WATSON
Danny Johnston  /  AP
In popular culture, the Red Ryder BB gun is "the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts," but the Arkansas manufacturer of the present so desperately desired by Ralphie Parker in the movie "The Christmas Story" is gun-shy when it comes to publicity. Here, Little Rock, Ark., sporting goods store employee Matthew Waton poses with a packaged Daisy Red Ryder BB gun.
updated 12/23/2004 3:07:18 PM ET 2004-12-23T20:07:18

The Red Ryder BB gun is "the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts," according to young Ralphie Parker, who pines for one in the movie "A Christmas Story." But Daisy Outdoor Products, which makes the Red Ryder, is shying away from any publicity that represents the gun as a toy.

Joe Murfin, Daisy's vice president of marketing, was emphatic that BB guns, even if they've been turned into celluloid holiday icons, are not playthings.

"They are not purchased by children and should not be used by young people without adult supervision," Murfin said in an interview in which he answered only limited questions about the gun. "A BB gun or an air gun is an appropriate Christmas gift assuming the parent making the gift is willing to take the time to work with the young person and teach them gun safety and marksmanship."

Toy consultant Chris Byrne isn't surprised that Rogers, Ark.-based Daisy doesn't boast about the gun's popularity.

"They are a classic American brand, but anytime you talk about selling guns to kids in today's society, they are pariah," he said.

The gun, named for the comic strip cowboy Red Ryder, remained a favorite among children for decades and was the inspiration for 1983's "A Christmas Story," about a young boy in the 1940s who longs for "an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, Range Model air rifle with a compass on the stock and this thing which tells time."

In the movie, little Ralphie dubs the gun "the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts" but is admonished by numerous adults (his mother, his teacher, even a department store Santa) that "you'll shoot your eye out!"

Despite the cult popularity of the movie, and the zest for Daisy and Red Ryder memorabilia among collectors, the company has for years shunned publicity.

Recent negative news could contribute to the company's desire to keep a low profile. Last year, Daisy settled a lawsuit brought by the government that alleged defects in 7.5 million high-velocity, multi-pump pellet-BB rifles marketed to shooters age 16 and up.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission said BBs could get stuck in some models of the air gun, leading users to think that they're empty and posing a potential hazard. At the time, the commission said at least 15 deaths and 171 serious injuries had been associated with the alleged defect.

As part of the settlement, the company agreed to launch a $1.5 million safety campaign and put additional warning labels on its high-powered guns.

Harry Wilson, who teaches political science at Roanoke College in Salem, Va., and is writing a book about gun-control policy, said there is no upside for Daisy to seek widespread publicity. He said Daisy's tactics are similar to those of firearm manufactures who target their niche in trade magazines and on outdoor channels.

"They think people who have nostalgia for the BB guns will still go buy them and they don't want to stir up the other folks," Wilson said. "It's part of our culture now that (firearms manufacturers) feel that they have to fly below the radar screen."

Daisy collector Neal Punchard, who wrote a retrospective coffee-table book to mark the company's first century, said it is a shame that such a venerable American institution has gotten overlooked because there is such an anti-gun backlash. "But then, anyway you slice it, they're selling guns to kids," he said.

Wilson sees some irony in the situation, noting that violent video games continue to grow in popularity but BB guns have come under fire.

"There's no question that, with video games, the level of violence has been ratcheted way, way up. Shooting aliens on a plasma TV is a lot different than shooting a tin can with a BB gun," he said.

Byrne said the toy industry has become so anti-gun that water guns are no longer called guns, "they're called blasters now."

"We have all these abstract concepts saying kids shouldn't play with guns," he said. "But if you look at kids playing with laser blasters, as long as we show guns giving power to the powerless, you will see it showing up in play."

"A Christmas Story," based on the book "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash" by humorist Jean Shepherd, ends with Ralphie snuggled in bed with his Red Ryder, nicknamed Old Blue.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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