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A Christmas Story is a classic look at childhood from the point of view of a nine year old kid who wants a BB gun for Christmas. It is set in the late 40s, a time even before my own childhood, but the message is familiar and timeless for any kid that wanted to graduate from cap guns to BB guns. I was roughly Ralphie’s age in the 1960s when the irresistible urge to own a BB gun overwhelmed me . . .

The notion that I would “shoot my eye out” definitely worked against me as I plead my case with my parents, so I felt Ralphie’s pain as he pleaded his case to his parents, teacher, Santa Claus and anybody else that would listen to a kid with a big Christmas dream.

The big difference was that Ralphie did get his BB gun for Christmas while I settled a hand-me-down BB gun that was worn-out from overuse by an older brother. There was little fear that I would shoot my eye out with that particular BB gun. Meanwhile my older brother had graduated to pellet guns and 22s for his personal use as a 14 year old at the time.

By 16, my older brother was already involved with game and bird hunting and was very proficient with shotguns and rifles. His expertise with firearms earned him marksmanship awards during training as a member of the RCMP, as well as a spot on an ERT team, which is their equivalent to a SWAT team.

My brother is now retired and enjoys his spare time as an avid hunter who bagged deer from the two provinces that border my province this past fall. He is still a crack shot who continues to have a healthy respect for firearms after all of these decades.

So the rather lengthy personal family history leads me to a basic question: at what age should Ralphie find more firepower under his Christmas tree and what age matches what kind of firepower as a gift for a young marksman? Obviously even a pellet gun is an upgrade to a BB gun, but when does a 22 enter into the equation and, beyond that threshold, big bore weapons? Ralphie and I are both curious about the concept from the TTAG readers.

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  1. It depends on the child in question.

    The basic guidelines offered by the BSA dictate BB only as a Cub, .22lr and 12 gauge as a Boy Scout (~11-18), and finally Venture Scouts (14-21) can shoot just about anything short of full auto, but some things BSA requires the scouts receive training for.

  2. I blame television. I was a child of the 50’s and grew up on tv westerns and cop shows. I pestered them enough that my granddad and dad had me out shooting 22 rifles and pistols at 6. I got my own first gun, a Remington 514 single shot bolt action 22 rifle at age 7. Next at age 9 was a 20 gauge Browning A5. At 16, dad bought me a Browning Challenger 22 pistol. I think I started buying my own at 18. Who knows what the “right” age is for firearms. In my case, a solid foundation of safety and respect for the tool from my elders made it an early introduction that has lasted a lifetime.

  3. Whenever they’ve shown they’ll use them safely.

    The one thing I am always concerned about with BB guns is that the lack of danger to them promotes unsafe behavior. You know you’re not actually going to hit most things hard enough to kill it… I heard more stories in elementary school about carelessness with BB guns that I ever have with .22’s. The worse was the “I shot my dog in the balls and he howled and howled” — sick freak.

    • I second that. I remember me and my friends all getting BB guns within a few months of each other when I was in middle school. The second our parents trusted us enough with them to move stop hiding them when they went grocery shopping, every time someone’s parents left the house their backyard turned into a battleground. My house had a great tree to snipe from. 🙂 After a few suspicious BB shaped bruises, most of my friends BB guns were taken away. But not before one younger brother imbedded a BB in his brother’s forehead to wake him up on Christmas morning. Ah, the memories of those old air rifles… Haha.

      Despite the dangers, I survived and I’m sure my kids will too. But I will definitely instill in them the 4 rules from an early age and they will not graduate to a real gun until they can treat a BB gun as what it is… A gun.

  4. My Daisy Pump shooting began in grade school back in the ’50s. My father was a member of the VFW. They organized a training and competition BB-gun program for youngsters. We’d practice once a week and have occasional matches. I eventually became one of the larger fish in that small pond and consequently had a grand time. After a season of that I graduated to shooting Granddad’s Marlin 22 and double barrel 20 Ga. No handgun shooting however as my Dad thought them just too dangerous.

    By college I had a 40X Rangemaster 22LR and shot on my ROTC rifle team. Over the years I let that 40X get away… sigh!

  5. I was Ralphie before Ralphie was Ralphie, and I wanted my very own Red Ryder. However, She Who Must Be Obeyed (or as we called her, “Mom”) was concerned about impaired vision. Dad, being a wise man, agreed with Mom and bought me a Nylon 66 instead, saying “he won’t treat this like a toy,” saving many eyeballs in the process.

