Saturday Night Special RIP?

I was schmoozing with a Providence Police Department homicide detective a few weeks ago. I asked him what kind of guns he encountered on the mean streets of the Renaissance City. He didn’t hesitate for a second. “Glocks. Nine mil. That’s their favorite gun.” Why wouldn’t it be? Setting aside the role Hollywood’s played in Gaston’s popularity amongst gang-bangers (and police officers), the Glock is light years ahead of the gun control-era weapons that went by the intentionally incendiary name “Saturday Night Specials.” In an otherwise deadly dull article at gothamgazette.com (which talks about .9 mm guns), a Baltimore Police veteran and proclaimed “gun expert” rings the death knell for the cheap, nasty ass guns amongst America’s criminal class, despite his colleagues willful ignorance . . .

Many of the guns most commonly used in street crimes are what Eugene O’Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College who previously served as both an NYPD officer and criminal prosecutor, and other cops call “Saturday night specials”: small, cheap handguns that are generally easy for buyers to get their hands on. “Less sophisticated, cheap guns that are easy to use have been the coin of the realm,” O’Donnell says.

But not too cheap, according to Charles Key, a gun expert who spent nearly 26 years with the Baltimore Police Department. “There is a myth about Saturday night specials. The old Saturday night special was some sort of cheap knock off, made of less than sturdy steel that you could buy on the street corner from some rat faced guy selling $2 pistols,” says Key, who served as an expert witness in the civil case filed against New York City by the family of Amadou Diallo, the 23-year-old Guinean immigrant who was shot and killed by four NYPD officers in The Bronx in 1999.

“In actual point of fact, criminals don’t want cheap knock offs.” According to Key, there is no inherent quality – price or ease of use, for example – in Smith & Wesson and Ruger firearms that would make them more attractive to criminals than other handguns. “It really depends on the model,” he says. “The easiest gun to use on the market is a double-action, semiautomatic pistol, which simply means that when you pull the trigger, the weapon fires.”

Especially if it’s a Glock.

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

49 Responses to Saturday Night Special RIP?

  1. avatarCA says:

    “.9 mm guns” – They must be tiny! :)

    • avatarJeff says:

      It’s not the size of the bullet that matters, it’s how you use it.

      • avatarCarlosT says:

        You’d have to be realllly good to make .035 caliber effective.

      • avatarTotenglocke says:

        Quite true. Even a .009 mm round would kill you if placed properly.

        • avatarDan says:

          That’s smaller than the width of a human hair. I think at that point the “shot placement is all that matters” argument kinda breaks down.

        • avatarDarren says:

          I have seen brainstem infarcts in live people bigger than that. Not saying they’re sparkling conversationalists or Olympic candidates, but .009mm is pretty damn small. The v on that hit would have to be pretty spectacular to be noticed and would pretty much have to be a brainstem hit because nobody’s going to bleed out from a hit in the aorta that small.

        • avatarokto says:

          Darren’s right. That’s about a tenth the diameter of a human hair. You get things bigger than that lodged in your skin every day and never notice.

          You could argue high velocity, but we’re talking micrometeorites speeds here, and you just can’t do that in atmosphere.

  2. avatarJR says:

    That’s funny as this is a reocurring theme in the previously TTAG reviewed book: “Glock – The Rise of America’s Gun.” The author states that as much as the media and hollywood would like us to believe that evil Glocks are the tool of the underworld, most recovered crime guns are still cheapies, Smith and Wesson revolvers and DA pistols, as well as Ruger DA pistols. Does your freind have any sort of corraborative evidence he would like to share with the rest of the class?

    • avatarRalph says:

      How dare you disrespect my beloved Smith & Wesson! May your tongue turn to fire. Or your fingertips. Or something.

  3. avatarC. Walther says:

    “According to Key, there is no inherent quality – price or ease of use, for example – in Smith & Wesson and Ruger firearms that would make them more attractive to criminals than other handguns.”

    I can hear my SP-101 sobbing in its safe 2 miles away from here. Thanks a lot, you dick (Charles Key, not anyone on this site).

