A Recent History Of Toy Guns

Thoughts On Boys, War Games And High Spirits
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Captain Dirk Steele had the Nazi patrol dead to rights. They were absentmindedly milling around a large dirt pile and had not spotted him. He had been fighting across this same neighborhood for months now and knew the terrain like his own backyard. He nodded grimly to his fellow paratrooper and slowly raised his Thompson submachine gun.

Captain Steele loosed a long burst, sparks spewing from the muzzle as he emptied a full magazine. Beside him his comrade struggled with his Parris long rifle, laboring valiantly to get a paper cap to stick underneath the hammer. The wind kept blowing it clear.
In frustration, Captain Steele’s buddy exclaimed, “Next time I get the Tommygun!”

Before Steele could answer a voice came from behind the dirt pile, “Yeah, and we’re sick of being the Germans!”
Captain Steele reluctantly handed the young soldier his Thompson in exchange for the shopworn musket.

“We’ll be the Germans this time,” Steele said with a knowing grin. “You can attack while we guard the fort.”

For it was late, and their moms were soon to call them in for supper anyway.

It is in our nature to play at war. To deny this fact is to deny what we are. Little boys, in particular, are hardwired for combat. While cheerleading is innately nurturing and supportive, football is thinly veiled small-unit warfare.

In my day, all little boys waged war. We screamed about the neighborhood half-naked, blasting the living daylights out of each other with weapons that looked real. We were typically thin, wiry, fast, and tired at the end of the day. In my era, school shootings meant taking yearbook pictures, and ADHD was not a real thing. Had we happened upon a fidget spinner, it would not have been long before somebody set it on fire.


The Marx Company made several Thompson variations. This one shot real sparks
out the muzzle via a rotating flint and steel.

When Will wanted a realistic AKSU74 Krinkov and was unable to find one,
he just retired to the workshop.

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The influence of World War II was still strong when I was a kid. War toys available in the late ’60s and early ’70s typically emulated the weapons of this most planetary of conflicts. The apex predator in the little boys’ arms room was Johnny Eagle.

Naturally, they made cowboy sixguns, but their military lineup included an M1 Garand, an M14 with a perforated steel handguard, and a remarkably realistic 1911. The 1911 was called the Lieutenant, and it came with a detachable magazine and 6 rounds of ammunition.

Each round consisted of a plastic cartridge case with an internal spring as well as a detachable round plastic bullet. The kid would snap each of these cartridges together, thumb them into the magazine and lock the magazine in place. To fire the gun, you would jack the slide and squeeze the trigger. The fall of the hammer launched the plastic bullet out of the bore with surprising velocity. The muzzle was not orange and the gun could pass for the real thing in dim light.

There was an M14 that did indeed have a red plug at the end of the barrel. However, with a brace of fat Eveready D batteries in the buttstock, the red appendage would cycle back and forth like a muzzle flash when the trigger was pulled. A noisemaker in the magazine rendered a machinegun sound. It was rare to find one of these guns that had not had the barrel broken off. Combat is, after all, a violent thing.

Marx made some awesome toy guns. Their Thompson-esque weapons fired genuine fire-hazard sparks out of the muzzle via a rotating flint and steel. The M16 was incredibly realistic but scaled for small hands. Yet others included a spring-loaded charging handle. Locking the handle to the rear and squeezing the trigger allowed a long burst of faux full auto fire.

When I couldn’t find what I was looking for in a store, I just built it myself. I started with a MAC submachine gun because the square geometry of the receiver was easy to emulate with a length of 2×4 lumber. I fashioned a triggerguard out of brickstrap and a sound suppressor out of a discarded table leg.

Before I got old enough for the real stuff, I built a drum-equipped Thompson, an AKSU-74 Krinkov, an FN/FAL and an MP5. Handguns were sometimes just cut from pine shelving and spray-painted black. If the weapons would not make noise we just made our own “rat-a-tat-tat” racket to trigger our ambushes.

I pored over my Replica Models catalog in the late ’70s until it quite literally fell apart. These Japanese pot metal weapons looked, carried and felt exactly like the real thing. Magazines were removable, and the bolts were locked to the rear. Even back then, an Uzi or MP40 cost a cool $100. Considering the most lucrative yard, I mowed recompensed me $3 for a full afternoon of sweaty toil underneath a piercing Mississippi Delta sun, this sort of coin was pretty tough to come by.

Old geezers like me are prone to wax nostalgic over most any old vapid thing. However, even in this era of safe spaces and mandatory orange muzzle attachments, these are indeed the salad days for toy guns. Airsoft weapons have raised the state of the art to previously unimagined levels. Had I had access to hardware of this caliber when I was a kid, I might never have grown up.


This Umarex HK MP7 is the cat’s pajamas. It offers selective fire operation, a manual
of arms identical to that of the real guns and blistering velocities. An Umarex Green
Gas airsoft gun is the next best thing to the real steel at a fraction of the price.

Cheap airsoft guns from your local box store are surprisingly cool. The low-end sort are spring-action repeaters that must be manually cycled for each shot. Santa brought me a SIG P226 for Christmas last year. I taped a paper target over the mouth of a big cardboard box, set it across the living room, donned my shooting glasses and subsequently killed many a rainy Saturday perforating the contraption. These guns shoot surprisingly hard. I had to add an old pillow to my box lest I shoot through the back.

Top-end guns like the rarefied iron from Umarex could pass for the real thing even upon close examination. My HK MP7 runs off of Green Gas, is selective fire, weighs what the real gun does and feeds from detachable magazines. Green Gas is propane with a little lubricant spritzed in for flavor. With a suppressor in place, these remarkable submachine guns even sound real. The bolts cycle as they fire, the manual of arms is identical to the real steel, and they will make you come to Jesus if you catch a round on exposed skin. They are not cheap, but in the case of the MP7, we normal folk will never even touch a real one otherwise.

The list of reasons why our culture is self-destructing is long. Family no longer matters; our children are medicated rather than exercised, and many to most Americans view the government as the solution rather than the problem. Amongst our many manifest failings, we no longer allow little boys to be little boys. Chewing your Pop Tart into the shape of a pistol can get you suspended from school. Is it any wonder we struggle with gender confusion these days?

The spillover from these failings poisons our military, dilutes our drive and renders traditional manhood an endangered species. My own sons could each strip a Kalashnikov blindfolded by their 8th birthday, and they both turned out to be healthy, productive, self-reliant adults. They respect authority and know how to manage themselves around dangerous tools.

Feel free to raise your kids without toy guns if you wish, but don’t be surprised when they scour the yard for crooked sticks and then run around shooting each other with them. We are all savages at heart; it is in our nature. But savages seem ultimately to grow up to become the best citizens.

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