saturday night special handguns
In this Wednesday, April 23, 1975 file photo, Sen. Birch Bayh, D-Ind., left, chairman of the Senate judiciary subcommittee on juvenile delinquency, and David MacDonald, assistant secretary of treasury, look over a display of guns prior to hearings on gun control in Washington. Republican President Richard Nixon also favored gun control. Bayh says that the NRA helped prevent his 1972 bill banning "Saturday night special" handguns from getting through Congress. (AP Photo/Henry Griffin)
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[T]he Saturday Night Special saga illustrates the difficulties of statutorily defining a nebulous style of firearm, particularly when that style of firearm carries with it a range of strong connotations. Disagreement over statutory definitions continues to this day, most notably with respect to firearms classified as “assault weapons.”

Assault weapons have for some time been a lightning rod in gun control debates, and like the Saturday Night Special, these firearms have become a key target for gun control advocates who view them as a uniquely dangerous class of firearm. Also like the Saturday Night Special, defining what exactly constitutes an assault weapon has been the subject of fierce debate that carries important implications.

The 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004, defined assault weapons as a “semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable box magazine” and at least two of five listed features including “a folding or telescoping stock,” “a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon,” a threaded barrel or flash suppressor, and more. Like the IRS Factoring Criteria for Saturday Night Specials, however, these criteria resulted in arguably arbitrary classifications, and minor design modifications by manufacturers could render otherwise prohibited weapons permissible.

Furthermore, critics have argued that many of the features that legally render a firearm an assault weapon are “cosmetic” in nature and that there is little meaningful difference between weapons designated as assault weapons and other semi-automatic rifles. 

Third, the history of Saturday Night Special regulation illustrates the perils of enacting restrictions focused on a certain type of firearm without a rational articulation of why that type warrants special regulation. The core premise that Saturday Night Specials were more dangerous or lethal than other handguns does not bear much scrutiny.

While they may have been concealable, so were many other more expensive handguns; furthermore, other key characteristics such as their low caliber, cheap construction, and lack of reliability could reasonably be said to make these guns less lethal, not more. As Professor Zimring concluded, “the attack against cheap imported handguns was powerful but pitifully underinclusive. Handguns retailing for under $50 are a major public safety problem—but so are those retailing for over $50.” (p. 166).

Another contemporary assessment from journalist Robert Sherrill, himself a vocal gun control proponent, was even more scathing, predicting that “history will not support the snooty caste-consciousness in gun traffic. All guns are terrible, no doubt, but one kind no more than others” (The Saturday Night Special, p. 321).

Because § 925(d) was never the subject of any high-profile litigation, such criticism of the rationale behind it was largely limited to observers like Zimring and Sherrill rather than the courts. Post-Heller, however, the bar for such a rationale to survive judicial scrutiny appears to be even higher.

While the poor drafting and muddled rationale of § 925(d) might make the provision more questionable today today, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California’s recent decision in Miller v. Bonta raises questions about whether policy-makers can enact blanket restrictions on certain types of commonly-owned guns at all. That decision, which overturned California’s 30-year-old ban on assault weapons, held that governments bear the burden of proving that a type of firearm is sufficiently “uncommon and dangerous” to warrant restriction, before which such firearms are presumptively lawful to own.

The court went on to hold not only that California’s proffered evidence failed to demonstrate that assault weapons were disproportionately used in crime, but that “more importantly, disproportionality is not a constitutional test.” Should Miller become widely-cited precedent, restrictions on a type of weapon predicated on disproportionate use in crime may soon seem as anachronistic as the initial furor over Saturday Night Specials.