    Dad was right. I got a .22, but I never got a BB gun. And I think that should be the progression. Yes, I really mean it. .22s are far more dangerous than BB guns, but are treated far more respectfully and responsibly by yoots. So get ’em a .22 rifle first.

    • I did have a BB gun as a boy, but my first “real” gun was a Remington Nylon 66 .22 semi-auto rifle. I can still remember how I agonized over brown or green.I decided on brown. I still have that rifle and still keep it in the same case I did as a boy. I don’t shoot it anymore but I keep it clean and it always brings back wonderful memories. Maybe I will buy some .22 ammo.

  6. I don’t believe age really matters. Children (just like adults) mature according to their individual circumstances. A child who must care for himself and possibly siblings after school is likely to be much more responsible than a child who has never been required to even pick up after himself. The same holds true for firearms.
    My boys grew up with guns from birth. They were tought to respect guns the same as fire, electricity, the street, etcetera. I really can’t remember ages but they were with me when I was shooting from small children and shooting themselves as they became physically able to do so. Always under supervision.

  7. That’s interesting what a couple of you guys said about the BB gun being dangerous because it’s treated like a toy whereas a real gun like a .22 would be treated differently.

    To me they heyday of BB guns was the 50s and 60s. I believe things are different now. Toy guns in general, probably including BB guns are more realistic looking which makes for a whole new set of dangers.

    My opinion is guns are bad news for kids, better is to teach them to use hammers and saws.

    • Hi Mike,
      Do I understand you to say that you don’t believe children who are taught to use and respect firearms are also taught to use hammers and saws?
      As I have stated before I have two boys (grown now) who were raised around guns. They were also raised around tools. Today they both own tool chest stocked with carpenter’s, mechanic’s and some plumber’s and electrician’s tools. They know each tools use and use it properly. They keep them clean and stored properly. They are in like new condition.
      This is because ( as with firearms) they were taught respect for tools. They were taught to use each tool only for it’s intended use. That clean tools work better and last longer. If you don’t put it away when you finish with it, you won’t be able to find it. Today they practice what they were taught.
      They also own firearms. They were taught respect for firearms To use them only for there intended use. That clean guns work better and last longer. To store them properly. Today they practice what they were taught.
      A gun, hammer and a saw are all tools. They all have a purpose. As with tools used to build or repair, guns have different uses depending on type. Handguns have three primary uses. Recreational shooting, hunting and self defense. When used properly they are safe and useful. When misused they can be dangerous. Any tool when misused can be dangerous.
      Of all the tools they own I consider there firearms to be the most necessary. The other tools can be used to make repairs or build, but firearms can be used to prevent the use of life insurance policies.
      They have been taught to use deadly force only as a last resort. Only when no other option exist. To live in condition yellows so as to avoid potential danger when possible.To place life above material possesions.To understand that they are resposible for their safety. That the police are not a realistic option. They are fully aware of the possible consequences associated with the use of deadly force when it is required. They are fully aware of the possible consequences associated with the non-use of deadly force when it is required. They were taught to respect life, to respect others. To be courteous, fair and honest. First and foremost they were taught to respect themselves. To take care of themselves and their significant others. Today they practice what they were taught.
      I believe most people practice what they were taught. I believe guns are bad news for kids who are not taught respect for them. I believe guns are bad news for the good guys in the hands of those who were not taught respect for others. I believe guns are good news for the good guys in the hands of those who respect them. I believe guns are bad news for the bad guys in the hands of those who were taught to respect others.
      In a previous communication to you I stated that if the need were to arise I would do all that is necessary to servive. That if I were not armed I might not be able to do all that is necessary. I then stated “I don’t know what you will do…”. I would now like to ask you Mike,what would you do? If you found yourself in a position where your well-being and that of your family were in grave danger, what would you do? How would you feel if you were to discover,God forbid, that you and your family were about to be seriously injured,raped and murdered but you could have prevented it if you had been armed. Perhaps without firing a shot. Sometimes just having a gun is enough, sometimes it is not, but without one you have no option.
      I have known many people who were victims of violent crime. Some shot, some stabbed, some beaten. Everyone, not an exaggeration, EVERY-SINGLE-ONE said to me,” I wish I’d had a gun.”
      I ask again Mike what will you do? If you find yourself in grave danger what is your plan? As I stated before I truley wish you luck and I hope you never have to say ” I wish I’d had a gun.”.

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