What Are Your Favorite Gunmaking Countries?

If you had to pick three countries to focus your gun collection on, which would they be? Yeah, this is the sort of thing I think about when I’m waiting in line or otherwise unoccupied. Some countries have a reputation for junky guns, some for intricate ones, some for practical ones, and so on. I know it’s like choosing between your children, but have you ever considered which countries’ overall firearms history appeal to you the most?

I have, and I came up with an answer. I tend to like the unusual and guns with interesting stories, and that rules out the US and Russia and some other major centers of arms production. Yes, there are lots of amazing American and Russian guns, but I’m a bit too close to them and they don’t grab my interest the way some others do. The three I would choose (if I really had to choose) would be:

#3: Finland

True, the Finns haven’t done a lot of indigenous design – most of their arms have come from Russia. But what they’ve adopted from Russia has generally been worked over to make it better for the adept user. The result is a very cool combination of Finnish high quality and Russian rugged practicality. The Finnish M39 variation on the Mosin Nagant rifle, for example, is proof that you can make a silk purse form a sow’s ear. The SVT-40 carbine is a very cool piece too, and then you have some diverse unexpected things like the LS-26 light machine gun and imported Carcano carbines.

#2: Israel

I don’t have any scientific numbers, but I suspect that Israel has probably been involved in more actual live-fire combat per year and per capita than any other country. It shows in their armaments, too – if you want to be sure something works, look for an Israeli version of it. They have a predictably low tolerance for guns that don’t work. Their early equipment was a great (from my collector’s point of view) mish-mash of anything that could be bought or smuggled in – Mausers, FN-D and MG34 machine guns, High-Powers, and more. They continued to use a mixture of effective foreign guns (Browning 1919s, for example) and domestic production (like the excellent Galil interpretation of the AK and the iconic Uzi SMG). Finally, I think that a German-made K98k used in the Israeli War of Independence is just about the most symbolically significant firearm around.

Israeli marked K98k Mauser
Israeli marked K98k Mauser

#1: Czech Republic (and formerly Czechoslovakia)

The Czechs don’t have the hardscrabble combat history of the Finns and Israelis, but they have an often underappreciated history of making damn fine arms. Good steel, good workmanship, and a solid record of successful designs. The ZH-29 and ZK-420S, for example, are both excellent guns that just never made the big-time. The ZB-26 family – which includes the Bren Gun – is one of the best light machine guns ever made. The Vz-58 rifle, and the Vz-52 in 7.62x45mm. The CZ-75 family of pistols, which are arguably the best overall service handgun in production. I could go on, but suffice to say that the Czechs have made far more than their statistical share of excellent firearms.

Think I’ve got it all backwards? What would you chose?