By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
One of the most consistent threads of conversation I pick up in my Internet wanderings is that gun magazines are not what they used to be. The writers, it’s claimed, are a bunch of pissants compared to the giants of yesterday, and the magazines themselves are nothing but advertisements supported by whoring from the writers.
In fact, a fellow gun writer sat down next to me at the SHOT Show and gave me a grilling on this very subject. Here’s what I told him:
Old-time gun writers were a lot more colorful. Many of them had military experience, and this lent a certain cachet to their names: Colonels Townsend Whelen and Charles Askins, Major George C. Nonte, Captain Phil Sharpe. Pete Brown and Warren Page were Navy officers. Today, the only writer with any rank is Colonel Craig Boddington.
Today, it seems, gunwriters start very young—in their 20s and early 30s. I started in my 30s, and although I thought I knew it all, I did not know ca-ca. The time to start is in your 40s when you’ve had time to get some experience, and found out you can’t make a living doing anything else.
Old gun writers were far more distinctive. If you look at the copy the current guys turn out, you can’t tell one from another. I could have my incisor teeth pulled without anesthesia after reading most of it. People like Elmer Keith and Askins were great stylists—even when they were talking b.s. they were always readable.
As for magazine honesty, my hero, Jack O'Connor, dealt with the question over 30 years ago, telling the terrifying tale of the gun writer who did an honest review of a new firearm in Shooting & Blasting. He then had the facts of life pointed out to him by the editor-in-chief, who explained that the maker of the new gun was a major advertiser. "Do you want to tell the truth," he asked, "or do you want to keep your job?"
What do you think? Are the new gunwriters a collection of pissant punks? Are gun magazines as truthful as the government (which is to say not at all)? Your opinion is solicited.