Any gun beats none — if it works

And so we bring you the sad story of former welterweight boxing “Kid Dugan,” whose real name was Francis H. Doran. You can see why he changed his name for the ring, back in those early 20th Century days when boxing was one of the largest spectator sports in the nation.  And we’ll see how his untimely death relates to our often given advice, “any gun is better than none at all.” Because the Kid’s violent end is the exception that proves our rule. We’ll let William H. Wilson of Millington, Tennessee, pick it up from there, in a letter to Guns magazine that was printed in the May, 1961 (!) issue.

Francis H. Doran died at the hands’ of a holdup man in Memphis, Friday, Sept. 2, 1960. Under the name of “Kid Dugan,” Doran was a popular welterweight boxer back in the twenties. His boxing days were over when he entered the army during World War II. After the war and until his death, he operated a liquor store on the south side of Memphis. The holdup and murder oc· curred in the morning and the wanted man was wounded and captured by three police officers in late afternoon, not far from the scene of the crime.

The Kid tried to defend himself, but the gun he reached for was an old .41 caliber derringer and it failed to fire. The gun might have been defective, or it may have been bad ammunition, or both may have been bad.

We haven’t been there, but isn’t the south side of Memphis still a place you’d want to have a good, working gun? In any event, the .41 rimfire derringer, typically the Remington Model 1866 which was made through 1937 (or its many imported copies, which were brought in until 1968),  is a marginal defensive handgun for a number of reasons. There’s the unreliability of rimfire, black powder ammunition, for starters, and its susceptibility to ruination through moisture. There’s the afterthought sights and  microscopic sighting radius. There’s the single-action operating system, although that at least removed barrel selection from the user’s problems (the gun fires top and bottom alternately). There’s the weak ballistics — even if the thing goes off, it leaves the muzzle at around 400 feet per second. And there’s the one-and-only-one follow-up shot, subject to all the same limitations as the first. And in the imported copies, there’s usually cheap materials (even pot metal) and nonexistent quality control. (The actual Remingtons, which have a collector following, are well made).

We would usually say, “any gun is better than no gun.” For the Kid, this gun wasn’t. There are lessons to be had here perhaps about training, periodic testing of your carry weapon (which training accomplishes for you) and rotating your ammunition stocks. But we’ll just extend the adage to say, “any gun is better than no gun, as long as it works.”

As Wilson wrote:

Old, mis-used and abused firearms .should be relegated to a glass case or a museum. An armed robber usually means business, and only a weapon in good working order should be used in defense against him.

Hard to argue with that. These and many other pearls of wisdom are found in Guns Magazine’s issues from 50-years ago, which they put up on their website here as each issue reaches it’s 50th anniversary.