Gun ad: your kids can safely play with this gun

This undated Iver Johnson ad may just be the most disturbing thing I've ever seen posted on the LiveJournal Vintage Ads group. Not just for the odd spectacle of the little girl playing with a pistol in bed above the legend "Accidental Discharge Impossible," but for the accompanying caption "Papa says it won't hurt us." Even without reaching for some kind of sexual abuse innuendo or subtext, the idea that a father would show a small, untrained child a loaded handgun and say, "Don't play with this, daughter, but if you do, it won't hurt you!" is, well, weird.

Iver Johnson Revolvers are not toys…


  1. I think they are highlighting the fact that the gun has no hammer; it cannot ignite the cartridge if dropped. Even if the safety is enabled. That cocked guns will fire if/when dropped has been a problem for a long time. Guns that don’t discharge when dropped are inherently safer.

    I have no comment on this “sexual abuse subtext” you’ve come up with. That must be a dark place you’ve come from, Cory.

    1. Come on “I promise it won’t hurt” is pretty cliché. Also : his “gun” will no longer “accidentally discharge”.

      1. I didn’t get that feeling at all. Seems like an uncanny confluence of Cory’s imagination and recently popularized phrases/cliches. Context (including the fact that it’s a freakin’ old ad) matters. Give me anything and I can read anything you want into it.

    2. Drop resistance is certainly good; but it still seems pretty shady to say that ‘accidental discharge impossible’ just because one route of accidental discharge is removed…

      1. The more I think about it I see both sides of the accidental wording.

        If you shot yourself by pulling the trigger, then the overall event was an accident (assuming you didn’t mean to shoot yourself).  The gun operated in the fashion it was designed to.  However if you dropped the gun and it discharged, then it accidentally went off in a way it was not suppose to.  I know it really is semantics, but that seems to be the game this ad is playing.

      2. I think back then people knew the difference between “accidental discharge” and “negligent discharge”. Most “accidents” today are negligence, and most that aren’t were intentional and a lawyers explanation.

    3. Cory was not stretching it to say there’s a sexual subtext. The girl is in bed. She’s got a gun–a common symbol for the penis–in her lap.  And daddy says it won’t hurt her (or her friend, the doll). And then the bit about accidental discharge.

      Granted, this was a different era and society’s attitude toward guns and children might have changed over the years. But what has not changed so much is the language of symbols and of the subconscious mind. 

      People just might not want to see it because it’s just to weird since it is a child. If it was a grown woman doing the same thing in bed it would be easier to see. 

      1. “But what has not changed so much is the language of symbols and of the subconscious mind.”

        This statement is based on what? Citation, please. 

          1.  The way I read it, Sapolsky was talking about imagery affecting the bodies ability to fight illness. I’m not sure how that applies to a “language of symbols in the subconscious mind”. Some symbols do indeed seem to be universal, as per Jung, but the meaning assigned to those symbols varies widely.

        1.   Antinous : Yes, the abuse scenario comes from the phrase “Daddy says it won’t hurt us”, but that only holds if the gun is established as a phallic symbol. If she was putting her hand in the garbage disposal, his statement might mean something different.

          @ twency: “Oh puh-leaze” is not really an argument.

          I really didn’t think anyone would question the gun being a phallic symbol at least going as far back as 100 years. Freud would have said so based on the shape. The shape of the penis is universal. It hasn’t changed, so penis-shaped things are phallic symbols. But here is something less speculative:

          A dictionary of sexual language and imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature.

          Page 631, for guns/penises:

          In Hungarian, the word for “coitus” is “shoot”. We certainly have plenty of words in English that share similar meanings: shoot, discharge, “weapon”, load, “gun in your pocket”, etc. 

          Here is the oldest known phallic symbol:

          Hey, people, she’s twiddling with a phallic symbol in her lap. I only meant to say it’s not so much of a stretch that people should say this came from “some dark place” in Cory’s mind. 

          Off to polish my gun after all that…

  2.  Guns don’t kill people; tiny children kill people.

    My kid  was able to turn on the cordless phone and dial 911 when he was 8 months old. How could a child NOT accidentally turn off the safety and pull the trigger?

    1. This might come as a surprise to some people, but the purpose of a safety catch on a gun is NOT to disable the trigger, but to stop an accidental discharge if the gun is dropped. Old fashioned safeties lock the entire mechanism in order to achieve this. Modern guns such as the Glock have the safety integrated with the trigger itself. The gun will not fire unless the trigger is pulled and there is no manual safety (apart from the ILS lock feature on newer ones). The Heckler and Koch P7M13 is a another example,  its firing mechanism is disabled unless someone is gripping it correctly. There’s no manual safety. Firearms training ensures that the user does not touch the trigger unless they intend to fire.

      Another gun which has no manual safety – modern revolvers. The firing mechanism cannot operate unless someone pulls the trigger.

      Guns are inherently extremely dangerous and safe handling requires training. A manual mechanical safety catch is no substitute. The one thing that you want a gun to do – its only purpose – is to fire when you pull the trigger, and emit death out of the front.

      1. “Guns are inherently extremely dangerous and safe handling requires training.”

