A caveat on the 'Holy Grail of Christmas gifts'

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  By the Associated Press | December 23, 2004

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- 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."

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."

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, multipump 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 they're empty, 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.