History of Gun Media: What’s Changed?

Publications about firearms and hunting have been around a lot longer than you may realize.

In 2020 we’re in the third century that’s filled with gun magazines – and websites – and there are pros and cons to that.

Pro: instant access to awesome information about all things pew-pew.

Pew Pew Upgraded AR-15s
Pew Pew Upgraded AR-15s

Con: any Tactical Timmy or Tina can claim to be an expert (and it works, and they get followers to embrace their often-dangerous advice).

How has the gun media changed over the course of time? Here are some of the highlights and perspectives of some longtime gun writers.

Table of Contents

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In the Beginning

Actually, in the beginning we have no idea. Odds are high gun publications got their start well before the dates we have historically-recorded information about them.

Prior to the days of early gun magazines, there were some books of the dead tree variety and before that, I imagine there was a group of Cro-magnon types around a fire arguing over what kind of wood carved which way made the best bludgeons.

bam bam

And how one should hold said bludgeon, and how fast one must swing said bludgeon, and should it be dyed with some sort of material so it looks cool.

Things change, but things always stay the same.

The Rifle (1885)

Back in 1885 a gun guy by the name of Arthur Corbin Gould came out with The Rifle. It’s the earliest gun magazine I’m aware of and to be sure I checked in with firearms historian and founder of High Caliber History, Logan Metesh.

Arthur Corbin Gould
The great, great granddaddy of it all: Arthur Corbin Gould

Metesh confirmed The Rifle is indeed the earliest gun magazine he knows about, so if someone proves this wrong I’m going to pass the buck to Metesh.

Okay, not really, but it sounds good.

Gould started The Rifle for the purpose of chatting about…rifles. Of course. If you’re sitting there wondering how you’ve never heard of this bastion of gun history publication, you have heard of it.

You just didn’t know it.

In 1888 the title was changed to Shooting and Fishing in an effort to include more outdoor sports, in 1903 Gould passed away which made the magazine fall apart, and in 1906 a guy named James Drain bought the magazine and rebranded it as Arms and the Man (fancy, am I right?).

Arms_and_the_Man_masthead_1922-11-01
Arms and The Man masthead, 1922. Fun fact, $3 per year for a subscription in 1922 is equivalent of $45 in 2020

Who Drain was is relevant; Drain was the Secretary of the NRA and knew of Gould’s stellar reputation in the gun world and on the fringes of the NRA. It was not an NRA publication, just owned by Drain.

Can you see where this is going?

By the time 1916 rolled around Drain wanted to focus on his law practice and took a shot at selling Arms and the Man to writer Frank Kahrs, but Kahrs had moved from writing to working for Remington Arms Company.

nra metal logo

Kahrs told Drain hey, maybe the NRA would want to buy it, and he was right. July 1, 1916 the NRA purchased Arms and the Man for a whopping one dollar. Finally, in 1923, it reached its final name-related evolution by becoming American Rifleman.

American Rifleman covers (1)
American Rifleman

See, you do know this one.

Those Other Print Ones

There are a lot of other early-ish publications you’re probably familiar with. Shotgun News was founded in 1946 – you know this one as today’s Firearms News.

Firearm News
Firearm News

Gun Digest can trace its roots to 1944 and its former glory was all thanks to writers like Jack O’Conner and Charles Askins (seriously, the original gun writers were hardcore badasses).

If you’re curious about Guns and Ammo it was founded in 1958 by Robert E. Petersen, a guy who got his start in car magazines.

Guns and Ammo covers (2)
Guns and Ammo

A favorite of mine, American Handgunner, was founded in 1976.

Gunblast.com (2000) AKA The Internet Launch

We could argue about who brought the earliest fame to gun knowledge on the world wide web but the man who was most successful the earliest and remains popular is Jeff Quinn of Gunblast.com.

Jeff Quinn of Gunblast.com (2)
Jeff Quinn of Gunblast.com

Viewers recognize Quinn by his long, gray double-braided beard. Quinn’s a legit gun guy. He knows his stuff, he relays information in an easy to understand, relatable way, and he’s mellow. 

Gunblast.com was founded back in 2000 when the idea of web-based gun publications was almost nonexistent. Quinn got the site going with his brother, Boge Quinn, who is far more awesome than most people realize. 

