Whatever happened to toy guns and shooting your friends?
September 4, 2009

Labor day weekend is upon us and as another summer fades into memory it makes me recall my own youth. The days before action figures and computer games. When the only theme parks in the world were Disneyland and Tivoli Gardens and I’d never been to either one. So kids had to make up their own fun. And, thanks to guns we were able to spend many a happy hour gleefully killing our best friends.

Back in the day every kid, even girls, had at least one toy gun in their possession. It might be a water gun or a cap gun, but they had one. Boys had entire arsenals of them. No matter how many you had, like the NRA members in good standing, you always wanted more of them and there was always a new one showing up on the shelves of Sears, Montgomery Wards, JC Penny’s, Woolworths, TG&Y or the host of other stores that made up “downtown.”

I honestly cannot remember the first toy gun I had. Like a baseball and toy trucks and cars, it was always there. My parents may have bought it as soon as I arrived (back in ancient times, nobody knew what the sex of a baby was until it actually was popped out of the chute).

Initially there were cap guns in the form of the old Colt peacemaker of the Hollywood Wild West era. Roy Rogers had a licensing agreement with Mattel and there were all sorts of RR cap guns. Mattel even created a cap gun version of the Winchester repeating rifle as part of the RR line along with a derringer that was in a hat.

One of my personal favorites was a Paladin two gun set with holster. Paladin was program starring Richard Boone and my guns, like his had the stylized horse-head knight figure from a chess set inlayed in the pistol grips. White knights on black handles. Paladin was a lot like an unmasked Lone Ranger who went from place to place righting wrongs by killing bad guys with those cool guns of his. His partner was a Chinese manservant in lieu of Tonto.

As for ‘army guns” there were a plethora of them. 45’s, M-1’s, Carbines Thompson Sub-machine guns, pineapple hand grenades with places to put a cap. Helmets, canteens, ammo pouches that fit onto you belt, semi-working binoculars. There were Lugers, but that was it. The Germans and Japanese were not very well represented in guns. I suppose it was deduced by the manufacturers that it would be bad for business to make foreign guns for the kids. Might cause repercussions by the retailers. Who knows? But if you were playing a German or a Japanese soldier, odds were that you were carrying the same weapons as your opponents.

There was an unwritten rule about BB guns. If you had one, you couldn’t use it with BB’s in it when playing war. All that bitching and moaning about shooting out someone’s eye by your (and Ralphie’s) mom stuck and you just didn’t do that. Now, you could use dirt clods as hand grenades and it was even better to actually hit someone with one, but you couldn’t shoot him with your BB gun. The same was true with dart guns. Because the springs inside them were not that strong it wasn’t practical anyway. Most of the darts fizzled out after only a couple of feet. Dirt clods were great hand grenades. Especially late in the summer when there hadn’t been rain in weeks and the clods were very dry. They would explode in a great puff of dust and leave a mark on your friend where it hit him. And even if it hurt you could never cry or whine about the impact. It was sissy and nobody wanted to be called a sissy.

Consequently, with the exception of dirt clod grenades, your ability to qualify as a marksman was limited as the killing of your opponent was based upon a mutual agreement as to whether or not you actually “got him.” Many a game of war was interrupted by an escalated disagreement including fisticuffs as to who shot or didn’t shoot whom. I am convinced, although I have no evidence to support this theory, that the people that invented laser tag were kids that knew they shot some cheating little turd that said they had missed.

When James Bond appeared on the silver screen followed by a host of TV spies an armada of spy guns appeared on the shelves. Mattel had a line that included a radio that converted to a rifle/machine gun. One of the coolest was the Napoleon Solo Man from U.N.C.L.E. gun with all the attachments to turn the pistol into a semi-automatic rifle. It didn’t look exactly like the one on TV, but it was as close as you could get . Unfortunately nobody ever produced a speargun like the one 007 used in Thunderball. But, of course it would have been used against siblings more frequently than opponents in a game of war.

And the cool thing was our guns looked like real guns. Well, pretty close. They were usually molded of a dark gray or black plastic or from some gunmetal colored metal. Oh there where lots of them made of camouflage colored plastic and the space/ray guns were usually some unusual color as well as design, but most army, police and cowboy guns were made to look as close as possible to the real thing as profits would allow. And, more importantly, parents didn’t care and neither did law enforcement. No requirements for them to have a red tip on the end of the barrel or made in some bizarre color to make sure they are not taken for the real thing. If any kids were ever gunned down by the cops because they pointed a toy gun at them back then it never made the evening news.

