A retrospect on guns for home defense.
by Chick Blood
It wasn’t the first time Hollywood tempted far too many folks to make a wrong decision. All too soon after Dirty Harry’s final challenge to bad guys of “Go ahead, make my day,” was seen and heard by movie goers I began getting beaucoup potential customers asking about .44 Magnum revolvers for home defense. Back then, I was selling guns as well as servicing them and always began the process of such possible sales with a series of questions.
Have you ever fired a .44 Magnum revolver? If so, how often and how well? How thick are the walls of your home? How much distance exists between your house and your next door neighbor? Do your kids sleep or play in the room where you’ll be keeping the gun? What if you miss the intruder?
Once I had the prospect’s full attention, the fact that a quality-made .44 Magnum revolver started at about $600 back then usually cooled off his original magnum desires but lessened not a whit their desire for a home defense gun. My quick response to their plea was “a pump shotgun.”
The shotgun deliberately chosen for this little demonstration was a side ejector and served another purpose. Using dummy rounds, I demonstrated how it ejected them in front of one’s face, depending on the model chosen. Left-hand models throw hulls to the left; right hand models to the right. Then I removed my initial deal clincher from the rack. “This one ejects the spent hull straight down. It doesn’t care whether you’re right or left handed.”
The gun under discussion was designed by John M. Browning and originally sold as the 20 gauge Remington Model 17. Later, Browning’s design was changed by Remington into a side-ejecting 12 gauge: The Model 31. It became quite popular and provided worthy competition for the Winchester Model 1912. By the time the armistice to end the first world war was signed, the Ithaca Gun Company was casting around for a pump action they could produce to join the competition. Believing the patents for the bottom eject Model 17 would be expiring in 1933, Ithaca planned to hold off production until that year and introduce a Model 33. Surprise! It was discovered one of the Model 17 patents would remain in effect until 1937. And that, class, is how the Ithaca Model 33 was abandoned and the Ithaca Model 1937 shotgun was born.
On occasion, my absolute positive, never-failed sales clincher didn’t happen to be a Model 37. It was descended from a bottom-eject pumper designed by the same John M. Browning in 1904: The Stevens Model 520. A variant of the shotgun saw action in WWI and afterward gained wide acceptance with law enforcement. Savage Arms acquired Stevens in 1927. Thereafter, the Model 620 was introduced and served in WWII. Meeting military production demands may have contributed to a decline of the Stevens’ presence with law enforcement but the offspring that became my sales clincher from its place in the shotgun rack was introduced by Savage/Stevens as the Model 350. Available in field and defensive configurations, the all-steel 350 is a cosmetic update of its Model 520/620 heritage and retains all their best operating features.
Yes, it still ejects spent hulls to the feet instead of across the face. Yes, it does it whether the shooter is right or left handed. Yes, its MSRP is half the price or less than a name brand .44 Magnum revolver. No, it’s not tricky to dismantle or service, so let’s get on with it.
Read more in the January 2017 issue.