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Ugh.  I am generally a very open-minded person, but some things just make me cringe a little bit inside.  Lately, something that I’ve been noticing a lot more of has been the increasing creep of “tacticool” aesthetic into mainstream gun ownership.  There was a time when devotees of this wholly ridiculous sub-culture were such a minority among gun owners that they were openly chided.  Outfitting one’s rifle with a 37mm flare launcher styled to look like an M203 system or wearing a field-grade gear vest at the gun range used to elicit jokes about Mall Ninjas and the Delta Force catalog.

Something else that used to be consistent was that the world of “tacticool” gear was the exclusive domain of aftermarket parts suppliers. Firearms would come from the factory in a rational stock configuration, and then some particularly dedicated (and I would often say particularly silly) individuals would spend money on accessories and modifications that they felt looked badass when in fact they just appeared silly.



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Your typical “tacticool” guy… he has likely spent more on accessories than his original rifle cost, and yet virtually none of this would be considered “field ready” and capable of rough handling if said rifle were issued to someone in the armed forces.  The actual effectiveness of this weapons system is immaterial to a tacticool user, however.  It just has to “look badass”


Often not content with merely making their personal firearms laden with accessories and backup gear, a true tacticool individual will ensure that their automobile, bike, or even work desk are outfitted with the most aggressive-looking gear items, in the event that “the shit hits the fan” one day.


Until recently, if someone wanted to add any of these rather unnecessary accessories to their guns, they would either perform the modifications themselves (thanks to the ever-growing number of aftermarket parts manufacturers who have adopted the picatinny rail standard) or enlist the help of a willing gunsmith.  This niece market has allowed for some gun shops to make a tidy sum by catering to the desires of some citizens who wish to own guns that look like something out of a Hollywood movie but who do not actually want to spend a lot of money or go through Title-II paperwork.


The Red Jacket Firearms company, featured on the Discovery Channel show Sons of Guns, was a standout in the “tacticool” realm.  Here we see then-owner, Will Hayden, holding a gun that appears to only fire 9mm pistol ammo, in spite of the fact that it is based around a rifle receiver, features a high-magnification optic, and sports a suppressor (which may just be decorative).  Chances are high that this handgun/carbine hybrid is not capable of select-fire and is most likely not a Title-II NFA firearm.


This was the standard for a long time.  If you wanted a tacticool gun, you were creating it (or modifying it) yourself.  Mainstream firearm manufacturers (whose chief clientele are usually the police and the military) would never risk their reputation by creating hardware like this at the factory and putting their trade mark upon it.  Sadly, that trend may be changing.

Consider Mossberg & Sons.  This Swedish company has been making what are arguably the world’s finest shotguns for nearly a century.  They also produce rifles, however this is a small piece of their overall business when compared with their shotgun division.  Police officers and the US military have been relying on their products for ages now.


A SWAT police officer with a Mossberg 590  series shotgun


US Marines training with Mossberg 590A1 shotguns


Mossberg shotguns come in a variety of models.  They can be categorized into roughly three groups:

  • the 500-series are geared towards casual sports shooters and are often seen with cushioned stocks for comfort
  • the 590-series are geared towards police and usually have the ability to hold more shotshells
  • the 590A1 shotgun is designed for the military and features all-metal construction.  it is essentially a model 590 without any plastic parts


A “tacticool” person would historically choose to purchase model 590 shotguns by Mossberg.  Since there is no cosmetic difference between a 590 and a 590A1, and since the latter is more expensive and weighs considerably more, there is little “cool” factor to be gained for such an additional cost.  My first shotgun was a Mossberg 500.  When purchasing a second one for home defense, I happened across an auction for a model 590A1 with a very low starting price.  Back then, this military type shotgun didn’t command much attention and therefore the auction seller was seeing few bids.  I didn’t even know what the 590A1 was at the time, but after researching it I liked the idea of something with more rugged construction and chose to make an offer.  I won the auction without really trying and have been happy with the shotgun ever since.

I particularly like it when I introduce new shooters to 12 gauge pump guns.  Due to its heftier mass, the 590A1 soaks up a lot more of the recoil for each shot, making novices much more comfortable while firing it.

Unless one knows what details to look for (the heavier barrel appears slightly thicker than normal, for example) most people don’t notice anything distinct or different about my shotgun.  The original 590A1 guns from Mossberg have their model number on the left side of the receiver like all similar products, stamped in non-distinct and subdued letters.


