole gun apart.

Cheaper Than Dirt: I’d like to move on and talk about ISSC’s role in developing the modern sporting rifle and working with the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Mike Weisser: Back about three years ago when I knew we were going to be bringing the guns in, NSSF announced that they were bringing back the nomenclature “modern sporting rifle.” This came out in the 1960s when people started getting these old World War II military guns and turning them into sporting rifles. What the NSSF was looking for was a way to bridge the gap between people who felt that military rifles were not sporting and those who had been using the assault-type rifles. The NSSF pointed out that there was a long tradition of using those types of firearms for sporting activities like target shooting and varmint hunting. I liked that idea and I knew that our guns, since they were rimfire, they fit that idea of the modern sporting rifle.

So what I did early on was buy the URLs for modernsportingrifle.org and modernsportingrifle.com.

I did it thinking that eventually when we brought our guns out it might develop Web site presence using that terminology. The NSSF later called asking to work something out with us saying that they had been promoting the term “modern sporting rifle” and found out that I owned the domains. I said they could have them. I would donate them at no cost. They were worried about how much I was going to charge them. I realized they were in a better position to promote this than I am, since they are the industry spokesman after all. I was happy to do it. All of our rifles have on the nomenclature “modern sporting rifle.”

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