— Sam Wolter in The Continuing Relevance of the Saturday Night Special

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  1. And, astute comments from Deborah on the racist roots of gun control in 4, 3, 2, 1… 😉

    • 4, 3, 2, 1…Busy baking biscuits…If I did not properly define Gun Control for this forum who would? Can you cite one court case where Gun Control was defined in any opening statement by those who are supposed to be defenders of my 2A Right? Their silence is deafening and that’s all while democRat Party Gun Control zealots habitually define Gun Owners as racists, label and demonize their guns and concoct more and more laws, regulations, etc.
      For Gun Owners simply exercising a right it’s 1 step forward and 2 steps backwards. Some people on this forum are content with Gun Control courtroom drama but homegirl don’t play dat sht. Homegirl wants justice and justice is seeing Gun Control sitting in the electric chair. Now I’ve got to run butter some biscuits.

      • Say no to Jim Crow gun control
        Say no to Jim Crow gun control….

        I got ya…

        mmmm biscuits….

      • “Now I’ve got to run butter some biscuits.”

        Fresh from the oven biscuits smothered in black-pepper seasoned sausage gravy is heaven on earth… 🙂

      • Right on, Debbie W. Well said The original term for “Saturday Night Special” was preceded by a racial pejorative that is now proscribed and is liable one day to become a felony to utter, unless uttered by members of that racial category. For folks not old enough to remember the original term, it was “N_ _ _ _ r Town Saturday Night Special” and was a regularly used police term.

        Of course, the gun control group, being racially sensitive dropped the first two words in the original description so that they could get the support of members of that group who are easily fooled into thinking that the liberals are not deeply racist, having been at one time Dixicrats who fully supported segregation and all the evils that federally supported social cloud created.

        Remember, “Separate but equal” came from the mouths of the nine folks in black muumuus who seem to have absolute control over our lives.

        • I was going to mention that, but I lost the article that explored the origin.

          I didn’t want to be that guy who couldn’t provide a reference. 8>)

    • Just stop at “The Federal Government Has a Long, Sordid History of Passing Poorly Written Gun Control Legislation”. Stop with the “everything is racial” BS for the progs.

      May have been but irrelevent today. ALL violated the Constitution then and now.

    • Geoff et al……

      While I’m fairly certain to regret jumping in to this, are you seriously standing on the idea that there is no racism in US gun control post-Civil War?

      One of the chief points made in the arguments that lead to the 14th Amendment being written. Free blacks were denied the right to keep and bear. Admittedly, these were done on the state and local level, not Federally. Effectively price point laws “allowing” only handguns such as the Colt Army or Remington Navy which the poorer citizens could not afford.

      You can add the NY Sullivan Act of 1911, passed to prevent immigrants from bearing arms. That certainly worked like a charm.

      Do some research, please.

      • Rick: Not just immigrants in general, but specifically the Italians. The Irish mobsters, led by Big Tim Sullivan didn’t want the Italians to be armed as they posed a serious threat to his Irish mob’s activities. At the time the Irish not only controlled crime in NYC they also controlled law enforcement as a good proportion of the NYCPD were also of Irish descent and a good many of them were on Big Tim’s payroll.

  2. the very cheap imported “Saturday Night Special” types did have a lot of guns that were unsafe for the operator though. I once saw a guy on the range fire his brand new “Saturday Night Special” .38 snub nose revolver the first time, the cylinder basically disintegrated and pieces went flying.

    • As the saying goes…”The market will take care of itself”. If a gun disintegrates out of the box, word will quickly get out (especially in this day of social media and the Interwebs), and the manufacturer and/or importer’s reputation will suffer. The particular model of gun will be pulled from the marketplace, and if another model fails, the manufacturer will risk going out of business altogether.

      The market can and will take care of itself. We don’t need to be babysat by Politicians who know little about a topic but like to pass laws on it.

      • “The market can take care of itself.”

        Then why are doctors forced to obtain a ‘government permit’ to engage in their livelihood?

        Won’t the ‘market decide’ which doctors are good and which aren’t, why the heavy-handed government tipping the balance?

        • Because it’s a GOVERNMENT permit.

          Just like a drivers license doesn’t mean driving skills or ability. Having that license also says nothing about the the quality or condition of the vehicle being driven.

        • “Just like a drivers license doesn’t mean driving skills or ability.”