Unless you’re looking right at it, most people don’t even notice the small “A1” at the end of the model 590 designation, and would assume I have a standard law enforcement model shotgun.


Lately, however, it appears that Mossberg & Sons may be starting to seize upon the “tacticool” trend that ripples through some parts of American gun culture.  While browsing auction sites for another shotgun recently, I noticed something rather odd in specific photos that some sellers had uploaded…


This appears to be the new way of marking the 590A1 shotgun


No longer content with using the nondescript, straight-line font with which they make a subdued imprint on their other shotgun receivers, Mossberg now appears to have adopted this bold “Stencil” style lettering (so popular when making artistic references to the military) and the “M590A1” lettering has increased noticeably in size.  If that weren’t enough, the model number has been augmented with a subtitle, boldly revealing this to be the “U.S. SERVICE MODEL” should anyone cast a glance at the weapon.


Who exactly thinks this makes a firearm more desirable?  I don’t know, but chances are I wouldn’t want to hang out with them.  You don’t tend to see this in other cultures.  Consider motoring.  Most auto enthusiasts agree that the Ferarri logo is a thing of beauty.  Quiet, yet powerful… that company’s logo commands respect and portrays elegance much in the same way that their vehicles do…




… now what, I ask you, do you think the reaction of most people would be if Ferrari S.p.A. suddenly chose to start putting this logo on their automobiles instead…




Would that make you have more respect for these machines?  Would it make you more likely to buy one?

I don’t know your reaction, but I can state quite plainly that if I or anyone whom I know buys another Mossberg 590A1, it will be an older, used model without these new fancy-pants “tacticool” markings.

Heaven help us if these companies start equipping their firearms with unnecessary and flashy do-nothing accessories.  Then the Mall Ninjas will have really taken over.






  1. You hit it right on the head brother. Another term we use for these wannabees is “Swatacular”.
    People put goodies on their rifles because they seen someone they think is cool, i.e. military SOF/Contractors and they want to be cool too. They add these components to their weapons because they cannot shoot like the pro’s, and feel that these accessories will actually compensate for their lack of skill. I.E. they think they will shoot faster and more accurately with them on.
    Great post Dev, keep it up.

  2. The new stamp shown on the 590A1 is exclusive to the special US Service Model, which I believe is a TALO exclusive. Other 590A1s still ship with the same stamp.

    • Ah, I did not know this. Virtually all 590A1s that appeared in online auctions when I was searching at the time seemed to sport the larger, newer stamp

  3. I agree completely. We’ve got a gun shop near my house, Tacticool. I see guys there, with “Tactical Boots”, “Tactical Knives”, “Tacticool Stickers” on their vehicles. “Tactical Collars” on their dogs. I’ve gone into the shop, what a bunch of Yahoos. They wear their pants bloused in their boots. For the most part, overweight, white, SWAT team wannabes. I bet they spend a lot of money in that place. The owner has a duece and a half parked out front. So, he’s got a 6 mpg vehicle, big deal.

    99% of what they do is for the image. I’m sure there are people bragging about their less than 5 seconds of angle to their shooting. Jesus H. Christ. I guess the SWAT team wouldn’t take them when they were young, so they became beer distributors and live this dream in their later years.

  4. Just out of curiosity, why do you care how other people spend their money? I’m an LEO and have some colleagues who, while living and working in the law enforcement world, definitely go overboard with their gear. Given the diatribe you’ve written above, I guess I have to assume that these agents must be losers and nerds.

    Funny thing is, there’s been this odd backlash against anything “tactical” to the point where some guys I work with are reluctant to use good, effective gear because they don’t want to appear “tacticool.” Idiotic. Just wear what you want. Shoot what you want. Buy what you want. And to hell with everybody else.

    • You make a decent point, Eddington. My words were admittedly harsh in that post. I am staunchly in favor of the free market… so far be it from me to dictate how anyone spends his or her money. However, as the title suggests (“friends don’t let friends” etc etc) the nature of my words was a kind-hearted plea. An offering of advice in the spirit of helping others who possibly aren’t noticing something they’re doing.

      Why do I care how they spend their money? In simple terms, because folk who are a part of my community (gun owners and shooters) contribute to how this community is viewed, especially by outsiders. I become tagged, much like we all do, by both the good and the bad behavior of our associates in this world. And if more and more folk start going all Mall Ninja, that perception becomes the norm.

