Advocates for firearm violence prevention should recognize The importance of affecting the manufacture and distribution of firearms, as well as the behavior of people who use them.
This report describes a small group of handgun manufacturers in Southern California, called here the Ring of Fire manufacturers. These companies produce the great majority of Saturday Night Specials made in the United States. Such small, inexpensive handguns are disproportionately involved in violence, and figure in thousands of firearm crimes each year.
The six Ring of Fire manufacturers are Arcadia Machine and Tool (AMT), in Irwindale-Bryco Arms, in Costa Mesa; Davis Industries, in Miera Loma; Lorcin Engineering, also in Mira Loma; Phoenix Arms, in Ontario; and Sundance Industries, in Valencia. All but AMT are controlled at least in part by members of a single extended family.
In 1992, the most recent year for which data are available, the Ring of Fire companies produced 685,934 handguns - 34% of all handguns made in the United States. From 1990-1992 their production increased by more than 20 percent each year; handgun output declined for the rest of the industry during that period.
The Ring of Fire companies dominate the production of easily concealable, inexpensive handguns. In 1992, they made over 80 percent of the .25 ACP, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP pistols produced in this country. Their rapid growth has largely come from increased production of medium-caliber.380 ACP pistols, guns with the small size and low cost of other Saturday Night Specials but with greater power.
Firearms experts consider most Ring of Fire guns to be poorly made, unreliable, and in some cases unsafe. Few of these guns could legally be imported into the United States if made elsewhere. They would be too small - too easily concealable - to meet minimum federal standards, or would fail other required design and performance tests.
Ring of Fire handguns are marketed primarily as a reliable means of personal protection. The results of objective expert evaluations suggest that the guns are not well suited for this purpose.
Ring of Fire guns are disproportionately used in crime. Across the country, lists of guns most frequently confiscated by law enforcement agencies are dominated by Ring of Fire handguns. According to gun tracing data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), Ring of Fire guns are 3.4 times as likely to be involved in a crime as are handguns from other major manufacturers.
The Ring of Fire manufacturers and other Saturday Night Special makers are a protected industry in the United States. Federal law prohibits the importation of poorly made, easily concealable handguns by imposing size, design, and performance standards. Guns made in the United States have deliberately been exempted by Congress and no such standards apply. Congress has also prohibited federal regulatory agencies such as BATF and the Consumer Product Safety Commission from taking action.
The state of Maryland has acted independently to ban the manufacture and sale of many Ring of Fire handguns and others like them. Local jurisdictions around the country have enacted broad controls on handgun manufacture and possession. The available evidence indicates that such laws are effective firearm violence prevention measures. They have popular support, and are constitutional. But in much of the country, local jurisdictions are prohibited from acting by state preemption statutes.
To halt the production of Saturday Night Specials in the United States, federal and state governments - and particularly California's state government - should require that guns made under their jurisdiction meet the criteria applied to imports. These criteria need to be revised to address new development in handgun technology.
States should restore to local jurisdictions the authority to enact controls on the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns.