EDITOR's NOTE: We've been honored to have one of the best-known names in firearms writing helping us get the lowdown on the largest firearms industry show in Europe, IWA, the past week. Today, the first of Frank James' reports on a gigantic show most of us know little, if anything, about.
The IWA small arms trade show is celebrating during March 8 through 11th its fortieth anniversary. Located in Nuremberg, Germany the "IWA" Show (pronounced 'Eva) was originally developed to showcase the products and skills of the German gunsmiths and firearms trade. It has since become the leading European international trade exhibition for the hunting, the shooting sports, outdoor equipment of all types and in recent years for law enforcement and personal security.
In many ways it is the European equivalent to the massive NSSF sponsored Shot Show in the United States and its growth rivals that of the Shot Show. In 1974 there were just 106 exhibitors and 2,000 trade visitors. Last year IWA had 1,209 exhibitors, 76% of which were from outside Germany. In 2012 there were 36,004 trade visitors and 61% of them were international in origin.
Shown here is the entrance to the law enforcement "Enforce TAC" exhibit at the IWA show. Identification was required, but this exhibit was far different than anything seen 40 years ago when IWA was first created. This exhibit had everything from night visiton to the latest select-fire military and law enforcement firearms. All photos by Frank W. James.
Starting last year under the banner of "Protecting People", a specific small law enforcement exhibition section was opened the day before the show officially opened and was open for two days. This is "Enforce TAC" by IWA second year of operation and as such companies making a wide range of products for the law enforcement market are displaying everything from night vision and thermal imagining devices to the latest in select-fire carbines and machine guns.
This latter is a quite a change from past years because when I attended my first IWA trade show in 1989, back then Germany was still divided by the Iron Curtain and the Cold War was still officially 'ON' even if it was in its dying stages. The emphasis then was on clothing and the proper 'tweeds' a gentleman would wear while afield. Olympic style competition rifles and pistols as well as hand crafted fine side by side shotguns were the main items of display. There was little to be found that would interest the average American shooter; whether he was a 'handgun' man or a 'rifle' shooter.
That has all changed because European 'shooting' and the associated firearms trade have changed. That is not to say the average European shooter enjoys an equivalent situation to the freedoms and liberties enjoyed by the citizens of the United States (there is NOTHING equivalent to the National Rifle Association anywhere in Europe), but it is much better in terms of product diversity and the available options available to those who want to pursue the shooting sports in various European countries when compared to just a few year ago.
Cowboy 'Action' Shooting is very popular in both France and Germany and Uberti's display booth at the IWA Show represents that interest for this most 'American' of the shooting sports
Cowboy 'Action' Shooting is very popular in both France and Germany and that interest is reflected here in the number and quality of 'heritage' firearms companies making guns that would have left Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok drooling with envy.
IPSC has been popular in Europe for several decades and its influence can be seen not only in the 'competition' pistols developed and offered for sale to this sport, but how it has enabled people to acquire and enjoy more traditional pistols that Americans would consider good self-defense pistols.
Another factor in the change of products seen at IWA over the years has to be the cultural changes that occurred when the 'Wall' fell and the former Eastern Bloc countries 'joined' the west. I am not an expert on their laws but casual conversations does indicate the residents of these former Communist countries are able to acquire and enjoy the shooting sports and a diversity of firearms products far easier than they could under their former Communist overlords.
Of course, the traditional German gun-makers are front center and to see the craftsmanship and beauty of these literally hand-made drillings, double rifles and side by side shotguns is a treasure that even the most cynical of shooters would appreciate. One custom gun-maker even had a single shot rifle on display that was massive....it HAD to be for he had chambered it for the .700 Nitro Express!
A new rifle in the 'traditional' hunting rifle field was introduced by Browning. It is called the "MARAL" and it features a straight pull action, a removable stock (for easier storage and carrying) and will be available in four calibers: 30/06, .308 Win., .300 Win. Mag. and 9.3x62mm.
In the 'Enforce TAC' by IWA law enforcement section the new HK 121 belt-fed 7.62x51mm machine gun was on display as this gun has been heavily anticipated by various military agencies. Of interest was the development of at least two new submachine gun designs that were chambered for traditional submachine gun calibers; 9x19mm and/or .40 S&W, .357 Sig and .45 Auto. Sig had their new MP-X on display as did B&T AG of Switzerland. The Sig MP-X will be available in 9x19mm, .357 Sig and .40 S&W while the new subgun from B&T will initially be available in 9x19mm and later .45 ACP. The representatives from both firms when questioned about why these new designs were chambered in these more dated and traditional calibers versus the newer NATO demanded small caliber soft-body armor defeating calibers responded quite simply the threat of bad-guys being protected with soft-body armor was a non-issue in international law enforcement circles. It simply has NOT come to pass and the terminal ballistics of these small calibers is increasingly being called into question. Additionally, most all foreign police agencies in various countries outside the United States get their armament through their native military forces and these same military forces don't want their local police having the same weapons as they do. Hence, there is little demand for battle-rifle cartridges, nor new military style small arms cartridges. And lastly, the 9x19mm cartridge is the "World" cartridge for small arms; whether that small arm is a pistol, a carbine or a select-fire submachine gun and because of this it is more economical for many police agencies to use and train with versus a more powerful military origin round. Hopefully, I'll have more information about the B&T AG submachine gun later on in the show as they were out of English language brochures and their representatives were busy during my visit.
The big news in 'conventional' hunting rifles is the new "MARAL" from Browning. It is a straight pull design that features a detachable box magazine. It will be made available in four calibers: .308 Win, .30/06, .300 Win. Mag. and 9.3x62mm. It employs a traditional Browning style rotating bolt and the rear stock is easily removable for easy storage in the available 'suitcase'. In .30/06 caliber; there will be 3 magazine options; 3, 5 or 10 round capacities.
In rifles of a more exotic nature Izhmash of Russia had a semi-auto version of the MK-107 on display, but surprisingly it was chambered for the 5.56x45mm round and not one of Russia's proprietary rounds like the 7.62x39mm or 5.45x39mm. The MK-107 has a "...balanced automatics recoil system..." that was originally developed to maintain tighter groups during full-auto fire on the select fire version. Unfortunately, this model is semi-auto only.
The M26 is a modular accessory shotgun system developed by Ira Kay. Because it features a short 16.5 inch barrel it is ruled by the American BATF as an NFA device, but that doesn't mean the European law enforcement market isn't interested in a short handy dual purpose firearm for both 'breaching' and 'entry' duty. All photos by Frank W. James.
American companies pay great heed to the European market and the IWA show is their best opportunity to both make the contacts and the sales needed to spur their international sales. I was surprised to find the M26 manually operated lightweight shotgun developed by Ira Kay here at the show. It has not been promoted much in the states due to the fact it is an NFA device because of its short 16.5 inch barrel, but it weighs between 3 lbs. and 5 lbs. depending upon the configuration.
The IWA Show is not a competitor to the American Shot Show, but it does serve as a vital counterpart. Nobody can do everything for everyone and the two shows complement each other in so many ways. Yet, it is also important to remind American manufacturers the IWA Show is their gateway to this important market venue.
FIRST SPEAR is an American company manufacturing synthetic based load bearing equipment and other accessories used every day in military and law enforcement circles. Quite simply they exhibit at the IWA show, even though they are only two years old in terms of operation, but because they know this show is where the business IS...
-- Frank W. James