Any kid worth knowing had at least a half a dozen guns within his personal arsenal. There was unspoken respect for kids that had unusual guns. There was a kid that had a 30-cal., tripod mounted machine gun that we all drooled over. It took four D-cell batteries and made a wonderful noise when the trigger was pressed. His dad had gone TDY to Japan and he picked it up there. Lucky bastard! Another kid had two shotguns. One was a pump action and the other was a double barrel. The latter even came with fake shells for you to pop into the breech! Besides my U.N.C.L.E. gun, I had two tommy guns, a luger and 45 and at least a a half a dozen peacemakers. That was about the norm. Some kids had more some less, but every kid had at least a dozen toy guns. Nobody bothered to create any kind of storage system for them, they were simply tossed into the toybox with all the other “stuff” you had.

Even though some gun sets, especially army ones, came with knives we rarely used them in play. I suppose because we never got to the point of hand-to-hand combat (except for disputes over being shot) so knives were pointless.

Unlike today’s youth that live structured lives where every moment of their waking lives are controlled by someone, kids in my day were run out of the house and told not to come home until dinner. So, creative ways of pretending to kill one another were the highlight of the weekends and summer

Glenn Moss
Born in 1952 (you do the math), making me one of the proverbial "old farts" involved in toys, comic books, and other juvenile activities that everyone said I should have outgrown decades ago. Fortunately, my wife of 36 years is an understanding soul. A firm believer in the philosophy of Groucho Marx, George Carlin, Robin Williams and Chris Rock. Am now indoctrinating my grandchildren to carry on so that when I finally fade away there will be another generation of odd neighbors who seemed nice and kept to themselves.
Read other articles by Glenn Moss.





  • Danny CantinaDan says:

    Really enjoyed that, Glenn.

    Rest assured, playing with toy guns is still alive and well. Johnny, his brothers, and their friends often get together for “Airsoft” wars in the washes near their house. Airsoft guns fire plastic BB’s using compressed air. I’ve also participated with them in some indoor Nerf gun wars.

    And, don’t worry, plenty of time is still taken up arguing about who got hit!

  • elvis8batman says:

    That was a great read Glenn, reminded me of when I was a kid and my brother and I played shooting games with friends in our street. I always preferred the more realistic looking guns, but my favourite ones I think came as part of a Lone Ranger outfit set, which had the mask and a gun belt included.

  • Daniel Pickett JuliusMarx says:

    Ah! TG&Y I bought most of my Megos from that store. You left out “Otasco” from your list. They had a great toy section. Where else? “David’s” and “Edison’s” were a few other local favorite deparment stores with great toy departments.
    I miss cap guns. I had quite a few of them growing up. The treat was always getting new caps to put in them. Now, as a parent, I can see how loud and annoying they must have been for my parents… but as a kid having that little bubble of gun powder… AWESOME!

    • Hourman says:

      All my Megos came from a TG&Y or a Ben Franklin, both downtown, both looooooong gone. The space that the TG&Y was in is now a Chinese restaurant and everytime I go in, I think about all the Megos and Star Wars toys and Power Records my Mom and my grandparents bought me there. I’m sure if they had any inkling that 30 years later I’d be buying the same things, they would have probably had me carted off to the looney bin 🙂

  • Chip Cataldo says:

    Fantastic blog, Glenn. I remember the 6-gun cap gun I had when I was a kid..fun times, fun times. Thanks for posting!



  • Lt. Clutch says:

    Very informative and entertaining post, Glenn! I wish I had been around during the 60’s so I could have gotten the awesome Bond and U.N.C.L.E. weapons that have become so rare and pricey nowadays. I did have a Frank Serpico boxed set in the 70’s with gun, holster, badge, and other neat stuff. The Al Pacino movie had been released around that time and my parents were huge fans of the real-life police hero.

    Toy guns were everywhere around then: My favorites were those neat Luger water guns that you could find in the toy rack at any local U-Totem mini mart. I had a green and brown version which I highly treasured until the unfortunate day that I dropped it on our concrete back yard.

    I watched reruns of shows like “Have Gun, Will Travel” and “The Rifleman” so playing cowboy was a favorite activity of mine. One of my mom’s cousins bought me a hat which I still keep to this day. I loved how Paladin dressed in black and looked like the bad guy but was really on the side of good. Richard Boone and Chuck Connors were my idols, along with Vic Morrow’s Sgt. Saunders from the excellent WWII program, Combat!

