The Empire of Zinc, The Rise and Fall of the Ring of Fire

We don’t have as many cheap guns anymore.

I know right now you’re probably raising an eyebrow at that statement, assuming what I mean is the same sort of whine you’ve heard every milsurp fan to say when they go to the store and see a gun for anything other than dirt mall prices. I’m sure right now you can list off a whole bunch of good cheap guns. H&R Topper’s, Hi-Point Carbines, 50 flavors of 500 dollar AR’s that’ll outshoot most other garbage guns in it’s category. And handguns, well look around. Used Model 10’s, Star BM’s and Kahr’s galore. And more Hi-Points than you can shake a stick at. And that’s all well and good but there’s an inflection to the word “cheap” that can’t be translated over a mode of communication like this. I don’t mean cheap.

I mean CHEAP.

Cheap like Faygo. Cheap like MD 20/20. Cheap like Banquet frozen dinners. Cheap like Eagle 45’s. The kind of cheap that refinances a used 1999 Oldsmobile Alero so it can spend it’s tax refund on a pack of Newports. That kind of cheap. No company goes that low anymore.

And there’s a reason for that.

Today, in lieu of a standard article format where I review a gun, I’m going to delve into a topic that’s been forgotten about in the eyes of the gun buying public. An uncomfortable bump in the road. It is not simply a gun, but an entire family of guns that over the span of 20 years became one of the most popular handguns in America. And in doing so, became the most popular gun in American crime. Get Hi-Point, TEC-9’s or any other burner gun out of your head, we’re going to the burner gun. The handgun of choice for drug store robberies for oxy and getting 3 years in jail for aggravated assault. A gun that’s seen more mentions of “WORLDSTAR!” than compliments. It’s time to talk about the Ring of Fire.

Yes, the Jennings pistols. How did a tiny .25 ACP become the most popular gun for popping people in America, and how did such a series of handguns come around in the first place. That’s what we’re diving into today. It’s historical dumpster diving, but you don’t need a tetanus shot.

Mr. Saturday Night Special, You Got A Barrel That’s So Blue And Cold

The term “saturday night special” is a phrase tossed around primarily in the United States and Canada in regards to a cheap, small caliber handgun that were or still remain a frequent burner gun for drive bys, murders and robberies. It’s a term that has fallen out of favor as, by the name, it’s not intended to be a glowing term of endearment. Most modern subcompacts that could theoretically be called a “saturday night special” elect to call themselves subcompacts and market them to people with smaller statures, hand sizes and so on. Ruger doesn’t call the LCP II that for a reason. It’s a “self defense” pistol, not a saturday night special.

Plus, the LCP is legitimately too expensive to qualify as a saturday night special. Rather, it was used to quantify a large pool of imported, cheap firearms that became popular in America in the late 50’s and early 60’s. Mostly imported from places like Germany, Italy or Spain, these handguns were typically in .22 LR, .25 ACP or rarely in larger calibers like .32 ACP and .380 ACP. There are legitimately dozens of various handguns that could qualify for this category, but there’s a distinct divide between what was the vest pocket pistol and the modern saturday night special.

The Colt Model of 1908, also known as the “Vest Pocket”.

The roots of this handgun can be traced back to the Colt Model 1908 and the FN 1905. Designed by John Moses Browning and made by both companies, it was the first .25 ACP handgun to come to market. Intended to be a small compact defensive handgun, it brought semi-automatic fire to a market share and overall size that was only dominated by revolvers at that time. The “Vest Pocket” as it was dubbed was intended to replace the classic Iver Johnson top break and “Bulldog” snub nosed revolvers. Light on power, but still semi automatic and lethal-ish. It would be very popular in it’s own right, selling around 400,000 total units from its introduction until production ceased in 1948. It also kickstarted a series of other equivalent handguns from other companies.

The small size and relatively lax recoil and blast made the .25 ACP cartridge a popular albeit anemic self defense round for the early 1900’s, and one that could skirt by any nation’s laws banning ammo used by their own military. As a result, the .25 ACP pocket handgun became quite popular in the 1910’s. So much so that many other companies would jump on the bandwagon. Walther’s first successful handgun, the Model 2, was a .25 ACP straight blowback pocket pistol. FEG would modify the Frommer Stop action into the Frommer Lilliput, a cutesy name for a gun that is tiny. The post-WWI Ortgies pistol would also come with a cheap .25 ACP model that you could say is the prototype for the Saturday Night Special. However, the key thing with this story is that all of the guns I described go out of production.

