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Old November 23, 2019, 08:53 AM   #1
PDS
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Popular Handguns in the late 70s / early 80s

Howdy folks,

I'm doing some research for a novel.

What were some popular handguns (both legal and illegal--please specify) in the Midwest in the late 70s and early 80s?
I'm looking specifically for information on guns that owners would have in their homes or on their person for protection, not necessarily for actively committing crimes.

Thanks.

PDS
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Old November 23, 2019, 03:59 PM   #2
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If people had a handgun around in a desk drawer. I’d guess a 4” K Frame Smith and Wesson .38. Model 10. Maybe a 15.

If people carried, a Smith J frame or Colt Detective Special. Maybe a Baby Browning.

That was also the beginning of the IPSC era. The cool kids had Colt 1911’s. But, those were outliers.

I remember in the 70’s, old vets would often have a Walther PP or PPK the brought back from WWII or other liberated military gun.

Street guns were RG’s. Either .22’s or .38’s. The classic Saturday night specials. Early 80’s cheap .25 autos either euro guns or Ravens.

Generally carried in a Crown Royal bag under the seat. I’ve seen so many carried that way, I almost thought that was factory packaging.
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Old November 23, 2019, 04:27 PM   #3
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Some variant of a S&W Model 10 for sure... that was ubiquitous where I grew up in the 70s. No shortage of WW2 bring backs as well, especially P38s and 1911s; but I remember PPKs, Nambus, and Hi-Powers too. The PPK was cool because of the Bond films.

Cowboy guns were popular as the golden era of the TV western was just ending. Saw a lot of single-action .22LRs styled like cowboy guns. Actual cowboy guns seemed more rare though.

And even people who didn’t like guns usually had a 12ga, a .22 rifle, and a deer gun of some sort.
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Old November 23, 2019, 04:48 PM   #4
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Late 70s - early 80s I think would also include some of Colt's "modern" double action revolvers. By "modern" I am referring to guns such as the Police Positive and the Detective Special, not the single action cowboy six guns.
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Old November 23, 2019, 05:46 PM   #5
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There were plenty of Ruger 'Six' series double action revolvers around in that time frame. I think the Security Six was the biggest seller, but Speed Sixes and Service Sixes were available, too. Ruger also sold a lot of Single Sixes and Blackhawks in those days.

I also recall seeing a lot of H&R .22's and .32's.

I'm not sure what guns would have been considered illegal back then. In most places, convicted felons weren't allowed to carry guns. Zip guns were illegal, but they weren't popular.

Last edited by reteach; November 23, 2019 at 05:52 PM.
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Old November 23, 2019, 05:49 PM   #6
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I was just a kid but everyone I knew had or wanted a J frame in some fashion.
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Old November 23, 2019, 06:13 PM   #7
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Lots of Colt revolvers too.
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Old November 23, 2019, 06:35 PM   #8
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Dirty Harry made the S&W Model 29 in .44 Mag popular in the early 70's. I would imagine there were still plenty around 10 years later.
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Old November 23, 2019, 07:37 PM   #9
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In the Northwest, I saw a lot of Smith 19s and 66s. 2 1/2 inch 19s were real popular.
K frame .38s too.
N frame model 28s were good sellers also.
The L frame came out in 1980 and sold fast.

Bad guys use whatever is cheap, or what they can steal.

Semi Autos, some Hi Powers, mil surplus 9mm. I carried a P38 for a while, it was what I could afford.
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Old November 23, 2019, 08:03 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PDS View Post
Howdy folks,

I'm doing some research for a novel.

What were some popular handguns (both legal and illegal--please specify) in the Midwest in the late 70s and early 80s?
I'm looking specifically for information on guns that owners would have in their homes or on their person for protection, not necessarily for actively committing crimes.

Thanks.

PDS
Revolvers. S&W .38 or .357, either Model 10 or 19, or many others. Possibly a 5 shot snub nose S&W. Colt Detective Special. Ruger Security Six and Speed Six. Taurus if you didn't have as much money.

You'd also see a lot of small pocket automatics, often in .25 Auto (very seldom seen today). Raven or Jennings would have been a cheap brand.

