A Great American Gun Myth: Race and the Naming of the 'Saturday Night Special'

Forthcoming, Minnesota Law Review Headnotes, vol. 108, Spring 2024

Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2023-02

17 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2023 Last revised: 7 Dec 2023

See all articles by Jennifer L. Behrens

Jennifer L. Behrens

Duke University School of Law, J. Michael Goodson Law Library

Joseph Blocher

Duke University School of Law

Date Written: January 12, 2023

Abstract

At a time when Second Amendment doctrine has taken a strongly historical turn and gun rights advocates have increasingly argued that gun regulation itself is historically racist, it is especially important that historical claims about race and guns be taken seriously and vetted appropriately. In this short article, we evaluate the often-repeated claim that the nickname “Saturday Night Special” derives from the phrase “[n___er]-town Saturday night.”

Based on a review of newspapers, legislative debates, dictionaries, slang compendiums, and other sources, we find no historical support for this claim. It apparently appeared for the first time, unsourced, in a 1976 article and has been repeated in dozens of briefs and scholarly sources since. Advocates and scholars should stop invoking this unsupported origin story, which if anything serves as a cautionary example of how citations can cascade. The most plausible origin of the nickname as it related to cheap firearms stemmed from the turn of the century when the phrase “Saturday-night special” was already in common usage with connotations of cheapness and convenience.

Keywords: Saturday Night Special, Etymology, Slang, Race, Firearms, Second Amendment, Bruce-Briggs, Sherrill

Suggested Citation

Behrens, Jennifer and Blocher, Joseph, A Great American Gun Myth: Race and the Naming of the 'Saturday Night Special' (January 12, 2023). Forthcoming, Minnesota Law Review Headnotes, vol. 108, Spring 2024, Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series No. 2023-02, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4323129 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4323129

Jennifer Behrens (Contact Author)

Duke University School of Law, J. Michael Goodson Law Library ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

HOME PAGE: http://law.duke.edu/fac/behrens/

Joseph Blocher

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

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