The equipment used by Belgian resistance in the Attack of the Twentieth Convoy, including an FN 1905.

While the .25 ACP pocket pistols would see a marginal bit of use during WWI as a common backup gun for trench raiders on either side, it’s time in the sun was numbered. Even .32 ACP was numbered, but .25 ACP’s piddly return on ballistics, as well as more .32 ACP pistols in the same size bracket made it a harder and harder sell. Sales would slump on these handguns moving into the 1920’s and especially the 1930’s. Companies like FN and Walther would continue sales of some equivalent handguns, such as the Baby Browning/Model 1931 and the Walther TPH. But many of the other companies would bow out. The Vest Pocket would have it’s last hurrah during WWII, bought in limited numbers by the OSS and SOE for agent use as well as a quick and very easy to smuggle gun for resistance groups. An FN 1905 would be used by Belgian resistance in the “Attack on the Twentieth Convoy” where in April of 1943, a cell would stop a train destined for Auschwitz, liberating 233 people destined for the camps. While many would be killed or captured afterwards, it was the only major attempt by a resistance cell to fight the Holocaust directly. That same FN 1905 currently sits at the Kazerne Dossin museum in Belgium alongside other artifacts. Even then, the .25 ACP’s time was done. Sales would continue into the 1950’s, but the FN 1905’s plug was pulled in 1959. That wasn’t the end, more-so a new beginning.

Filling The Void

As major European manufacturers began to pull out of this market share, other companies would step in and fill the void. These were usually much smaller firms that were overshadowed in their home countries by larger brands, seeking some kind of niche. Initially, these were from Italian companies who were overshadowed by firms such as Beretta or Breda. Galesi-Brescia would sell a wide variety of small .22LR and .25 ACP pocket pistols onto the international market, later CZ-75 clone manufacturer Tanfoglio got their start in the same market with the GT27. The GT27 itself would become one of the more popular saturday night specials in America, imported by FIE and made cheaper with zinc alloy frames. The FIE Titan is a bit of an infamous gun in police investigation circles, due to that unfortunate fact.

The Tanfoglio GT27, commonly known by the importation name as the “FIE Titan”. One of the first true Saturday Night Specials.

Big name companies would also still stick around in some major capacity, as Beretta introduced the 950 Jetfire to replace the earlier Beretta 1919 and 418 models. They’d even back it up in 1991 with the release of the Beretta 21A, the Bobcat.. CZ would sell the CZ 45 abroad as well, one of the few guns to enter the American market following the establishment of the People’s Republic in Czechoslovakia. However, the FIE Titan version of the GT27 proved the market In America would be open to the cheapest guns possible, and so these tiny pocket pistols would begin to be overshadowed by the bottom of the barrel handguns, made as CHEAP as humanly possible.

While the introduction to the cheap .25’s and .22’s started in Italy, it’d get it’s stride going due to two German firms. 

Rohm and Arminius.

A Tale of Two Germans

Rohm Gesellschaft and Arminius revolvers are two wildly different companies, but you don’t get one without the other.

Arminius is the firearms wing of German airgun company Weihrauch. It was a trade name meant to keep the firearms business away from air rifles, and would get its start in 1960 with the HW 3 revolver, named after the company founder Hermann Weihrauch. Arminius’s products would come in from a myriad of importers during the past 50 years, and out of all of the various “saturday night special” manufacturers, they’re the only major one still in business. Initially they would have their products imported by FIE and Herters, and nowadays they’re imported by EAA. The new Vindicator revolver is, you guessed it, an Arminius. 

A Arminius HW357 (1970’s)

Now, as a company, Arminius was never really invested in the game of the saturday night special, although their revolvers fit the form factor to a tee. They’d unfortunately pioneer the concept of cheaply made .22 revolvers made primarily out of a zinc based alloy known as zamak. Made primarily from zinc, aluminum, magnesium and copper, while the alloy was invented in America, it would catch on more in Europe and be very popular in Germany. German is where the name comes from even, an abbreviation of all of the metals used to make zamak. While it’s common uses are in things such as die cast toys, bathroom fixtures and appliances, companies like Arminius would use it for air guns and later firearms. This allowed them to make decent firearms for less, and they’d make a wide variety of revolvers in calibers ranging from .22LR all the way to full house .357 Magnum and .38 Special. Don’t take their inclusion on this article as a demerit to their products, they’re a good company who tries to make as good of a product as they can for a budget. But you don’t get Rohm without them.