          Odd, I had to pass a written and a physical driving test before they handed me my drinking ID, er, “driver’s license”… 🙂

        • miner 49er,
          A gun is an inanimate object, it will not lie to you or cheat you or experiment on you. At most it will just kill you if blows up but the most likely thing to happen is you will be disappointed with it.

  3. I consider the whole thing to be a joke had in very poor taste. Like so many other aspects of guns, it’s based in irrational fear, ignorance, and even racism. If government would stop meddling in things our society would have fewer problems. Saturday Night Special equals Assault Rifle/Weapon. It’s all ridiculous naming of things that someone somewhere doesn’t understand and is fearful of. That’s why no one can actually pinpoint or articulate just what these things really are. Everyone gets confused because of it and thinks things that are not true. We still have cheap guns that are used in crime and get people killed (putting them six feet in a hole). But then we had that 100 years ago too. We are trying to define specific things by using relative terms and THAT will never work. Magazines vs. Clips and confusion with regards to ‘training’ and licensing.

    There is no Saturday Night Special just like there is no Assault Weapon. There is no privacy on the Internet either. Just like the Jan6 riots was NOT an insurrection. Just like there is no “stopping power” or “the best caliber is…”. HDMI is not the best connection for anything. There is no ‘best’. This goes hand-in-hand with believing a VPN and anti-virus software will keep you safe online. It’s just like believing a face mask will protect you or those around you from COVID. It’s no different from thinking that black people cannot be racist or that Walmart is safer because they remove ammo from their shelves. Dicks Sporting Goods is not a better more moral place to shop because they destroyed the rifles they had on their shelves. Saying the Democrats are for the poor and the Republicans are for the rich is a lie. Just like ignoring how the Democrats bypassed the Constitution to get Biden elected does not make Trump unworthy. This list goes on and on and on.

    • “There is no Saturday Night Special just like there is no Assault Weapon.”

      I hate to burst your bubble, but so-called “Saturday Night Specials” were actually a ‘thing’, prior to the 1968 GCA.

      A typical example was a cheaply-made European pocket pistol of highly-questionable build materials (think Zinc-alloy, like Hi-Point) and manufacturing quality. Recent immigrants were the target market, since they lived in dangerous slums.

      Modern examples are the Lorcin, Raven, Phoenix, and similar.

      As an example of how crappy they were, the first pawn shop I worked at sold those things, and we got constant complaints about them. We once called the distributor up to get a firing pin, they sent us an envelope with 10 of them…

      • It’s a nick name that by your own definition cannot be pinned down to a specific firearm or manufacturer. It’s even a ridiculous name for a category of guns. There were cheap low quality guns then just like there are now. It isn’t any kind of bubble for me. It’s the same strain of idiocy that has existed throughout the history of firearms. Compare a Taurus G3 to the 2k priced AR and adjust for inflation. The Taurus is that $50 gun of yesterday. If you think there is a bubble to be burst, it isn’t with me.

    • “There is no Saturday Night Special”

      In a roundabout way, Saturday night specials got y’all the Brady bill.

      Hinckley used a Saturday night special .22, wounding four out of six shots fired, including James Brady, Reagan’s press secretary.

      You may be familiar with the Brady campaign?

      • Yes, that’s the thing that allows Texans with a CHL to bypass NICS.

        I also remember a particular person using an old Italian bolt action rifle to kill another president too. Meanwhile, there is a school of thought that suggests people shouldn’t carry their more expensive guns because when used will be takin from you as evidence. So why would someone use anything but a cheap throwaway?

        • That cause of death was a political statement rather than a medical diagnosis. You would be surprised how easily doctors of all sorts can be bought. Having worked in court for twenty-five years I long ago realized that you can purchase any scientific opinion you want. Want an expert to testify that the moon is made of blue cheese? I am confident with enough money on the line you will find a court-qualified expert to so testify under oath on the witness stand.

