In Praise Of Saturday Night Specials

Legend speaks of a time in the 1950’s when the town of Toledo, Ohio was awash in weekend violence.  A major transportation hub, it would attract laborers looking for temporary work.  Paid every Friday, the fights would start on Saturday in the low-rent bars and taverns that catered to the blue collar crowd.

The local police started to refer to the cheap handguns used in these fights as “Saturday night specials“.  Inexpensive enough to be purchased at the local hardware stores and sporting goods shops for self protection on payday, only to be discarded if used during an evening of hard drinking.

rg rohm revolver

Most people involved in the shooting sports use the term only as a disparagement.  It is shorthand for “worthless junk” in the lexicon.  I have yet to hear someone utter the phrase without a sneer on their face, and disgust in their voice.

I have to disagree.  Firearms such as these play a very vital role in protecting the most vulnerable members of society.

davis p-32 auto

The vast majority of my students were in extremely distressed economic circumstances.  I’d say that they were “dirt poor”, except that they couldn’t afford any of their own dirt.  They would use my own personal firearms for the training course, but it was simply impossible for me to actually give any away.  They would have to find their own.

Those with extended families would put the word out, and an old heirloom would find its way to them after a few days.  Usually a well worn revolver chambered for the .38 Special cartridge, I would clean them up and have the guns checked out by a gunsmith who volunteered his services for the cause.  They would look crappy, with most of the blueing worn off and the grips cracked and worn smooth.  But they could safely be fired, and they would shoot straight.   Considering my students were trying to foil the next violent criminal that targeted them, everything else was unnecessary bling.

old army colt revolver

What would happen if they didn’t have an extended family, or if none of their relations had an old gun lying about?  Then they would have to buy new, and that is where the Saturday night special would come into play.

hi point 45 acp

My students have had great success with Hi Point firearms, a firearms manufacturer which specializes in inexpensive handguns.  Although they were sold at a low price, I found them to be safe and reliable weapons.  Not only that, but the company now offers a lifetime warranty on repairs.  Times have changed since the cops in Toledo were picking guns up from barroom floors.

One of the major complaints I hear concerning Saturday night specials is that they don’t handle heavy use very well.  Long before more expensive guns start to suffer from breakages and failures, cheap guns will show signs of wearing out.

All true, and I agree.  But my students simply cannot afford to spend money on ammunition and time at the shooting range.  Many times they have to choose between buying enough food to keep the kids fed, or paying the electric bill so the lights won’t go out.  It might horrify those of us dedicated to armed self defense, but even what we would consider to be a minimum of practice must go by the wayside.

What is required is a reliable gun that can be held against need, sometimes sitting without being fired for years, ready to go in case of an extreme emergency.  These fit the bill.

7 Responses to “In Praise Of Saturday Night Specials”

  1. knirirr says:

    What is required is a reliable gun that can be held against need, sometimes sitting without being fired for years, ready to go in case of an extreme emergency.

    Presumably that’s why so many cheap pinfire, rimfire and other revolvers from the 19th century are still around, having been put in a drawer or pocket but never fired.

  2. mark says:

    Hi-point’s warranty is real and their customer service is great.
    I’ve owned at least one of every firearm they make. (carbine & pistol)

    The single biggest drawback to Hi Points? All the magazines are single stack mags, which limits the capacity

    The rest of the design and implementation of the guns is a phenomenal deal for the price.

    I’ve got a lot of other guns, Pistols: glock to 1911, revolvers, shotguns, ARs, SKSs, bolt actions, single shots, break actions…

    Highpoints are great!

  3. Justin says:

    I will never say anything bad about Hi Point when people are shooting one at the range or looking to buy one at the gun store. People buy what they can afford and if all they can afford is a Hi Point, that is what they get.

  4. Sam L. says:

    Always a trade-off when one is short of the ready.

  5. Fruitbat44 says:

    Armchair gunfighter, but . . .

    1) If a gun goes bang when you pull the trigger, and it will shoot where you’re aiming it; then it’s a good gun.

    2) The Hi-point pistols remind me of Nazi-Germany’s ‘volkssturm’ weapons. NB: I am not saying that Hi-point are a bunch of fascists or anything silly like that, just that the emphasis on simplicity of manufacture, and not looking particularly cool, reminds me of that sort of weaponry. But see point one above.

    3) I do recall reading that some ‘Saturday Night Specials’ were very cheap pistols smuggled in from Mexico and made out of “pot-metal,” and these could be as dangerous to the firer as they were to the target.

    3a) Going a little OT here, but the table top RPG ‘Cyberpunk’ featured a class of cheap and nasty firearms colloquially referred to as “Polymer one-shots.”

    And armchair legal expert kicking in:

    4) I feel that there is a difference between buying a cheap gun to defend yourself or your loved ones from a vicious criminal because that’s all you can afford, and buying a cheap gun -which cannot be traced to you- so that if you do shoot someone because e.g. they looked at you funny, you can just drop the gun and walk away from it.

    Well that’s my two-pennyworth of comment. 🙂

  6. Jaron says:

    You also have to consider that any weapon self defense is going to come under heavy legal (both criminal and civil) scrutiny. If you can’t afford a decent gun, can you afford 100,000$+ to pay attorneys? I know the old saw about being judged by 12 than carried by 6, but that aftermath is also an element that many self defense programs or instructors minimize.

  7. Mark says:

    I used to have an old Jennings J-22. Other than my spare mag wouldn’t feed the last round reliably, it was a good firearm. The main magazine never gave me an issue and it would hit a rabbit sized target out to 40 feet. My extra mag would work right until the last round in the mag then it would misfeed. As it was the spare, and the Jennings was my tacklebox box gun, not a real big problem.

    But if I had to use it in a self defense scenario, I would have used it with confidence. I understand not all Jennings were that reliable, but mine was.

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