My grandfather was a Chevrolet man, no sir he didn’t like Fords very much. Imported vehicles were not worth serious consideration, to him the discussion was always Chevy vs. Ford, and it had been that way since the 1950s. His loyalty to that brand lasted his whole life, and it was part of what defined him as a person. Many gun owners have similar brand loyalties, and newcomers asking “what brand is best?” will hear a chorus of different answers. But the brand name game has changed a lot since Granddad proudly drove a Bel Air, and the more questions you ask, the more confusing the answers can become. Here are some examples of why product brands are more misleading and confusing than ever before.
Armalite, Inc. likes to say that the “AR” in “AR-15” stands for Armalite. Some people think it stands for “assault rifle” or “automatic rifle,” and some folks joke about it really meaning “almost reliable,” but Armalite is actually correct. The AR-15 was the fifteenth in a series of designs including the 7.62 NATO AR-10 and the AR-7, a .22 LR “survival rifle” issued to U.S. Air Force pilots. So Armalite, Inc. is the original, first manufacturer of the AR-15, right? Well no, because Armalite isn’t Armalite. The original Armalite, where Eugene Stoner and Jim Sullivan designed the AR-15, was a division of the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation—all those aluminum forgings and plastic bits used in the AR-15 were state of the art aircraft technology back in the 1950s. Fairchild “spun off” Armalite in 1962 and the brand name was bought and sold a couple more times before finally going out of business completely in the early 1980s. For nearly a decade the Armalite brand name didn’t exist at all except as a set of intellectual property rights being bought and sold as investment fodder. In 1995 a former U.S. Army Ordnance Officer named Mark Westrom bought the rights to the Armalite name and its “rampant lion” logo, giving him the right to put the Armalite name on AR-10 and AR-15 rifles he had developed under his existing business name, Eagle Arms. Westrom continued building stripped lower receivers marked as Eagle Arms, and now is building complete Eagle Arms rifles as a lower cost alternate brand to Armalite. Eagle is a “division” of Mark Westrom’s Armalite in the same way that Armalite had once been a “division” of Fairchild. So if you see a good deal on an AR-10 built on an Eagle Arms lower, don’t knock it as a no-name cheapie, buy it! It’s the same (absolutely excellent) quality as the “new” Armalite rifles, which have nothing to do with the old Armalite rifles. Confused yet? Lets move on to another example.
Looking for a cheap shotgun that still works great? The Harrington and Richardson “Pardner” is an exact copy of the legendary 870. Sounds all-American, doesn’t it? Accessories for the 870 fit, even parts such as safeties, triggers and furniture will interchange, but the H&R Pardner costs half as much, only $160! How is that possible? H&R started out in Massachusetts in 1871, went through its ups and downs, and finally went out of business in 1986. The H&R factory was demolished that same year and no longer exists, but in 1991 a new company called H&R 1871 was formed and began using the Harrington and Richardson name. This small company was bought by Marlin, which was bought by Remington, which was bought by the Freedom Group. So what, right? You’re thinking the H&R 870 clone is made by Remington but with different markings, like Armalite/Eagle, aren’t you? Since Remington and H&R are both owned by Freedom Group, that makes a lot of sense, but you would be wrong. The “Pardner” is imported from China, where it is produced by state-owned, state-run China North Industries Corporation—NORINCO. NORINCO makes money for the communist Chinese state by selling weapons to anyone, anywhere, if they have the money. United States Presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush have all banned importation of various NORINCO products into America, in an attempt to punish the Chinese for selling so many weapons to folks who don’t like us very much. The H&R Pardner is imported from China by a company named Qiqihar Hawk Industries, which is owned by NORINCO. So follow the bouncing ball—NORINCO, prohibited from importing shotguns into the United States by the 2003 G.W. Bush sanctions, produces its “Type 981” shotgun for Hawk Industries, which brands them as Harrington and Richardson “Pardners”, making sure NORINCO isn’t stamped anywhere on them, and sends them over here to be sold by the Freedom Group. Freedom Group then undercuts is own subsidiary company, Remington, by 50% on the final price of a nearly identical gun made in China instead of the USA.
The business world has gotten smaller, faster, and more complex than ever before, and well-known brands are being bought, sold, and traded constantly, as well as entering into partnerships that were once unheard of between competitors. For example, Colt’s new line of .22 LR caliber 1911 type pistols and AR-15 type rifles are made by Umarex, a BB gun and Airsoft manufacturer in Germany who has just stepped their game up to .22 LR firearms. Umarex owns Carl Walther GmbH (some of you with Walther P22s are just now realizing who made those guns), which imports the .22 LR 1911s and AR-15s from Germany to the USA with “Colt” markings already on them. To add one more layer, who handles all of Walther’s imports into the USA? Smith and Wesson, of course. By now you see where this is going: those .22 LR AR-15s sold as “S&W”, “Colt”, and even “HK” are all made by the same BB gun company in Arnsburg, Germany. Why bother selling the same gun three different ways? Ask General Motors why they sold Buicks, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, and Chevys all based on the same car and all competing for the same market. Some gun owners are rabid HK fans or rabid Colt fans and would never stoop so low as to buying a Smith & Wesson. I know of a few folks who are “boycotting” Colt because their employees are run by the same United Auto Workers union blamed for much of the financial problems in the auto industry, and these guys won’t buy anything with Colt stamped on the side, no way no how! They’ll spend their money with a “real” American company like Smith & Wesson until Colt is convinced to get rid of the UAW. Good luck with that plan, fellas.
At the end of the day, firearms and their parts don’t “know” what name is stamped on the side. Their qualities are determined by what materials they are made of, how well their parts are finished, and whether there are flaws in the design they are assembled into. If the quality of the firearm is what matters to you, try to research the specifications of its parts and search online to see what other owners think of it. If where the firearm is made matters to you, look beyond the brand name and do some research before assuming that buying a firearm with a historic American name means buying an American gun. My granddad didn’t live to see General Motors sell the South Korean-made Daewoo Kalos as the “Chevy Aveo.” If he had, would he have understood how much the old rules of brand loyalty are changing?