Wheelgun Wednesday: 'Dangerous' Saturday Night Special – Why Illegal?

Adam Scepaniak
by Adam Scepaniak

You might have heard the term “Saturday Night Special” before if you’re old enough – and while that might be dating yourself (me included) – there is an entire generation of new shooters who are unfamiliar with that term. As old and outdated as that turn-of-phrase is, there are numerous states that still have Saturday Night Special gun laws. So, what are those laws? And, how does it pertain to our beloved revolvers that we appreciate so much?… Let’s dive into the widely unheard yet hampering laws surrounding Saturday Night Special handguns which blanket covers semi-autos and wheelguns.

Wheelgun Wednesday @ TFB:

Back in the day… before we had the advanced manufacturing processes, materials, tolerances, and quality that we enjoy today, firearms were made a bit more crudely if you were on a budget. Primarily, in regards to the materials that manufacturers would use. Saturday Night Special laws were sometimes also called “pot metal laws” because, when boiled down to their essence, that is the resounding reason why restrictive legislators would give for banning certain firearms.

If a revolver, semi-auto, single-shot, derringer, or any variation of a handgun was primarily comprised of pot metal, it would be categorized as a “Saturday Night Special” firearm. If you’re thinking who cares (which is many peoples’ response) we need to play Devil’s Advocate to paint the picture for you.

You’re a bad guy in the ’70s or ’80s and you’re looking to do nefarious and unscrupulous things on a Saturday night. It’s 1980 and you laid out your outfit on your bed for a night of devilish rabble-rousing. You’ve got your best black ski mask, Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” is fittingly playing on your cassette player, and you grab your throw-away pistol. A cheap pot metal gun your Dad bought from Sears, Roebuck & Company and you swiftly stole from him once you undertook your new entrepreneurial status of asset reallocation: theft.

Ruger Wranglers - illegal in multiple states that have Saturday Night Special or "pot metal laws"

So, the story goes according to our legislators… this enterprising young man that we depicted in our fictitious story could go commit a crime on a Saturday night and either melt down the firearm because it’s made of cheap, pot metal alloy (destroy the firearm to eliminate any criminal evidence) or simply chuck it in a river because the gun is so cheap (he is not out a bunch of money because it is so affordable).

While these laws that are prohibiting the sale of ultra-cheap firearms most assuredly have never stopped entrepreneurial asset reallocation young men from doing what these young men desire to do yet we can’t necessarily prove that either from our side of the political aisle (the pro- we don’t discriminate what pew-pews we love side of the aisle). An example of these laws comes from my home state of Minnesota:

Any federally licensed firearms dealer who sells a Saturday night special pistol, or any person who manufactures or assembles a Saturday night special pistol in whole or in part, shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor.

Scary, dangerous, pot metal revolvers

So, if you are thinking “how does this affect me in the year 2023,” here is how. Many of our favorite wheelguns or some of the most affordable plinkers are effectively illegal in many states because of them being constructed of pot metal or cheap alloy materials. These are some examples of illegal pot metal revolvers (if your state has Saturday Night Special laws on the books):

Most all of these companies are aware of these archaic, outdated laws so they make marginally upgraded models that are typically legal in restrictive Saturday Night Special applicable states. Ruger has a new Super Wrangler and Heritage Manufacturing makes steel-framed Rough Riders as well. My home state is also touch-n-go on cheaper Bond Arms derringers from time to time. To make things even murkier for states like mine, there is no comprehensive list that gun owners can reference if they are wanting to actually remain legal in the eyes of the law. While no one is desiring a California type of legal/not-legal list, it would make things a lot more clear.

Typically, you need to thoroughly read a manufacturer’s website to see if a specific handgun is legal or not. Or, you need to rely on your local gun store (LGS) to know or research that for you. Back in the day, Saturday Night Special laws were meant to curb gun violence and petty robberies by stopping people from buying cheap snub-nose revolvers. Nowadays, all it is doing is curbing our fun with single-action revolvers, primarily. As always, let us know all of your thoughts in the Comments below! We always appreciate your feedback.

These cheap, affordable, reliable single-action revolvers are illegal in MN
Adam Scepaniak
Adam Scepaniak

Editor | AllOutdoor.comWriter | OutdoorHub.comWriter | TheArmoryLife.comWriter | Tyrant CNCWriter | MDT Chassis SystemsSmith & Wesson Certified ArmorerGlock Certified ArmorerFirefighter/EMSCity CouncilmanInstagram: strength_in_arms

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  • Nik Dokich Nik Dokich on Jun 30, 2023

    So in 1968 we were told that if a gun was small and cheap, it was inherently evil and had to be banned. Now we are told that guns that are large and expensive are inherently evil.
    Good strategy - chip away both ends until there is no middle.

  • Sid Collins Sid Collins on Jul 01, 2023

    I thought the only qualification was that the barrel be blue and cold.