Boge handles the technological side but he isn’t only about tech, he’s a dedicated, skilled shooter and highly knowledgeable gun guy in his own right.

Boge Quinn of Gunblast.com
Boge Quinn of Gunblast.com

The Quinns have decades of experience in the gun industry and although they first got the website rolling by talking about their personal guns they’ve grown so far beyond that its indescribable.

Gunblast.com is an excellent source of information and the Quinns are two of my favorite people in the entire industry.

From the moment I first met Jeff he was nothing but welcoming and helpful – yes, Jeff, I outed you for being nice in an article – and that generosity isn’t nearly as common as you might think.

The Gun Writers

My bookshelves are packed with books and back issues of magazines containing written work from such greats as Jack O’Conner, Skeeter Skelton, Patrick McManus, and Elmer Keith (among others).

Elmer Keith
Elmer Keith, you remember him as the dude that helped design the .357 Magnum and the .44 Magnum

I’m a voracious reader and collecting content from some seriously great writers is my idea of a good time. If you asked who the greatest gun writer of our current time – the one I tend to refer to as The Master – is Massad Ayoob.

Mas is ludicrously skilled the guns, an amazing instructor, and an engaging, knowledge-based writer.

Firearms Academy of Seattle instructor Belle McCormack, the author, and Mas Ayoob
Firearms Academy of Seattle instructor Belle McCormack, the author, and Mas Ayoob

He doesn’t just throw words on paper and hope for the best, he makes it interesting. Mas’ memory is also crazy good, I swear the man knows more about firearms and self-defense history and law than any of us can ever hope to even forget. 

Here’s what Mas had to say about the gun media and what he’s seen take place over the years:

“When I was born, the ‘gun media’ consisted of American Rifleman, the Gun Digest, and Stoeger Gun Bible once a year each, and hunter-oriented gun articles in the outdoor sports magazines.

1955 saw the advent of the first gun-focused specialty newsstand magazine, GUNS, published by George von Rosen. Soon Guns and Ammo and others followed.

‘We’ve come a long way, baby.’ None of us thought back in the day that there would be TV shows for gun enthusiasts.

Today, we’re told that gun magazines are dead, but a quick trip to the bookstore magazine rack will show more in-print firearm periodicals than ever. And of course, there’s the internet.”

Mas Ayoob has been a gun writer in the ballpark of 50 years. Thousands of articles, countless books, and a ridiculous flood of web-based work later, he’s still going.

11
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

He does it by keeping up with the ever-changing times.

The content you’ll hear in his classes grows and changes as current events take place and common practices evolve; his writing has shifted fluidly between books, magazines, and the internet.

He does it all, and he does it better than anyone I know. And, like the Quinn brothers, he is a kind, generous presence in the industry. Uncle Mas.

Another well-established, respected gun writer is Richard Mann. In the time I’ve known Richard he’s gone from sticking heavily to print publications to significantly expanding his web-reach – he’s even gotten his own hunting show going.

Gun Writer Richard Mann photo credit Sabastian Mann
Gun Writer Richard Mann, photo credit Sabastian Mann

He’s been a gun writer since 1995 and at it full-time since 2005, giving him a quarter of a century working as a firearms wordsmith.

When I asked Richard what changes he’s seen in the gun media he mentioned that it is much easier to become a frequently-published gun writer today than it used to be.

“Now, if you can string coherent sentences together and take a half-ass photo, you can sell your work. 20 years ago, you had to be spoken for by someone in the industry, you were seriously vetted, and substantial experience and a solid knowledge base were mandatory,” he said.

He’s right, you know.

The second change that sticks out in Richard’s mind is the transition between film and digital photography. “When I started, we shot on slide film and you had to know how to run a camera, you couldn’t just shoot until you got the shot you wanted.

Factually, you did not know what shot you had until the film was developed. Most writers in the industry today have never shot on film and some have never seen a film camera,” Richard explained. 

(Ed: and it was uphill both ways)

film camera
Y’all remember these, right?

The internet was the other change Richard talked about. Overall he said he sees these changes and a mixture of good and bad: “The influx of new and inexperienced writers provides magazines with less expensive content, which helps them stay in business.