        • Point of Order there Prndll.
          Texans with a LTC do not have to go through the NICS for every purchase because part of getting your LTC is submitting your fingerprints and photo for a thorough background check with the FBI etc. In effect we have been checked before we even got through the door of the gun store.
          Also if you believe that person using the cheap Italian bolt action was all alone I have some ocean front property in New Mexico that I will sell you.

      • “Hinckley used a Saturday night special .22, wounding four out of six shots fired, including James Brady, Reagan’s press secretary.”

        Wrong, ‘minor’, you missed the news.

        When Brady died, his death certificate listed the cause of death as homicide…

        • Hinckley wounded Brady, and Brady survived for 33 years.

          “In 1981, Brady became permanently disabled from a gunshot wound during the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan. Brady’s death was ruled a homicide, caused by the gunshot wound he received 33 years earlier.“

  4. “The federal government has a long, sordid history of passing poorly written legislation.” FIFY. Also true at the state level. It’s especially bad at the local level where the amateurs, who aren’t satisfied with a position on the HOA board, play.

  5. Due to the long-standing Marxist deep state effort to indoctrinate and behavior mod the reasoning process of the masses, and a final ominous culmination of purpose in the 2020 election, a major overlooked caveat should be inserted in the critical thought process to at least assess and do a reality analysis of the lack of critical thinking by victims of this subliminal social brainwashing…

    WTF good are ‘legal precedents’ and challenged case law when the Totalitarian State government ignores it all and nobody seems to give a feckless fuck as ‘They’ continue with egregiously determined counter-lawmaking gun control efforts to undermine the Constitution and people’s guaranteed rights?

    You did a good article recently on the abject failure of California’s APPS (prohibited persons) Gun Confiscation program but it hasn’t gone away? And nobody’s ‘up in arms about it? Does anybody with a few brain cells still operable think that ‘progressive’ efforts to increase ‘prohibited persons’ is one of their best avenues of approach to confiscations ever since the insidious evil law of making any felon subject to eternal prohibition-even after re-integration into society as a rehabilitated law-abiding citizen! Which turns out (not by accident) to be one of the best covert means of mass confiscation without making direct gun ban laws ever deviously devised?

    In fact, the commie Gov of Illinois must have admired Cal’s APPS gun confiscation scheme that he just signed a bill into law starting a similar jackboot Confiscation program for persons who had their infamous Illinois FOID card revoked! And who didn’t voluntarily turn in any firearms they had before that point? So now State Storm Troopers will come a knock, knock, knocking at your once private chamber door… And it won’t be surprising how easy it is to find violations that can revoke your FOID card, when they want to?

    Then, of course, you don’t hear Beta O’Rourke recanting his revealing statement about certainly taking away ALL your ARs and AKs in light of Miller v. Bonta?

    And the nomination process for Chipman’s appointment for the head of the btaf has not been denied in the shadows of the Pro AR-15 California Judge’s decision that AR’s are a common firearm of the populate and Not so-called exceptionally dangerous after he admitted to the committee that, indeed, ‘he will support banning so-called assault weapons’ which will ultimately include just about every semi-auto firearm after the agency under his control gets through with the…’rule determinations’?

    and so on…and still no serious push back to their rapid obsessive-compulsive agenda to illegally disarm the American citizenry any way they can, Case law notwithstanding.

    There’s plenty of ‘case law precedents in the past that reinforced the unqualified non-infringement foundation of the 2nd/A, and there’s even a statutory criminal offense, 18-241-242 the should make them shit in their pants every time they even suggest gun regulations because it’s even a felony to conspire to deprive you of your rights which means that any legislator trying to make an illegal gun control bill should be immediately arrested and charged? Why isn’t that happening?

    So who cares about if Miller becomes a ‘widely cited precedent’? A communist totalitarian government doesn’t care. They’ll just continue to make illegal laws (Marbury, Miranda, Norton, etc. case laws already established that deprivation of rights laws is illegal) that people are brainwashed into thinking are legal! And instead of immediately enforcing the criminal statutes associated with making illegal gun control laws, the ‘Justice Department does a macabre Totalitarian two-step to the Machiavellian music of Marxist politics, and re-directs everything to more useless court challenges! Dragging on and on in the endless Halls of corrupted ‘Justice, allowing more and more depriation of your rights, until they achieve their disarming of the people agenda goals.