And Rohm.

Rohm’s a different kettle of fish.

A Rohm RG-10

Rohm Gesellschaft was a firm started in 1950 to create chucking tools for wood and machine work, but in the early 50’s would expand into starter pistols, flare guns and air pistols. The same market share as Arminius. And like Arminius, they’d delve into pistols albeit MUCH cheaper than Arminius. Arminius would opt for an attempt at a swing out cylinder, Rohm did a fixed one. Arminius would make target model revolvers, Rohm would make incredibly cheap and simple snub noses in .22LR and .25 ACP. It is a fundamental turning point that began to generate the concept of a saturday night special. While Arminius would make more normal revolvers, Rohm went straight for that bottom of the barrel market and made bank in the process. They were and remain utterly dirt cheap revolvers, barely useful for more than fifty shots. They were imported by the truck and crate load, filling the American market alongside the various other .25 ACP pocket pistols of the time. At least.

Until 1968.

Stomp And Romp Till They Lose Their Will

1968 is a linchpin of a year. The year of the Tet Offensive, the defining high point of the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King Jr was shot in Memphis that April, leading to the Holy Week riots across America in response and ending the Civil Rights movement in a puddle of the man’s blood. It was a year of highs and low points, all of which came to a head in Chicago of that year. Protests continued to spring up across America in response to the war dragging on, and they extend even out to the new elections that are beginning to bubble in the American consciousness. The Democratic Party would hold their National Convention in the city, and the party itself was split down two lines. In the wake of Lyndon Johnson’s desire to not run for re-election, the party would scramble to find a new front runner. With a split between stay-the-course establishment politicians and a rising tide of support for the protestors and their wishes, the ’68 DNC was lining up to be dicey no matter what. And it didn’t help when protestors started to show.

A NMC organized march in Central Chicago (1968)

Emboldened by four to five years of an unpopular war and the unchanging nature of American politics, the new generation’s rising groups would also come to Chicago to make their voices heard by their politicians. The National Mobilization Committee to End The War in Vietnam is called in, the same group that had marched on the Pentagon a year prior. The Youth International Party also joined in the fun, bringing an entire large segment of the then young boomer population into the fold. It was met by the Chicago Metropolitan Police Department, and with orders from Democrat mayor Richard Daley that “Law and order will be maintained”. Over the next few days, the two sides would prod and probe at each other. The city denied permits to the protestors, the protestors held their own marches.

The back and forth of each side would continue all week in the August heat, from the 22nd until the crack down was called in. On August 28th, the order was given to the Chicago Metropolitan Police to shut it down, and they did so in force. In 17 minutes, swarms of police would descend on Grant Park and Michigan Avenue, beating down protestors and gassing whoever survived the batons. And in full view of the television cameras, and even with certain anchors like Mike Wallace and Dan Rather’s getting beaten on air. People got to bear witness to the Andy Griffin’s of the world putting on blue M1 helmets with riot shields and cracking down on people who looked like their neighbors. 

Chicago PD moving in on protestors during the “Battle for Michigan Avenue” on August 28th, 1968.

In the violence, the reason for WHY these protests were here was lost. At the start of the year, President Lyndon Johnson revealed that he did not intend to seek re-election, and some new frontrunner must step up to the plate and replace him. The DNC would slowly gravitate to one man, Robert F. Kennedy. Brother to JFK, attorney general from 1961 to 1968 and later Senator in 1964. He ran on platforms of civil rights change, anti-war measures and much more populist topics than the other members of the Democrat Party at the time. When 1968 rolled around, he had elected to step back a bit from involvement, not wanting to split a party that was barreling towards a full-on revolt against Lyndon Johnson. In mid-March of 1968, Robert would put his bid in for nomination, and later on Hubert Humphrey also entered into the race, the only pro-Vietnam War member at the time. A three way split, as Robert feared. Still, the California Primary would show a 7% lead for Robert over Hubert, and things seemed to be going well, later on securing the South Dakota primary. 