  4. avatarJason says:

    That’s not what my defense lawyer friend in Philly says, nor does it square with my experience shooting at a public range in the sketchy part of town. Most bangers don’t make a lot of money. (An economist a while back pointed out that most street dealers still live with mom, and would be better off taking minimum-wage jobs.) Hipoints and SKSs are the order of the day. And you can tell where they stand on the hierarchy by what they carry. More successful thugs trade up to Ruger P89/95s and the cheapest AK clones. (WASRs.) You’ll also see a fair number of Tauruses (both revolvers and semis) here. Glocks may be aspirational models, but are relatively rare. Strictly upper management. And these days it’s been replaced as an object of desire: Your real high rollers and kingpins are rocking the FN FiveSeven, primarily due to its price and reputation for punching vests. I don’t get the impression they know or care that civilian 5.7mm ammo won’t. It’s all about image.

  5. avatarTTACer says:

    Since when is a Smith or Ruger a “Saturday Night Special”

    Think Jennings or Raven Arms.

    • avatarMike OFWG says:

      Right, I once bought a Jennings .380, a Jennings .25 and a derringer of unknown manufacture for $175, sold all three for the same total.

  6. avatarRyan Finn says:

    Back in ’08 when I was doing my internship with the Sheriff’s Office in Charleston, SC the evidence locker was full of Hi-Points that had been seized. The detective I was with said the “gangsters” called them G-heavys because they reminded them of crappier Glocks. Guess they’re upgrading.

    • avatarRalph says:

      The locker was full of Hi-Points because the cops had appropriated all the Glocks.

      • avatarTom says:

        Possibly.

      • avatarRyan Finn says:

        Birthday presents for the whole family!

      • avatarNCG says:

        Ralph, how could you accuse the Law of malfeasance? Next thing you know, you’ll say the steal drugs and cash from evidence.

      • avatarRopingdown says:

        In a peacefully resolved gang of coked-up preppies assault event I had to draw my lovely steel S&W prec shop 1911. At the end of the evening I had to hand it over to the cops until the event was cleared. We have fine LEO’s, actually. When I went to pick it up two of them tried to buy it from me (IDPA? Who knows why?). This reveals the shortage of good quality guns they get from perps. Can’t shoot IDPA with a HiPoint, really. Not with a sense of confidence, anyway. Confirms Ralph’s view. “They’re pickin’ over the good stuff.”

  7. avatarGS650G says:

    I have one of those pistols pictured. It’s a .25 and I wouldn’t want to fire it.

    • avatarLaura says:

      I have one of those raven P-25′s. It is an awsome / tough little gun. Fires the best out of most of the others never once has it jamed, NOTHIN” to speak of wrong with it at alll! Love It !! Only problem is, it cost as much to shoot as a 357 ! :(

  8. avatarRalph says:

    One of the local FFLs has a special on .32 Iver-Johnsons. $69 bucks takes one of them home.

  9. avatarGreg Nicholas says:

    I would think the myth of the saturday night special lives on… but not in reality.

    Brand new XD = XBOX + Modern Warfare

    Sure they dont make a lot, but a lot of people have the above combo as well. Let’s not go into the fashion costs of being a punk ass gangster either.

    • avatarCarlosT says:

      Actually, as far as I know, none of the XD series has ever featured in the Modern Warfare series. I think the default handguns in MW3 are the Walther P99 and the Desert Eagle.

      • avatarRopingdown says:

        I think he meant XD price =’s cost of XBox + modern warfare. I’m puzzled. Once minute the media says pistols are stolen everyday by hoods. Now I’m hearing they only have cheap guns. I’m confused.

        • avatarRalph says:

          Maybe they’re stealing the guns from poor people. Didja ever think of that?

        • avatarRopingdown says:

          Yeah, I thought of that. But they say they’re stolen from us CCW holding types. I’ve never seen anything but good iron on such people. Who carries a HiPoint or Jennings. I conclude the “thefts from the law-abiding” is a hoax. Lots of shady imports going straight to the black market is my belief. I’ve become a 1911′s and Glocks person. It just happened. This marketing voodoo is powerful stuff.

        • avatarMadDawg J says:

          If they did steal from us (without somehow getting shot first ;) ) it would be kind of amusing to see some thug trying to act “G” with a pink gun, a .22 target pistol, or while trying to figure out how to use a SAA. If they are stealing our toys how come you never hear about them using a commemorative version? Or a custom, or even custom shop, gun? How about the cheap C&R handguns?

          Oh wait, we are using logic again aren’t we. You cannot use logic to argue against the anti 2nd amendment bunch because they do not use logic or facts. They also seem to reserve the right to ignore logic and make thier own facts.

          Marketing voodoo???
          Glock, yes. The 1911 has over 100 years of proven combat reliability and effectiveness. No marketing firm can make that.

          Of topic, I have no idea how I found this site, but now you can’t make me leave. I like it here.

