Saturday Night Special

Raven Arms

Rohm Gesellschaft

Saturday night special is a colloquial term for inexpensive, compact, small-caliber handguns of perceived low quality. Some states define these junk guns by means of composition or material strength. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, they were commonly referred to as ‘suicide specials.’ Although the term implies such a gun is for use in crime, studies show that criminals prefer high-quality guns, in the largest caliber they can easily conceal.

The legal definition of a ‘junk gun’ usually specifies the materials used in its manufacture, targeting zinc castings, low melting points (usually 800 degrees Fahrenheit), powder metallurgy, and other low-cost manufacturing techniques. Nearly all guns made this way are chambered for low-pressure cartridges. The low-strength materials and cheap construction result in poor durability and marginal accuracy at longer ranges, but as most of these guns are sold for use in self-defense, accuracy and durability are not primary design goals.

The MP-25 was made by Raven Arms, which has been referred to as the first of the ‘Ring of Fire’ companies, those known for producing inexpensive handguns. The earliest known use of the term ‘Saturday night special’ in print is a 1968 issue of ‘The New York Times.’ In a front-page article titled ‘Handgun Imports Held Up by U.S,’ author Fred Graham wrote, ‘… cheap, small-caliber ‘Saturday night specials’ that are a favorite of holdup men…’

The term ‘Saturday night special’ came into wider use with the passing of the ‘Gun Control Act’ of 1968 because the act banned the importation and manufacture of many inexpensive firearms, including a large number of revolvers made by Röhm Gesellschaft. With importation banned, Röhm opened a factory in Miami, Florida, and a number of companies in the United States began production of inexpensive handguns, including Raven Arms, Jennings Firearms (later Bryco Arms, now Jimenez Arms), Phoenix Arms, Lorcin Engineering Company, Davis Industries, and Sundance Industries, which collectively came to be known as the ‘Ring of Fire companies.’

The earliest law prohibiting inexpensive handguns was enacted in Tennessee, in the form of the ‘Army and Navy Law,’ passed in 1879, shortly after the 14th amendment and Civil Rights Act of 1875; previous laws invalidated by the constitutional amendment had stated that black freedmen could not own or carry any manner of firearm. The Army and Navy Law prohibited the sale of ‘belt or pocket pistols, or revolvers, or any other kind of pistols, except army or navy pistols,’ which were prohibitively expensive for black freedmen and poor whites to purchase. The effect of the law was to restrict handgun possession to the upper economic classes.[20]

The next major attempt to regulate inexpensive firearms was the ‘Gun Control Act’ of 1968, which used the ‘sporting purposes’ test and a points system to exclude many small, inexpensive handguns which had been imported from European makers such as Röhm. Most manufacturers in the U.S. were not directly impacted by the act, as they were not subject to the import restrictions, and for the most part they did not manufacture compact, inexpensive handguns that competed with the banned imports.

However, demand for inexpensive handguns still existed and a number of new companies were formed to fill that gap. In an effort to cut costs, many of these guns were made with cast components made of the zinc alloy zamak rather than the more typical machined or cast steel. As a result, legislation against ‘junk guns’ subsequently targeted the zinc frames used in construction by specifying a melting point. The development of polymer-framed guns, which will burn at temperatures much lower than the commonly specified 800 °F led to this becoming ineffective. Subsequent legislation regulated size (such as barrel lengths under 3 inches (7.6 cm)), materials (such as zinc), or low-cost manufacturing techniques (e.g., density requirements that specifically ban inexpensive powder cast metals), Some of these legal restrictions are based on product liability law.

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