    One of the last guns I ever had was a Star Wars knock-off that my grandmother gave me. It looked a lot like the gun used on Bespin in The Empire Strikes Back. It had lights and sounds, a wonderful toy all around. But that one, too, broke easily.

    I miss those times of yore and wish kids had it as easy right now. Our childhoods somehow allowed for more use of the imagination and that sort of commodity is a rare find in today’s world.

  • Bill says:

    In the 80’s there was a fad in toy guns that my friends and I greatly enjoyed: the automatic water gun. You’d fill the “clips” with water and snap them in. I had an Uzi and a pistol. They were AWESOME!!! And they were black, too. We missed the whole weird color and orange/red tips garbage by a few years.

    • UncleMarsellus says:

      Entertech!!! I had quite a few. I had the Beretta, which I loved because it was exactly like the Beretta Bruce Willis used in the Die Hard movies, and a couple of machine guns. They were great. My friend and I would go on “missions” all the time into grassy areas by my house with my Rambo knife and we were always well armed with our Entertech guns. I also had many toy guns. Western style revolvers with holsters, cap guns, bolt action wooden and die cast rifles (which I still see now and then, only kid-i-fied) and others. *sigh*

  • Hourman says:

    I dunno if it was Bill Maher or Dennis Miller, but one of those guys riffs on the sad fact that the whole world has become childproofed and here’s an example of even the children’s toys many of us grew with being childproofed out of existence. I’m glad I grew up in a more dangerous era, when I was allowed to play with a Han Solo laser pistol that was molded in black and not in orange. You remember the one – you had to hold down a little button on the handle while you pulled the trigger and it made that awful dentist’s drill noise that drove your grandmother crazy.


  • chad says:

    loved the article as why kids today do not have toy guns that a produce of the world becoming pc that and also the world becoming lawsuit happy sue over everything now a days toy makers do not want to take the risk with toy guns not to mention that the toy guns are so real that no one can tell a fake one from a real one without shotting the thing and hurting some one but mostly the kids today are too controled by political correctness and fear of lawsuits.

  • Brainlock says:

    We had an old die-cast “six shooter” with (plastic) ivory handle, which one side of the chamber slid open to hold caps, I think. That side of the gun had broken off before we got it, as I don’t recall it ever having been attached. I keep thinking it was either mom’s or her sister’s from when they were kids?
    Beyond that, we both had BB guns. My brother got a cheapo one for his birthday, and I got a nicer pump action shotgun-style one the following year. (some rule that we had to be 8 for bikes, 10 for BB guns, but we could drive the tractor as soon as we could reach the pedals!??). Our BBs were taken away after he hit me in the hand while chasing the neighbor kid across the yard. He was 30 ft away and my hand was inches away from my face. Our parents shrugged it off.
    A year later, shortly after I got mine, I think he was pulling weeds or something along the carport and no one bothered to ask why I had my BB gun simply because I was outside, instead of watching TV. I casually walked over to him, shot him in the hand and immediately got in trouble. They took away my gun and I couldn’t care less.
    I never fired anything else, but dad insists I have. o…kay?
    Heck, I barely even kept most of my GI Joe guns, and usually pulled off the built in vehicular guns, or pretended they were ‘reverse thrusters’ or something if I couldn’t turn them to the rear for ‘booster jets’. LOL
    Firstborn also had a dull green gun that shot disks…until he lost them all shooting at the cats. I saw one of these at WM the other week, but it only came with like ten disks, twice as large as what I remember.

  • I miss the sweet smell of cap guns.

  • moogadestrong says:

    I worked for a Toys R Us store for 7 years, and we no longer carried toy guns in any quantity when I worked there. We weren’t forced to do it, as I understand it TRU just wanted to stay on the good side of all of the Mommy run activist/lobbyist groups. While TRU does gain a significant portion of it’s business from Mommies who seem to want to keep their kids in a plastic bubble, I can tell you that by neglecting to stock toy guns TRU lost a TON of business. In the time that I worked there, not a day went by that I didn’t have at least one somebody (usually more)ask me for toy guns, or complain that we didn’t sell them. In fact, I have only spoken to my father once in the last 10 years, and it was when he came in to the store and asked me for toy guns! I myself have fond memories of prolonged summer gun battles w/ my brother and an army of neighbor kids. I actually owned that Machine gun you talked about. I bought it in Mexico when I was 10 years old, and it was the pride of my rather substantial toy gun collection. Alas, for the good old days!

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