      • avatarDarren says:

        DE is usually one of the last pistols unlocked, the last in MW3.

        Heckler & Koch USP .45 is the base handgun in most MW games, MW3 included. And since it takes a can, it would be the USP Tactical version — somewhere north of $1K and probably not common on the street (or anywhere else).

  10. avatarTom says:

    I read an article about a Sheriff coroner who stated that most of the plugged bodies in the morgue were from calibers smaller than .40 caliber. His opinion was that the crooks really were more after concealability.

    • avatarTom says:

      Some other comments was that bullet placement in the body was key and that most of the gangstas were spraying and were poor shots.

  11. avatarTom says:

    Same coroner stated that shotgun or high power rifle rounds were really devastating. Pistol rounds North of .40 caliber seemed more effective.

  12. avatarRalph says:

    “The easiest gun to use on the market is a double-action, semiautomatic pistol, which simply means that when you pull the trigger, the weapon fires.”

    As opposed to what? A gun that doesn’t shoot? Maybe you pull the trigger and the gun plays “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Or maybe a little American flag pops out of the muzzle. Or a sign that says “bang.”

    Hey, Officer Krupke, when my guns are loaded they all fire when I pull the trigger. Firing is a characteristic not confined to DA.

    What a fargin icehole.

    • avatarCarlosT says:

      As opposed to single action, which needs to be cocked before firing.

    • avatarCarlosT says:

      I think as opposed to single action, which would need to be c*cked before firing.

      Edited to add: I tried to post this comment about a dozen times before I finally got it to go through. I realized that it was the word “c*cked” that was getting the comment trashed. Now I can understand why that particular word might be in a spam filter, but considering that this is a gun blog and it has an actual, legitimate meaning in the firearms context, it might make sense to take it out.

      • avatarRalph says:

        Maybe you should have typed “dicked.”

        This comment went through immediately. So tell me, do you carry your 1911 dicked and locked?

        • avatarCarlosT says:

          Don’t have a 1911 at the moment, but if I get one, it’s definitely going to be carried dicked and locked. Condition one is definitely the way to go.

    • avatarRopingdown says:

      He should have said the easiest “is a Safe Action striker-fired gun.” And gee, you have to rack a 1911, a Glock, a Sig. I think he’s down to analyzing what can be handled by a 2nd grade mind, a 4th grade mind, etc. Off the thread: In 1979 I was a second year student. School was two blocks from Union Station in DC. A guy a year ahead of me was walking across Capitol Hill to get to class. Two kids, age 11 and 12, pulled a 22LR revolver on him. He gave up his wallet, and they let him go. Then they decided to shoot him in the back. The bullet hit his liver and he died four hours later. A cheap 22 revolver. Kids. DC.

    • avatarRopingdown says:

      Ralph, jeez, you’re onto something here. Click Tones! Shoot and the thing plays “It’s All About the Benjamins,” “I’m a Man,” or heck, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” or “New York, New York” (If you can carry here you can carry anywhere…). Grip speakers. Lockout switch. Creative mind, Ralph.

  13. avatarSean says:

    I know here in Detroit, Highpoints are the most common guns found at crime scenes. Followed by…ummm….surplus Glock 22′s. Sold by the city.

  14. avatar"Dr." Dave says:

    I am aquainted with a gentleman of ill repute who is known to illegally carry a Browning hi-power loaded with Corbon DPX 115+Ps. He convinced a local gunsmith to remove the magazine saftey and work on the trigger. He painted the front sight post with luminescent paint.It all depends on the criminal.

  15. avatarSteven says:

    One thing not changed is how people who should know better don’t know a .38 from a 380. At least no one is going to be accused of of compensating for something if you carry a .9mm.

    Around here its normally 9mm or smaller from these mfgs:
    1) ring ‘o fire (bryco, jennings, raven, jimenez, cobra)
    2) g-heavy’s (hipoint)
    3) glock
    Option 1 and 2 straw purchases, option 3 straw used cop-shop equipment or stolen.

    Not really changed since 1994:
    http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/GUIC.PDF

  16. avatarMadDawg J says:

    “…made of less than sturdy steel that you could buy on the street corner from some rat faced guy selling $2 pistols”

    $2 pistols? Where? My .45 Colt use $2 a piece rounds, forget the cost of the gun. I haven’t even seen a cap gun sell for $2 in the last 2 decades. Is he using data from this century? Maybe another anti 2nd “expert” using “facts” that only he knows and only exist in his mind?

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