The inexperienced writers also make the experienced ones look better. Digital cameras make it easier to get usable photos but have eroded that skillset. Finally, the internet helps writers – now knows as communicators – brand themselves and better interact with readers in many different ways.

However, it leaves behind some of the old hands who are truly talented and have great information and experiences to share.”

Changes

All this to say yes, the gun media has changed with the passage of time. When The Rifle was founded in 1885 it was for the purpose of talking guns and only guns.

Wonder how many lists John was on...

By the time the NRA got done with it and we got into the late-ish 1900s, The Rifle was American Rifleman and had become politically-focused. The early magazines were dedicated to the sport itself and changed to an increasing number of product reviews and advertisements.

Many, but not all, gun magazines now cover gun-related politics, too. Then there’s the change into a self-defense mindset.

Way back when the magazines were about things going boom and today they’re about using those things to defend your life and the lives of your loved ones.

Guns and Ammo covers (1)
Classic shooting range.

Side note: Of all the print magazines out there putting out information about self-defense it seems USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine may be the best.

It’s well put together and staffed with avid shooters; it focuses on a broad variety of aspects of shooting and self-defense, not just what’s cool or common.

USCCA Logo
Our complete review of the USCCA

Yes, it is members-only, but if you carry a gun for self-defense you should have carry insurance. Just saying.

The change to digital media has been good and bad.

As Richard Mann pointed out it has definitely resulted in an influx of inexperienced people proclaiming themselves as experts (to be fair, I do know a lot of old-time writers who are quite confident they know way more than they really do or who refuse to evolve with the times).

typing
Hey man, we all feel that way sometimes

There are pros and cons to everything. The way the internet makes gun knowledge easier to access is wonderful and I applaud anyone putting out safe, factual information.

Conversely, it also makes it clear someone spilled the bag of idiots.

Always be careful who you trust for information. Don’t simply take their word for it that they know their stuff.

Follow good writers, not cool publications. Your loyalty should be based on acquiring trustworthy knowledge, not cool pictures or a specific magazine title.

Pew Pew Tactical

Here at Pew Pew Tactical we are one of the younger web-based gun publications but we’ve grown fast.

Our fearless leader, Eric Hung, has serious skill with guns and is an all-around nice guy. The masthead of writers is broad and varied which is good because everyone has different skillsets and knowledge to offer.

Our focus isn’t political, it’s on the way of the gun and how to defend yourself with said gun.

We try to adhere to some of the original values of gun media: focusing on the guns themselves rather than machinations of politicians and politics surrounding them.

You should absolutely fight for your Second Amendment rights and stay current on what’s going on in the world of gun rights but when you come to Pew Pew Tactical you come to learn to run your gun.

We’re shooters. It’s what we do.

The Wrap Up

Change is always hard. When I was in college, American Handgunner was my favorite magazine largely because I really liked Mas Ayoob’s work.

Kat Shooting Glock
Also, Kat really likes handguns!

The fact that I now consider him a friend is still a little mind-blowing. American Handgunner, like Guns and Ammo, has become thinner and now includes more advertisements than it used to and that’s okay. They need to survive.

You can still find Mas’ work in American Handgunner and Guns and Ammo still has some cool gun pictures and reviews. But yes, everything is going online. Print pubs are fading away, page by page.

One thing: we are not the mainstream media. The gun media world revolves around shooting guns and protecting Second Amendment rights. Some of us are journalists and all of us love our guns.

Unlike the mainstream media, most of us do not try to sensationalize current events – yeah, some of us do – and we do our best to give you honest, factual information. That has always been true and continues to be true. 

Respect our gun media roots. Explore history. Collect old out-of-print books about guns and back issues of old gun magazines.

There’s a wealth of knowledge out there just waiting to be re-discovered.

Remember, we learned and evolved based on those old methods. Knowing your history is what we call A Good Thing.

Now go out and get your gun on. Because guns really are what we do!

What are your favorite print publications? Do you only seek the internet when you look for firearm reviews and media? Let us know in the comments! Looking for some books to read? For the best dead tree kind, check out the Best Firearm & Shooting Books! For your e-book needs, the Best Kindle Books for Firearm Enthusiasts!

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