"On their person for protection" would have been much rarer, if done legally.
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Old November 23, 2019, 08:06 PM   #11
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People used to choke over $400 Colt Pythons back in that era, which was a lot of money back then!
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Old November 24, 2019, 04:27 AM   #12
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Thank you so much, everybody! This information is so awesome. I wanted to write one scene with this info but I think I have enough here for half a book. Much appreciated and thanks again.
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Old November 24, 2019, 05:48 AM   #13
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DA revolvers seemed somewhat more popular than autos at the beginning of that time period. Mostly S&W, Colt, and Ruger. The Ruger DAs were all fairly new but Smith's and Colts of all ages seemed popular.

On the auto side there were mostly 1911s, High Powers, S&W 2(used) and 3 digit autos, Sig P220, Walther P38, and smaller Colt and Browning autos in 25, 32, and 38 calibers. Used 1911s, small autos, and Smith autos seemed most popular. Even though a bit lacking in a few areas, the Smiths seemed popular since they were DA, made in USA, and fairly durable. The 220 is a fine gun, but was more money and proportionally less popular.

Last edited by BBarn; November 24, 2019 at 05:54 AM.
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Old November 24, 2019, 06:26 AM   #14
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I think what PDS means by "illegal" would revolvers and semi-autos with their SNs(serial numbers) filed off or SBS/SBR where the barrels were sawed-off and homemade suppressors/"silencers" for semi-autos with their SN filed off.
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Old November 24, 2019, 09:54 AM   #15
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...and don't forget... those revolvers needed the de rigueur Tyler T-grip... and the autos need the Bomar rib!
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Old November 24, 2019, 11:32 AM   #16
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S&W's come in four frame "sizes". J is the smallest, five shot .38 but also in .22 and .32. But .38 by far the most common. K frame is the middle sized also came in the same calibers plus .357 Magnum. The L frame was introduced in 1980 and came in .357. Also a middle sized frame but bigger than the K frame. Then the N frame which came in .357 and larger... .41,.44,.45.

The most common was the six shot K frame in .38. Models 10,12,15. The Model 10 was the Glock of its day. Colts tended to be more expensive. Those models are listed above.

Most realistic would be a blue or nickel finished .38. Stainless was scarce. .44 Magnums were scarce. Then there's the lesser economy brands. H&R (Harrington & Richardson) and some imported revolvers...Llama...Rossi...Taurus aka Falcon. Mostly copies of the S&W.

Autoloaders were much more limited than they are today. The Colt 1911 was the most common. Browning Hi-Power. Also Llama and Star from Spain. Then various war surplus.

Really your choice should come down to cost. The prices we paid then seem cheap today but the minimum wage was $3.10 in 1980. That's whopping $124 a week. There were a lot of inexpensive guns around but if the character is of reasonable means a name brand gun would fit. Poor people did not buy Colt Pythons.

It would depend a lot on the setting and intended use, and whether it's actually purchased in the story. Guns last a long time. It's not uncommon to own and shoot guns that are 60 years old, or older. There's always old stuff floating around that's been passed down from father to son.

There weren't really any common "illegal" guns. Though I did run into more than one fully automatic weapon that was brought home from the war. It happened, but wasn't common.

So it all depends on if the character is a cutting edge "gun type" or a farmer.
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Old November 24, 2019, 12:16 PM   #17
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Way too much detail on brand, model, prices, etc. Unless your novel is more a historical fiction about firearms. If it's a cop story, private eye story, or just someone defending, or assaulting, any revolver, snubbie, or service size will do. The venerable 1911 always fits a story with a gun.
For your "illegal" category nothing exemplifies illegal like a 12 guage shotgun, either double or single barrel, with the barrel cut a few inches past the chamber, and the stock cut just past the grip.
If you are wanting a little more detail to the firearm, without it sounding like a catalog description with model numbers, good terms would be Smith & Wesson snub nosed revolver, Colt Detective, service revolver, a 38 Special revolver, Colt Government 45, or just 45.
It all depends how detailed you want your novel to be concerning the gun.
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Old November 24, 2019, 02:10 PM   #18
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Quote:
It's not uncommon to own and shoot guns that are 60 years old, or older.
Quote:
I'm looking specifically for information on guns that owners would have in their homes or on their person for protection,
Start with literally, anything made by Colt, S&W, and Ruger, ever.... Forget Dirty Harry's .44 Mag, unless the character is both a gun enthusiast AND well funded. Dirty Harry (1971) created a huge demand for the model 29, which had been a slow seller and not very popular before. Such a demand that the factory was running some 2 years behind demand. I knew a fellow who got one in 78 and paid $450 to get it when the retail price was $283.50

Do be sure to consider all the small "cheap" revolvers and those semis considered "Saturday Night Specials". And include heirloom guns.