At the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Robert Kennedy would hold a speech and meeting in the wee hours of June 5, 1968. He thanked them for their support, aiming to continue his momentum going and “on to Chicago and let’s win there.” As he left the stage of the Embassy Ballroom, he would pass through the kitchen of the hotel to meet with the press at the opposite end of the hotel. As he did so, he’d run into a young Palestinian man by the name of Sirhan Sirhan. Robert would shake hands with various kitchen staff, and as he did so to a busboy, Sirhan would strike and dump several .22LR shots into him from an Iver Johnson Cadet-55A revolver. Sirhan would be tackled and arrested, but the damage had been done. Kennedy had been shot three times by Sirhan, the third bullet had lodged in his neck, the second passed through him, but the first entered his head, spreading fragments through his brain. Surgery couldn’t save Bobby, and at 1:44 AM on June 6th, Robert F. Kennedy was pronounced dead. 

Killed by a saturday night special revolver.

In the aftermath, Robert’s worst fears came to life. His death would leave a void in the DNC that would struggle to be filled by the likes of Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. The same convention that Robert was going to head to, the same one that was cracked down by the Chicago Police would elect to run Hubert Humphrey, much to the outcry of the various protestors and voters across America. The 1968 Presidential Elections would be a divisive one, as the American Independent Party would step in, helmed by George Wallace. 45th Governor of Alabama, formerly the man who contested Johnson in 1964 and a devout Southerner, segregationist and a platform filled with a mixture of anti-war rhetoric and gracious boosts to Medicare and Social Security. This cracked the DNC’s foothold in the South, Wallace sweeping away Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia and his home state of Alabama. Humphrey would win New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island. The rest of the states would swing to the only person who seemed to promise an end to the mess.

Richard M. Nixon.

But even as Election Day passed, the sting of the tragedies of the year still pulsed like scars in the minds of Americans. Searching for any form of normality after what had occurred, it would lead senators in the US Congress to dust off bills such as Senate Bill 1975 that had been drawn up in response to the death of JFK in 1963. It initially aimed to restrict the popularity of mail order firearms, and while it had gotten support from the NRA, it hadn’t gone through until 1968. With both MLK and RFK being killed in the same year, the time was “right” for the passing of this measure as well as it’s expansion. And thus, the Gun Control Act of 1968 was created. Never trust a politician to not use tragedy for their own gains.

In short, the GCA of 1968 created the modern Federal Firearms License system or FFL, to regulate and keep track of the sales of firearms across the United States. It also created the age mandates for ownership. A FFL could not sell a rifle or shotgun to anyone under the age of 18, and a handgun to someone under the age of 21. It also banned the mail order of firearms to anyone that wasn’t an FFL, although it gave an exception to those which were being sent in for repair. It’d mandate all manufacturers stamp serial numbers on their firearms, most did but a few of the cheaper companies did not. The most important, bar the fundamental concept of the act allowing for later gun control bills to be pushed forward, was the ATF points system and the concept of “sporting purpose”.

A copy of a modern version of the ATF Form 4590.

ATF Form 4590 would be created alongside the GCA of 1968, creating a points system for a handgun that was going for importation. It is a generalized list of features, such as barrel length, caliber, action type, frame construction and sights that, if met properly, would allow a handgun for importation. This system is the progenitor of the phrase “sporting purpose” as it would be the ATF requirement for any product intended for importation here-on. This system was, and remains, very temperamental. Famously, it would be the system that would get the Walther PPK thrown out of legal American importation, creating the Walther PPK/S as a result. However, it did cut off the supply of the Saturday night specials as many of them didn’t fulfill the import requirements. But there was a loophole.

Make them in house.

The GT27 pistol, made by Tanfoglio that I mentioned earlier, found a loophole that allowed for continued importation after the GCA’s passing. FIE would construct zamak frames for the GT27 and have the rest of the parts shipped over, still fulfilling the needs of the market while also skirting the requirement. Rohm would do similar, opening a factory in Miami, Florida known as “RG Industries”. Both companies would fill the void left behind for cheap pocket pistols. It also opened the market to new domestic production. And one man would enter that market.

George Jennings.

I Fell Into A Burning Ring of Fire

It all started with one man, one gun and one idea. 

The man was George Jennings, a machinist who operated a small shop in southern California that worked as a subcontractor for a variety of small aerospace companies in the state. The story told is that one day, he heard a friend of his lament the loss of all of his cheap pistols. His friend, a pawn shop owner, referred to handguns like the various .22LR Rohms I mentioned prior. So he got the idea. The idea was to use his machine shop and develop his own small .22~ caliber handgun in a size bracket that’d fit the same niche and with a price to match. A cheap, straight blowback pocket pistol. With his experience in machining, he was able to get his hands on the various alloys he needed to make the gun. Especially that good old friend of all saturday night specials, zamak. He’d cook up his new handgun, the P-25. Tiny, diminutive and it fit the role at a dirt cheap cost. Thus he began retooling up a new company to make them.

