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.