We're gun people, so we focus on good guns and mostly modern guns, but there are a LOT of people who are technically gun owners who aren't shooters or even enthusiasts. If they have a pistol in the house, it's not likely to be something new, its probably something that has been in the family for a while, and is kept "just in case". There were quite a few older model Colts, & S&Ws, but also a LOT of Iver Johnson and H&R top break revolvers often nickeled, in obsolete .32 & .38 calibers, kept in a shoe box on a closet shelf. Also all the foreign made copies of them, which were freely imported in huge numbers until 1968.

No Glocks, until the later 80s, and even then they were uncommon among most "gunowners". It wasn't until after Glock conquered the police market that civilian ownership began to increase, and it took some years before it was really widespread.

Also, don't ignore the possibility of a black powder pistol. The Civil War Centennial created a lot of popularity for cap & ball replicas, and not being "legally" firearms under Fed law could be mailed direct. Finished guns and lots of kits were out there in the 70s and 80s, and while people didn't carry them for protection, or usually depend on them for that, your cop character(s) might easily run across one or more in someone's house.
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Old November 24, 2019, 03:01 PM   #19
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S&W had a series of auto loaders through that area and don’t forget the Browning Hi Power.
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Old November 24, 2019, 04:01 PM   #20
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Revolvers have already been covered pretty well. Police or "gunny" folks would be likely to have a product from one of the big three--Colt, S&W or Ruger. Less gunny owners would have some of the same but with the aforementioned lower-end revolvers from companies like Iver Johnson, H&R, etc. thrown into the mix.

Autopistols would be out there, but less likely to show up in police holsters.

There would be the pistols used in WWII, 1911s, Browning HPs, some Lugers, the Walther P1/P38 and many others. S&W had their first generation auto-pistols on the market, the S&W 39 and the second generation (439, 539, 639, 459, 559, 569, 469, 669, 645, 745) were coming on the market in the late 70s, early 80s.

The Beretta 92 (not the F or FS variants) would have been available during the timeframe you mention as would some of the SIG P series pistols. There would be some other European guns like the Llamas.

A collector or someone into high-end guns might have a SIG P210 or an H&K P9.

Also don't forget the various cheapo European guns that would have filtered into the U.S. before the 1968 GCA throttled handgun imports.
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Old November 24, 2019, 04:15 PM   #21
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in addition to the J frame "38 snub nose" that I heard so many speak of, there the "44 Bulldog" that became popular too.
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Old November 24, 2019, 06:36 PM   #22
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Don't forget the 22's! Lots of people used a 22 pistol for plinking/small game and self
defense. High Standard Sport Kings, Duramatics, HD Military. S&W K-22 and Kit guns.
Ruger single action 22's in a couple of flavors. The Ruger MkI and MkII pistols.
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Old November 24, 2019, 07:12 PM   #23
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Don't leave out the .357 and .44 Magnum Automag pistols. A massive gas operated pistol.
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Old November 24, 2019, 07:40 PM   #24
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Another vote for K frame Smiths, Model 10, 15, 19, I carried a Python on duty then, but had a 6" Colt Trooper also. Now for something completely different, I bought an H&K P9S in 1978. It was a great gun, but I rarely shot it, preferring 1911's. First time I needed money I sold it first.
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Old November 24, 2019, 07:55 PM   #25
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S&W 39-2 and 59 9mm's were also popular. Raven and Beretta .25 automatics, and Colt and Smith and Wesson .38 Special or .357 Magnum revolvers. Like Dirty Harry movies? Smith and Wesson model 29 .44 Magnums were popular... never sat on the dealers shelves for long.

Last edited by shurshot; November 25, 2019 at 06:55 PM.
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