    It’s like an insane episode Twighlight Zone.

    One that turns into a nightmare we never wake up from.

  6. So wait a minute here.

    First, y’all say there is no such thing as systemic racism.

    Then you say the government systemically discriminated against minorities’ firearms rights because of their race?

    Second question, when Republican governor Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford act, racially motivated gun ban in California, was he being racist?

  7. No mention of the people that would be alive today when a shoddy pistol misfired or blew up when fired.

  8. One could argue that gun control – specifically the 1968 GCA – was the greatest market catalyst the cheap gun industry ever had. Without the so-called “sporting clause” of the 1968 GCA, banning the import of so many small. inexpensive (and some not so inexpensive, in the case of the Walther PPK) firearms, we probably would never have had Raven Arms and all of its spinoffs formed to fill the market niche.

    There’s a certain humor in that, I think.

    • “There’s a certain humor in that, I think.”

      The same way the 10-round magazine limit resulted in a new breed of highly concealable semi-auto handguns like the tiny G26 and G27…

  9. Miller v. Bonta has been, unsurprisingly, appealed, and the appeal has been stayed pending at least two other cases in the pipeline. It will therefore not be cited until it is overturned by the Ninth Circuit en banc panel declaring that ARs are evil, unnecessary, and not within the scope of the 2A, and that “features” based bans are perfectly valid (notwithstanding the lack of evidence that any of those features, such as flash hiders, pistol grips or telescoping stocks, have any effect on “lethality”).

  10. As a white gun owner I am an unintentional victim of historic institutional racism against blacks which resulted in a continuing effort or restrict my rights under the second amendment.

    In 1966 the Black Panther movement was started in Oakland California by black citizens who were tired of being harassed by police, so they started taking advantage of the law that allowed for the open carry of firearms. As a result, Democrats, Republicans and the NRA decided to sponsor legislation to change California law so citizens could no longer open carry firearms. In 1967 Governor Ronald Reagan signed into law the first major gun control legislation in California that prohibited open carry. The second amendment was apparently fine until African-Americans wanted to exercise their rights under it.

    This started the avalanche of gun control laws that would be passed in later decades. As a second amendment advocate such as myself who owns numerous firearms and a concealed carry license holder I recognize that white Americans, Democrats and Republicans along with the NRA caused the gun restrictions that are now being promoted nationwide.

    Historic institutional racism now threatens the rights of all Americans to own firearms.

    • Actually, the Mudford Act did not prohibit open carry–it prohibited open LOADED carry. As a result, and in recognition that an unloaded gun is just a heavy chunk of metal, open carry fell by the wayside until about 2012. Unfortunately, open unloaded carry demonstrations in 2012 and 2013 led quickly to a complete ban of all open carry in all urban areas. Even more recently, the Ninth has concluded that there is no right to a CCW, and open carry outside the home is outside the scope of the Second Amendment guarantee. At the current time, CCW is by discretionary permit and open carry is permitted only in unincorporated areas (where not prohibited) and on private property. The right to bear firearms for self defense does not exit here.

  11. When last I looked, it was The Congress (House and Senate) that enacted laws, stupid as they are.

    Of course, government agencies, think ATF and DOJ have made a cock-up of law enforcement, but it is The Congress that created the law.

  12. And it is The Congress that does bugger all to rein in the bureaucrats at ATF and DOJ, which I should have mentioned above..

  13. ASSAULT RIFLE is clearly defined, clearly enough for most anyone who can read English. A selective fire weapon of rifle configuration, chambered for an intermediate cartridge, more powerful than the military pistol cartridge, less powerful than the service rifle cartridge.

    As for this ASSAULT WEAPON, anything that one person attacks another person with. Anyone with a different take, feel free to provide the benefit of your thinking.

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