It never ceases
to amaze me how many articles that we can find on Wikipedia. Rare
is the case when I search for a topic, type in wiki, and the first
article that my search engine discovers is not a Wikipedia article
on exactly that topic.
for "cap pistol" recently. I got an article "cap
I was curious
about the history of the toy. I grew up in the era of the cap pistol.
I can only remember one time when I got a holster and cap pistol
combination. I was probably seven years old. I played with it for
a long time. As with the few toys of our youth that we actually
remember, I wish I had saved the set. It would no doubt be worth
a lot of money if it was in good shape.
I had long
thought that the government intervened to prohibit shiny steel toy
pistols because of the possibility that the toys would be used to
commit crimes. According to Wikipedia, I was wrong.
guns and other toy guns in the United States must be manufactured
with a bright orange, red, or yellow tip placed over the "muzzle"
of the cap gun, or with the entire gun made in these or other
bright colors. Laws requiring these markings were made because
of incidents where civilians usually children or teenagers
were killed by police officers when the officers thought
they saw real guns. While these incidents were rare, lawmakers
decided that toy guns must be marked so they cannot be mistaken
for real guns.
Here we have
a situation in which the government is trying to protect innocent
people from the government. I keep wondering: "Who would be
so stupid as to pull a toy pistol on a policeman who was pointing
a real pistol at him?" Is this sort of thing so common that
the anti-gun voting bloc took action to kill toy pistols? I doubt
it. But it makes a good excuse. The war against guns is a comprehensive
said that the era of the toy pistol was from 1945 to 1965. After
1965, the popularity of television Westerns began to decline.
I grew up on
TV Westerns. Anyone born after 1900 grew up on movie Westerns. Low-budget
B-Westerns were the staple of Saturday matinees. They were popular
with kids of all ages. The first dramatic moving picture, The
Great Train Robbery, was a Western. But they faded in popularity
after 1965. Why was that?
GUYS AND BAD GUYS
I think the
heart of the Western's popularity was this. The classic Western
has clearly identifiable moral agents and moral choices. There were
good guys and bad guys. We like to say that the good guys wore white
hats, and the bad guys wore black hats. That was easy to say when
most low-budget Westerns were in black and white. Colored hats all
looked black. There were a few good guys who were dressed in black,
such as Lash LaRue, but not that many. The most famous good guy
who wore all black was Hopalong Cassidy, the white-haired, two-gun
geezer. He became the first TV cowboy to create a national mania
in the late 1940s. We all wanted to be Hoppy. (As Steve Gillette
has said, we never intended to look like him.)
entertainment became less and less black and white ethically and
more and more gray. The moral choices were not so clearly contrasted.
The heroes of the silver screen were bad guys. There had been some
of this in the gangster films of the 1930s, but the bad guys always
came to a bad end. But there was a major problem with gangster films.
Outlaws armed with machine guns could be handled only by government
agents: G-men. The state was seen as the ultimate protector. Why?
Because the federal government outlawed machine guns. Then only
gangsters and G-men had machine guns. The public was caught in the
That is what
gun control advocates prefer: the public caught in the crossfire.
The kind of
moral universe in which I grew up, in which good guys were armed
and dangerous, became politically and culturally incorrect after
1965. Maybe good guys carried a badge. Maybe they didn't. But they
carried a gun, the preposterous Destry excepted.
talking with James Arness about this change. This was probably sometime
around 1983. I was lecturing at a conference, and he was in attendance.
He had been the most famous cowboy television personality, because
ran for 20 years, 1955-1975, the longest-running dramatic series
of the era. He said that when he first started out, he was allowed
to shoot the bad guys. By the end, he said, "I was only allowed
to threaten them with my special decoder ring."
scene of Gunsmoke was a shootout.
cannot see his face, the bad guy was actually the actor who also
played Sam, the bartender. He had been in over 200 Westerns before
he got that role. His name Glenn Strange. Really. He really had
been a deputy sheriff in New Mexico. There were other B-western
actors who had similar credentials. Roy Barcroft was in 350. Charles
"Blackie" King was probably in 350. No one really knows
how many some of these regulars were in. There was a steady market
for them until the television era.