A Christmas Classic In A Darker Light

A reader writes:

Last night my girlfriend watched A Christmas Story. In light of recent events, she came away from it a little disturbed. In the movie, Ralphie desperately wants a BB gun for Christmas. Even though almost every adult he meets tells him it's a bad idea, at the end of the movie he gets it anyway, and it makes him the happiest little boy in the world. As light and fun and charmingly nostalgic as this film is, at its center is the idea that it's okay to lust after a weapon. Doesn't that condone exactly the same gun culture that has led to so much tragedy?

The gun Ralphie wants is just a toy, but to him it's as real as any other. He has these fantasies about using his gun to protect his family from evil bad guys. It occurred to me that these are the same fantasies that so many gun advocates use to argue that the answer is more guns. "If only I'd been in the school with a gun", they say, "I could have easily stopped the shooter before he did much damage." I'm not an expert, but I suspect most people who believe this are about as likely to succeed as Ralphie would with his BB gun. This seems to me a forgivable fantasy if you're a 10-year-old boy, but not if you want to participate in an adult conversation about how best to protect ourselves. Please, grow up.

Update from a reader:

Ralphie does finally get his BB gun, goes to the backyard, takes aim at a target, fires and the BB promptly ricochets … straight back in to his eyeglass lens, thus smashing it and causing him to run indoors, crying. This condones gun ownership? So, if your reader feels compelled to take a lesson from the movie: You WILL shoot your eye out.


The central theme of A Christmas Story is not "the idea that it's okay to lust after a weapon", but that it's okay to be a kid with an imagination. I lusted after a BB gun when I was a boy (and eventually got one) because I had the same fantasies that Ralphie had – protecting his family, saving his friends, becoming a hero. As a young boy it's exciting to imagine yourself as the savior of others. And like most little boys who love playing with guns, as I grew up I learned that the road to heroism rarely involves one. If I hadn't been allowed the healthy freedom to explore the fantasies of my childish imagination, I may not have come to the same conclusion.


So the desire to own a firearm to protect one’s household from intruders is a childish fantasy? People who "lust over a weapon" are part of "the gun culture that has lead to so much tragedy" and need to "grow up"? Please.

I live on a back road in northern Vermont. The closest law enforcement is twenty minutes away – if I’m lucky. If someone invades my home, I’m not going to ask them to kindly wait until the authorities arrive for a proper stand-off. I dread the thought of ever having to use my Glock (a handgun that I regularly practice with and securely store in my nightstand in a biometric safe that only I can open) against anyone, but I sleep better at night knowing I have at least a chance of protecting my family against a home invasion, no matter how unlikely the situation.

The idea of little Ralphie "using his gun to protect his family from evil bad guys" (who do exist, believe it or not) is not a "fantasy" for many, but an unpleasant, if rare, reality and – depending on where you live – a very logical choice. I’m actually sympathetic to idea of reasonable gun control legislation and there certainly are some nutty gun enthusiasts out there, but this kind of silly characterization makes people who have actual experience with firearms roll their eyes.