      Do i think that the officers of whom you speak are all losers and nerds? No, not likely. But I do think that they are contributing to part of the cultural drift. And they most certainly are contributing to the shift in the marketplace.

      As far as the backlash argument, I would find that point somewhat weaker… simply because all of the serious, high-speed people whom I know care about exactly one thing when it comes to gear: how well it works. They don’t care about cool factor. They don’t care about cost. They don’t care about whether it comes from restricted channels or can be purchased by others. The operators whom I know that rely on, say, Triple Aught Design products… they do not care if this brand becomes a household name or simply remains known exclusively in LEO and .mil circles. They just know that it’s well made and will stand up to the demands of hard use.

      We agree wholeheartedly, you and I, on the last thing you said… “Wear what you want. Shoot what you want. Buy what you want. And to hell with everybody else.” … it is ultimately each person’s choice. I just hope that what people choose to wear, shoot, and ultimately buy is based on form and function as opposed to fashion.

  5. Your article is hilarious and I agree with most of it. But to NOT buy something because it’s being marketed as “tacticool” is almost as bad as buying it because it is. Using your example, the Mossberg 590A1 “U.S. Service Model” retains all of its functional characteristics. Personally, I will be returning from a deployment to SWA soon, and I am looking for something to spend my FSA and saved tax dollars on. I’ve been looking at one of these for awhile, and though I would have preferred the older less flamboyant labeling I will still buy it for functionality.

    • I would consider those to be more or less fair comments on the matter. I’ll hold out hope that you can find one without the swatacular markings, in order to vote with your wallet in favor of what you’ve expressed here. Either way, here’s to your acquisition of a Mossberg in any form… something i wholeheartedly support.

      Best regards, thank you for your service, and enjoy time here at home soon, Zac.

  6. The mossberg model you were making fun of is only 1 model by Mossberg that has the special serial number and “US Service Model” on the side. Is it really the tactical cool model? It only has a single bead sight on the top, and we all know real tactical rifles have AR-15 sights on it. If you were to do some more research the a1 models come with a heavy barrel. Now, why would a mall ninja need this ? What if said mall ninja reloads? Would a stronger barrel possibly save his or her life if a load was over pressure? Yes.

    I get what you are saying but in the polarized nation, we need all the help we can get. One day you will look to your left and right and they will be the only gun supporters you have. Let’s find more ways to stick together rather then be cynical like our opponents.

    Mall Ninja 🙂

  7. I served 6 years in the military and I’ll say I somewhat agree with your post, however you can’t discount the benefit of functional tactical upgrades to a weapon.

    For range shooting and the occasional deer hunt then no, you probably won’t see someone with a maxed out rifle. Home defense is another issue.

    After getting out of the military in 2008, I bought an m4 from bushmaster with the intention of modifying it to my comfortable mil-spec rifle that I used on deployment. I use a surefire m900v and a scout light, aimpoint pro and aimpoint 3x mag (both with adm throw lever mounts)a DBAL-I2, mbus flip irons, magpul stock, surefire quad rail, and a magpul qd single point sling.

    All of this is functional gear. I can pick up my rifle at 4am or at 1pm and, with confidence, shoulder that weapon and defend my home or hit that target down range. There are certain things I will not compromise on a rifle and that’s a white light, iron sights, and a good RDS.

    As someone who’s had experience working with real operators, and law enforcement, i can usually spot someone who was a shooter or at least knows his stuff about shooting. There are fanatics and over-zealous rednecks but that shouldn’t deter someone from customizing their weapon to suit their needs.

    I customize my AR for function, not aesthetic purpose. As you said the ones who customize to look good are glaringly obvious whereas the ones who know how to modify their weapons are also pretty obvious.

    What’s important is getting it out of our heads that having tactical gear for a functioning purpose is a bad thing. We know not to wear fatigues and a tac vest to the range, that’s common sense for us…it doesn’t mean we should compromise on what we know works for us just because of what some random person might think.

    Shoot and customize your weapon based on what works for you, not what other people think. Someone who doesn’t know me will likely look at my gun and think the exact same thing as you…only difference is I wouldn’t care because I know I’m comfortable with my setup and I know it’s very effective for what I’ve built it for. That’s all that matters.

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