The Raven Arms MP-25, the first Jennings handgun

Raven Arms, and their first product item, the MP-25. Utterly tiny, holding a whole 6 rounds of .25 ACP in the magazine, straight blowback and made out of the most brittle form of zamak and metal known to man. You look at one now and can’t fathom how it would create an empire so expansive that it’d earn a nickname as vitriolic as “Ring of Fire” but there’s a fundamental difference between this and any other infamous guns. It was 100% owned by George Jennings. Every single step of the process was to profit him and him alone. And so when the money would come in for the sales, it’d go straight to him and his family. And with this business of pistols rapidly beginning to pay more than the tool work, he’d begin expanding his company outwards. And it’d expand in a way that’d fill the market with various versions of the exact same gun, and be borderline nepotistic as well.

Not kidding by that word choice either. From the beginning of Raven Arms in 1970, the Jennings family would be put in control of a variety of subsidiary companies set up around the area. The first was Bruce Jennings, the son of George who was set up at Jennings Firearms in 1978. His daughter Gail Jennings and her husband Jim Davis would be set up at Davis Industries in 1982. Three companies producing the same basic firearm, albeit in different calibers. Initially, the three were set up to manufacture the same basic gun in the three big calibers. Jennings Firearms made .22’s, Raven Arms made .25 ACP and Davis Industries made cheap derringer pistols. Everything stacked in a way that should work together.

They did not. At all.

Infighting would begin immediately between these various companies, each trying to nickel and dime each other for every single possible sale. This got to such a grubby level that John Davis, the brother of Jim, would leave and try to open his own company by the name of Sedco Industries. And in doing so, was hit by a 45 million dollar lawsuit from George and Bruce Jennings as well as his own brother Jim. Accusations of stealing company secrets meant Sedco was run into the dirt by early 1989. In response, a new shell company was set up under the control of Steven Jennings, the nephew of George by the name of Sundance Industries. It also made .22LR and .25 ACP versions of the same pistols. 

John Davis’s expulsion from the business would cause more problems than it was worth, as it attracted him to Jim Waldorf. Waldorf, a former schoolmate of Bruce Jennings, was interested in the concept that Bruce’s father had pulled, and aimed to do similar. Picking up Davis was key in the creation of his new company, Lorcin Engineering. We’re now operating with five separate companies, four owned by the same family and one owned by former employees. It can’t get weirder, right?

I Went Down, Down, Down and the Flames Went Higher!

Beyond even the corporate fighting between the Jennings owned companies and John Davis’s Sedco and later Lorcin, there were cracks forming incredibly fast within the machine that had been built. George Jennings would begin the court proceedings for a six year long relationship he had with his secretary, a secretary he had bumped to higher and higher positions within Raven Arms. Bruce Jennings was even worse, a chronic domestic abuser would be detained by cops on Christmas Day, 1984 for breaking his wife’s jaw. With the threat of losing his company now up for grabs with a domestic abuse charge, he dropped out of the company. At least he did officially. Jennings Firearms would be turned over to an office manager and be renamed Calwestco, based in Irvine, California. His now ex-wife would also create Bryco Firearms, initially based in Nevada but soon production shifted over to Irvine alongside Calwestco. To add the icing to the cake, following his sentence being served, Bruce Jennings would open up a wholesaler company to sell both Calwestco and Bryco Firearms.

It’s name?

A Model 59 from “Jennings Firearms”

Jennings Firearms.

As if nothing happened in the first place.

Calwestco would shut down in 1991, ceding all of it’s tooling to Bryco Arms who began to expand their line of handguns to include models in larger calibers such as .380 ACP, 9×19 Parabellum and hauntingly .45 ACP. For a straight blowback made primarily of a cheap zinc alloy, balls of steel on the engineers at Bryco. 1991 would also see the shutdown of another major company in the whole system. Raven Arms and it’s factory would catch fire in 1991, and rather than reopening it, George Jennings elected to have the tooling and equipment sold off to another company, fittingly named Phoenix Arms. George would elect to use this as his retirement excuse, moving out to a villa in Rancho Mirage, giving the ownership of Phoenix Arms to his wife, his kids, Davis’s kids and the company’s general manager. And in this moment, let’s take a moment to stop and assess the sheer scale that was this whole company enterprise.

