What is a Saturday Night Special?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 September 2019
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A so-called Saturday night special is a cheap handgun of small caliber which can be easily concealed. Numerous arms manufacturers make guns which could be considered Saturday night specials. The precise definition of this type of handgun can vary; most people associate Saturday night specials with poor materials and low reliability. Some people have suggested that because these guns can be easily obtained, they pose a law enforcement risk, as even low-income criminals can afford Saturday night specials.

The term appears to have arisen in 1968, when a New York Times reporter first used it in an article, although it may have been used before this period in spoken language. The slang term “Saturday night” in reference to revelry and general mischief is quite old, dating to around the mid 19th century. When "Saturday night special" was first used, it was meant to be disparaging, dismissing the cheap goods of cut-rate arms manufacturers.

As a general rule, a Saturday night special is very small, making it easy to conceal in a purse, boot, or pocket. Many manufacturers make these guns from low cost materials, some of which can actually represent a danger, because they could fail when the gun is in use. Many regions of the world have strict laws about things like the melting point of the metal used in guns to avoid catastrophic failures which could be dangerous or even deadly; some of these laws are specifically designed to address cheap guns like Saturday night specials.


The small caliber of these guns makes them effective for self-defense weapons, and some people also use them as backup weapons, especially in close quarters. Some law enforcement people also use the term “Saturday night special” to refer to an improvised weapon, with the implication that it could be put together over the course of a weekend. Improvised weapons are especially dangerous, as they may be made from less than ideal materials which could cause serious injuries to both bearer and victim.

Advocates of the Saturday night special point out that there are plenty of legitimate uses of such guns, and that their low cost makes them accessible to people of low income who might desire personal protection, especially if they live in dangerous neighborhoods. Critics argue that the low cost of most Saturday night specials makes them very appealing to criminals, suggesting that crime rates could be lowered if such weapons were banned. They also criticize the reliability of these weapons, as a gun with a barrel which explodes, for example, is no good to anyone.


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Post 2

Oh, another thing. Improvised guns are known collectively as zip guns. They are made from parts available at hardware stores these are not engineered nor well made devices. Saturday Night Special is a pejorative and a racist term.

Post 1

Where's the actual proof that some of these guns are made from such poor material that they could critically malfunction? In the US and Europe the same laws that protect a baby from a defective baby seat protect a gun owner from a defective gun.

Politicians will claim that the guns aren't safe but the data simply doesn't exist. When was the last time you heard of a gun recall? Even guns made of zinc, when properly used and care for, will last a very long time and be safe to it's user.

I hate articles that make claims they can't back up.

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