THE BREADTH OF GUN HISTORY, even though it is only a few hundred years old, is surprisingly broad and nuanced. Anyone reading this probably has a favorite gun, but it’s just as likely that there are many, many firearms you don’t know even existed. This is where Ian McCollum’s Forgotten Weapons channel on YouTube comes in handy.
Since 2011, McCollum has been producing—we should say professionally producing—short videos that offer a deep dive in the history of small arms. Instead of yet another take on the Thompson submachine gun, Single Action Colt, or the Uzi (but they’re all there too), this expert’s expert on firearms offers a deep history of those firearms that aren’t as well known.
While he continues to write about guns, and recently, released a new book, Chassepot to FAMAS: French Military Rifles, 1866 – 2016, it is the videos of Forgotten Weapons that has hit a bullseye with fans, and his other channel, InRangeTV, which was launched in 2015 featuring gun content that’s a little less history focused and more shooting and testing focused, has a solid audience as well.
Range365 had a chance to talk with McCollum about small arms history, being a social media influencer, and what it’s like to spend his days around cool-ass firearms. Here is what he had to say.
Range365: The YouTube channel now has more than a million and half subscribers, which is a larger audience than some hit TV shows today. Did you ever think you’d reach this point?
Ian McCollum: When I started posting, it wasn’t because I wanted to build an audience. I started out with a blog, and I’ll admit I’m an old man on the Internet, so I was writing text articles and trying to explain the strange actions of these firearms. It was easier to film it and show people how it worked.
When I started doing videos, I expected this kind of content to be out there already, and I thought there would be more ‘full-time level’ videos out there, as opposed to just those at the hobbyist level. I am not being negative about the hobbyists, because there is some really good stuff. And in fact I think there is really more opportunity for those with a passion to do similar videos, and it surprises me that more people aren’t doing it.
For me, the idea of the videos came first, but then it became, ‘Where do I put it?’ Back before YouTube, you had to host the videos, but when you’re paying for bandwidth, that can be really expensive. That could have bankrupted me, so YouTube, with its unlimited hosting for videos, was really the perfect solution. I started doing the videos and a year later was invited to be part of the partner program.
It took a couple of years, but gradually I did more video and less blogging. I didn’t expect this to be a full time gig, but it has been an amazing and fantastic transition.
R365: Social media platforms including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and others aren’t exactly “gun friendly” so does the name “Forgotten Weapons” present a challenge?
Ian: As for YouTube, the answer is yes and no. Most of the content I post hasn’t been affected by their rules, but I can say YouTube doesn’t make it easy to speak to YouTube. I can’t talk to anyone, and if you are “demonetized,” they really won’t tell you why.
R365: Your videos are really straight history, and you’re not really pushing an agenda. Does this make it easier for you on YouTube?
Ian: I do keep it apolitical. But that is what the audience wants. A large segment of my audience is very happy that I’m not talking about politics. I get comments from people that have said they don’t like guns, but they find the history fascinating, and then I have others who said that because of my videos they decided to take up shooting and went out and bought their first rifle.
I think it this is a subject no one should be ashamed to be interested in, and today there are those who don’t want to admit that they like guns. I just want to offer a relevant topic with a critical view.
R365: How did your interest in firearms begin and grow, and how did this lead to Forgotten Weapons?
Ian: It was something I grew up with honestly. My father collected Japanese Arisaka rifles, and these were displayed on the wall. Half the collection was the Type 99 and it was interesting to see the evolution of the rifle before World War II and then during the war. It went from a fantastic and beautiful “Swiss Army Knife” of a gun with a monopod and dust cover, and transforms to one that has a safety that is a welded blob of metal and a stock that was a block of wood with a couple of nails holding it together.
That was my initial exposure to firearms, but it grew when I was in college and was on Purdue’s pistol team for three years. It allowed me to understand marksmanship.
Then after college my interest in firearms continued and I really had this desire to learn more about the weird guns and lesser known designs.
R365: How important is it for you today to get other people as interested in firearms?
Ian: It is a fascinating subject, and I just hate to see the history left behind. For me I think the stories are fascinating and I present those as they are, and I leave it up to the viewers to go deeper into the stories.
One thing I am not trying to do is convert people to support guns, so I’m not an activist. I’m happy to provide the facts and let the viewers decide what to do with the information I’ve presented.
R365: YouTube has certainly opened the door so to speak to allow people to learn about guns that weren’t often in documentaries or featured on TV shows – so do you think the timing was right for your subject matter?
Ian: My father was actually on History Channel’s Tales From the Gun, but we haven’t really seen anything like that in years.
Honestly, the bar for good productions is set very low right now. Twenty years ago this sort of video series would have been impossible to do. You could have taken it to cable like Tales From the Gun, but you’d have to find a channel that was interested and then convince a producer you were the guy who should do it.
With the Internet, I was able to do these videos and build an audience. This is one of the things I love about the state of the Internet. It has opened a world of possibilities for people like me to make these videos and find that audience.
The production side makes it very easy to do. I have about $2,500 worth of technical equipment, but I could even cut that down. The technical side is hardly a barrier anymore.
R365: We’ve seen similar videos coming not from firearms enthusiasts, but from video gamers, so does that surprise you at all?
Ian: Not at all. We see that there are many gun owners that are gamers, and this is especially true of those who play historic games and I’ve seen comments from gamers who wanted to know more about the guns they used in the games.
It seems some of the game developers are turning to my videos. EA’s Battlefield 1 is a good example as I believe the developers used some of the information from my videos to help make the guns in the game so realistic.
R365: And the obligatory question, do you have a favorite firearm?
Ian: There are way too many to have a favorite, but I will say that I have guns that I’m more interested in at any given time. This is because I’m interested in the history, and I really dig into it. Then, I’m interested in something new.
This predisposition has helped me become interested about one period and then move onto another. I’m happy to bounce from one gun to another. A month of Bergmann content wouldn’t be good for the audience!