We have six companies, all of which are majority owned by members of the Jennings Family, with the exception of Lorcin. All of these companies are making the same basic firearms, in the same few basic calibers alongside some newer models from companies like Lorcin and Bryco. All of these companies operate in a 40 mile radius of each other in Southern California, which is where the term “Ring of Fire” derives its origin. And these companies, combined, made around 685,934 handguns total in 1992. That is 34% of the American handgun market at the time. Over a quarter of the produced handguns in America were in this type of cheap, zamak, blowback variety. Over 80% of the handguns made in .25 ACP and .32 ACP in America were a variant of the Jennings pistol. The sheer scale that these companies had reached by this point is hard to encapsulate in words, but they had done what companies like Rohm had failed to do. They had gotten the American market on lock and key, and they were aiming to keep climbing. Backorders of upwards to 50,000 to 80,000 of certain calibers meant the market was still hungry for these little pipsqueak pistols. 

And, while some of them suspected something would go wrong, none of them suspected what would come next. This was them at their highest.

There was only one place they’d go from here.

Straight down.

And It Burns, Burns, Burns, The Ring of Fire!

Before we get into the slow collapse of the Ring of Fire, we should touch on the forebearer to all of this mania. Rohm. Rohm would be the first of the classic saturday night special companies to close up. While they were popular for most of the 1970’s, they’d earn international ire due to the 1981 assassination attempt against Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley Jr. The man used a Rohm RG-14 revolver, and like all Rohms it was purchased at a Dallas pawn shop prior to the shooting. This brought the company into the limelight, and soon lawsuits began to crop out of the woodwork. The most obvious was that of police officer Thomas Delahanty, one of the cops who had been injured  by the Rohm in the assassination attempt. It would fail, but a later case in Maryland would go otherwise. Kelley vs RG Industries pitted Rohm versus a grocery store clerk who had been held up and shot with a Rohm pistol. The case succeeded in holding Rohm liable for such sales, and the firm quietly folded up in 1987. 

Maryland would also later ban most of the handguns made by Ring of Fire companies including Bryco, Jennings, Phoenix Arms, Raven Arms, Lorcin and Sundance. 

Constant bad press from the gun industry didn’t help either, as the guns were constantly riffed on in reviews. Simply look up any of these companies with “review” and dig deep enough and you’ll find an old article ripping them a new one for constantly jamming, failing to feed, eject, light striking and more. And the press would begin to catch on as the handguns became more and more prevalent in crime. 

A Lorcin 9mm handgun recovered by the Boston Police (photo courtesy of BPD News)

A Washington Post article in 1992 would cite an ATF survey, of a total of 21,744 guns seized at crime scenes and traced, 62% of them were a variant of a Jennings based firearm. More than half of the guns destroyed at places like the Milwaukee County Law Offices was a Jennings based handgun. The Lorcin L380 was cited to be the most common handgun for the ATF to have to do a trace on in 1993. Despite still being outsold by companies like Sturm, Ruger and Co, S&W and Colt, the Ring of Fire had beaten them in the worst department possible. “Total Number of Tracing Requests.”

They had skated with a previous court case, Moore vs RG Industries being ruled in favor of the companies, and being in the Ring of Fire’s home state of California.  However the clock was ticking on the Ring of Fire to continue doing what they were doing, and it was starting to become apparent that they couldn’t. As the 90’s continued, and more and more exposes came out regarding these companies, the lawsuits began to trickle in. The Jennings pistols were not safe guns from the get-go, with a gap between trigger bar and sear that was liable to go off when dropped from any height. However it was the safety that began to doom them all. The first to go was Davis, who had already earned issues for the companies when a Davis P-380 exploded on a range, requiring them to pay $40,000 in damages to two victims. However, the real hit was in 1997. The aforementioned safety jamming problem would occur to a user, causing the gun to go off as the person was taking the gun off safe to empty it. The shot would go through a wall and kill a 7-year-old child. The case would settle, Davis would shut down afterwards. They would try again with Republic Arms, but the company didn’t take off again. A new company known as Cobra Firearms would buy the derringer tooling, and later on make their own versions of the classic Jennings model, based out of Salt Lake City, Utah.

