January 1998

Taking Aim At The Ring Of Fire

A group at the University of California, Davis calling itself The Violence Prevention Research Program and headed by an emergency-room physician mildly involved in the shooting sports is zeroing in on cheap autoloaders with a vengeance. Their targets are what they refer to as California’s “Ring of Fire Companies”: Sundance Industries, AMT, Phoenix Arms, Davis, Lorcin and Jennings/Bryco.

According to the program reports, these companies produce the vast majority of inexpensive handguns that are “disproportionately involved in violence and figure in thousands of firearms crimes a year.”

Let’s chill out the rhetoric a bit. Inexpensive handguns have been around since handguns were invented. In frontier days, they were referred to as Belly Guns, Hideaway Guns and Ladies Protection with no derogatory overtones. It wasn’t until the 1960s they were given a bad name, Saturday Night Special, by anti-gun activists.

At the time, low-cost imports dominated sales. That dominance ended with the Gun Control Act of 1968, which effectively banned further importation by establishing prerequisites for overall length, barrel length, frame construction, weight, caliber and miscellaneous equipment. The Congress of the United States chose not to apply those same criteria to domestic manufacturers. The companies now under fire didn’t exist until those two events had taken place. One by one they set up shop and filled the legislated void in the marketplace.

We don’t have a problem with the concept of inexpensive handguns for the same reason we advocate affordable self-defense. Cheap guns are a reality, and a legitimate focus of Gun Tests coverage. That being said, and while not aligning ourselves with the objectives of The Violence Prevention Research Program, we have little respect or regard for poorly-made handguns and have historically stated our opinion of them in these pages. A large percentage of them utilize alloy frames and slides with high zinc content. This makes them more easily machined than ordnance steel, reduces production costs and, therefore, retail cost. It also reduces their service life. Additional manufacturing economies are gained by omitting sophisticated, ergo: reliable, safety systems and such niceties as a slide hold-open device.

Through such corner cutting, it is possible to produce a self-loading pistol for under fifty bucks. It won’t be very accurate, or very dependable, or last very long. Its only asset is its price. We wouldn’t want to depend on one for self-defense at home, on the street or camping out. Unfortunately, as long as there is a market that bases its buying decisions on price alone, there will be guns made to meet the demand.

We believe self-defense shouldn’t be reserved solely for those who can afford it. That said, our readers still need to know which inexpensive handguns work and which ones don’t, because a gun that fails to function at a critical moment is worse than useless. That’s why Gun Tests is here—to fill that watchdog role so subscribers are never surprised.

 

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