I have no idea what the developers at Mattel Toy Corporation were thinking in the early sixties, but by today's standards, they may have been begging for a lawsuit of some sort. The toy derringer, pictured above, was similar in size to an authentic Remington gun, from which its style was taken.
A gray plastic bullet, spring-loaded in a brass metal shell, could be fired from either a belt-buckle setting or from a hand-held position. The projectile had a range of only about 12 to 15 feet, but the direction it would take was anyone's guess. The bullet was similar in size to a .22 long rifle slug.
Any lad growing up in the sixties might remember this toy and how it operated. For me, one memorable derringer event is as clear today as it was the moment it took place.
Dad was half asleep on the couch, a rarity around our household. It must have been a Sunday evening, because I don't recall Dad taking naps much during the work week, unless he was totally asleep in his bedroom due to his shift schedule at the mill.
"Dad, can I shoot you in the belly?" I asked, while holding the derringer no further than 18 inches from his white tee shirt.
"Sure," he replied. "Just be careful."
The Good Lord only knows why that bullet came out of that gun barrel and made a dead-center hit in my dad's half-opened eye, but it did. For a split second, I thought all would be okay since I did get permission before firing the toy. I was wrong. The smack I got was mild, though, probably because Dad was half asleep and no doubt still partially blinded by the bullet.
At the tender age of 10, I still realized, "This is not fair."
"That derringer is defective," I thought to myself. Meanwhile Dad must have figured that I flinched or purposely moved the gun before I shot. Either way, he was not happy because I had ruined his relaxation time.
A few months later, Dad was on the same couch in pretty much the same position and half awake as before. This time, however, my brother was playing with an old hand-cranked, wall-mounted can opener while lying on the floor in front of Dad. The heavy opener must have been replaced by one of the first electric ones in our household. My brother, six years younger than I at the time, was twirling that archaic tool like a helicopter when it slid from his grasp and struck Dad right between the eyes on his forehead.
When I heard the thud and witnessed what had happened, I thought for sure someone, (most likely my brother) would now die because of this.
But when Dad closed his eyes and fell asleep, my shock changed to worry as I thought my brother must have knocked my dad out with that machine of massive metal.
My brother made a beeline for the bedroom, Dad kind of grunted, and I was left realizing once again, "This is not fair."
Somehow we all managed to survive those days -- the heavy metal machines, the quick, inconsistent wrath of Dad, and even the malicious Mattel toys. Those two experiences helped me prepare for the future as I learned that life in general is not fair a lot of the time.
I continued to play with that derringer for a long while -- along with my cork-shooting rifle, bean-shooting pipe, cap pistols, and slingshot, too, but I don't recall ever shooting at any human targets again.
We hear so much today about how violence in society might be subtly learned through video games, computer images, and what kids see in movies and on TV. We had our share of violent toys, too, so I'm not convinced the problem lies in toys or video images. I am sure of one thing; my brother deserves a licking that he never got.