A year prior, Lorcin would go under due to a whopping 22 separate lawsuits that had been leveled against them from a variety of parties, mostly involved with safety issues. While the company would go under, it’d come back around as Standard Arms, still helmed by the Lorcin CEO of Jim Waldorf. Standard Arms would release newer handguns, aping the DAO micro handgun trend of the time, the bad QC would doom them again. He’d rebrand as Talon Industries, but go under by 2001. Sundance shuttered it’s doors in 2002 to no fanfare or lawsuits. Hedging it’s bets that it was best to go out on a quiet note than a high one.

Bryco Arms would trudge on further into the 2000’s, getting as far as 2003 before the money and lawsuits and being taken down. While it was initially divided up for sale, the parts and equipment was brought up by former manufacturing floor foreman Paul Jimenez, who reformed the whole enterprise as Jimenez Arms in 2004. Production would stop in California, shifting over to Henderson, Nevada and restarting with a line of mostly Jennings style pistols.

A “Jiminez Arms” .22LR pistol. I assure you, it isn’t a Jennings.

 The company would be implicated in a lawsuit by Kansas City, Missouri on charges of “trafficking” the firearms illegally into the city in early 2020. This, combined with what was revealed to be upwards of 1.3 million in mixed back taxes would cause Jimenez to go into bankruptcy. It’s holdings were valued at pennies and bought out by JA Industries in mid 2020. JA Industries’s owner?

Paul Jimenez.

Phoenix Arms remains the only original member of the Ring of Fire to survive the collapse of the Ring of Fire companies, electing to replace the MP-25 with the HP-22 and HP-25 pistols as an attempt to distance themselves from the legacy. That has worked for the most part, although they would be found negligent alongside eight other companies for “its marketing and distribution practices” by a New York City jury. That has not stopped them from making handguns, although the exact amount they’re selling at this point has to be low.

A Stallard Arms JS-9, which looks a little familiar.

At the same time of the collapse of the Ring of Fire, there was it’s replacement. Stallard Arms, founded by Tom Deeb and Mike Strassell in Ohio. Deeb had the idea to make a similar fairly cheap firearm, and had brought on Strassel as the man to make it given his machine shop knowledge. Bringing in their friend Ed Stallard, the man who became the company’s namesake, they’d develop the JS-9 handgun. Over time they’d move onto other companies such as Haskell Machining and Iberia Arms before merging together to form…Hi-Point.

Didn’t see that one coming, didn’t you? Many of the processes that Lorcin used to make frames would be adapted and modified by both Strassell and Deeb to make the JS-9 series. And the various legal issues is what lead Hi-Point to adopt a very proactive approach to managing their guns and how popular they are in crime. While we make fun of them for it, Hi-Points themselves are relatively solid and chunky but safe guns, and that’s solely because of the burned legacy of the Ring of Fire. Pun intended.

Smouldering Embers

At the time of writing this article, only Phoenix Arms and Cobra Firearms remain in active operations, Jimenez Arms is currently still being restructured by the new “JA Industries” holding company. And both companies have not come to meet the same production heights as the previous companies like Lorcin, Bryco, Raven Arms or any other. The story of the Ring of Fire is one of odd extremes, from the cheapest handguns on the market to one of the most popular both in sales and in it’s appearance on crime scenes. It’s one of a family turning on each other solely to dominate that same market, built on nothing more than the idea that their guns would sell. Not for any reason beyond the fact that they sold.

While other guns carry the connotation that you’d use them for target shooting, hunting or self defense, there’s little left to the imagination about what handguns like the MP-25 are going to be used for. It’s not mortifying as it is mildly uncomfortable.

It’s also a story that explains why the modern American gun industry is so well prepared in regards to lawsuits. We can point at the Remington lawsuit of recent years as a counter, but in-general the whole group has developed a system of incredibly talented lawyers and PR management teams to avoid something like this occurring again. The only reason that this happened was because of the fact it was a small series of companies kept close to the Jennings’s family chest. This is the reason modern gun companies operate clean cut and smooth, because they know what can happen to you if you don’t.

The saga of Raven Arms, George Jennings and the Ring of Fire is a reminder that there is such a thing as bad publicity, and that publicity stacks in a way that nothing else can. Every single action you do as a traded company has consequences and those consequences can come from any place, and acting as if you’re above it for whatever reason is a recipe to lead you into getting shot down. The Ring of Fire proved that being the “most popular gun” in American crime was not a good selling point, and like Intratec, Cobray and others, they’re faded names on the board for any new prospective gun company to consider as it builds it’s brand image.

Because having one matters.

Beyond being cheap.

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