        I so wish more people would keep this in mind rather than simply spout the same old “guns don’t kill people, people do”…

          1. Bullets don’t kill people; cardiac arrest secondary to exsanguination kills people.

          2. Antinous: Also depends on where the hit occurred, sometimes it’s removal of critical brain tissue, or mechanical damage to the heart that kills people.

      2.  “Firearms training ensures that the user does not touch the trigger unless they intend to fire.”

        which doesn’t do much to help prevent injury if the gun-grabber hasn’t had said training.

        1. Its a real shame that all students are taught about guns in modern America (which has as many guns as people) is “Stop, don’t touch, tell an adult”.

          Actually, thats not ALL that children are taught.
          TV and movies teach them to actually carry the gun with their finger on the trigger, sweep it across things they wouldn’t be willing to shoot, play with it as a toy, and forget what might be behind the target.

          Our culture actually educates against the four basic rules of gun safety rather than teaching any of them. Then we wonder why people die from mishandled weapons.

      3. Any revolver that relies on a hammer mounted firing pin may discharge if the gun is dropped on an uncocked hammer.

    2.  Let me point out that revolvers don’t have a safety (except for a couple antique odd-ball designs). Those are found on semi-automatic pistols such as the Colt 1911 and the Beretta M92.

      Even the 1911 was subject to accidental firing if it was dropped on an uncocked hammer until relatively recently when Colt introduced the transfer plate into the firing sequence. Before that, the hammer and firing pin could make contact and rebounding firing pins had been known to hit the primer of a cartridge in the chamber. In the newer design, the trigger pull raises the transfer plate which is then struck by the falling hammer to transfer the force to the firing pin. The redesigned hammer is notched out now so that it can’t contact the hammer without the aid of the transfer plate.

      That makes it safe against accidental discharge when dropped if a cartridge is chambered.

      1. My Ruger revolver and most other modern revolvers DO have a safety.

        Its just not a worthless slide that keeps the trigger from being pulled, but rather a very stout transfer bar which requires a full trigger pull to place the bar between the hammer and the firing pin.

        This is actually safer than a trigger safety, it prevents discharge even in the event the revolver is dropped onto its hammer from considerable height. By contrast the trigger safety on many old Remington rifles won’t make the rifle drop safe and can actually cause an accidental (not negligent) discharge when turned off, an action required to open the bolt.

        BTW, most people carrying 1911’s carry them “cocked and locked” which is how the design was intended to be carried if loaded.

        1.  Let me point out that you are partially incorrect. The proper carry of a 1911 calls for the weapon to be hammer down, and with no round in the chamber.

          The custom of carrying a 1911 cocked with a round in the chamber and the slide lock engaged came about when civilians began using the weapon.

          In military settings, regulations forbid carrying a cocked 1911 and frown upon carrying one with a round in the chamber except in active law enforcement situations or in a combat zone.

          Your Ruger has the same sort of “safety” as does the Colt 1911. which is a transfer bar. This is that is the opposite of the majority of revolvers. My comments on dropped gun discharges were directed to revolvers having a pinned hammer.

          As for your statement about modern revolvers having a safety? I don’t consider a hammer block bar to be a safety any more than I consider the rhythm method to be effective birth control.

  3. when I saw it i thought the kid with the gun had shot her dwarf sister and couldn’t help but be impressed with her post fratricide composure

  4. Seeing as this gun was manufactured in 1894, back in the good old days when the medical profession still regularly used mercury as an ingredient in pharmaceuticals and cocaine was a regular ingredient in soda pop, it’s not surprising that what was considered a salient reason for purchasing almost anything might not ring true to a modern audience. The culture of the time would be as foreign and strange to us as any we can find today in remote corners of the globe. Taking one piece of that culture and examining it in light of modern sensibilities- well, no surprise we think it strange.

  5. Yeah, it won’t hurt you.  Since “they shoot straight and kill,” you’ll be dead before you feel anything. 

  6. “the idea that a father would show a small, untrained child a loaded handgun and say, “Don’t play with this, daughter, but if you do, it won’t hurt you!” is, well, weird.”

    Well, it’s an advert.  Have you ever, I mean EVER, seen an advert in which at least one person is not acting very strangely indeed? 

  7. Should we take this as a sign of the times, everyone was satisfied that children would be unable to fire a new & improved hammerless revolver in the 20s or 10s or whenever, or the typical overblown advertising about which people have always been rightly skeptical — like four out of five doctors smoke Lunggertons, celery enema treatment cures female complaints, etc. ?

  8. I’m not alarmed by this.  It came from a different time when kids probably knew more about guns than kids of today.  It is a creepy execution.  But I think it silly that kids don’t learn about guns younger.  They are fascinated by them and when they find a gun without the proper education, that’s when stupid stuff happens.
    Proportionally speaking, that gun is really small!

    1. Perhaps gun owners could be properly educated to realise that if their gun is where a kid can find it, the stupid stuff’s already happened.

      1. Included in that training should be the topics of “Learn how to control all aspects of reality so your child never comes into contact with a gun outside of your home” and “Since stupid stuff has already happened, let’s not teach our kids how to intelligently asses the situation and walk away to inform a responsible adult. Wait, no let’s teach them just in case.”

    2. My kid was taught about guns in pre-school at the age of 4. We don’t have a gun in the house but it’s good to know in case she comes across one at a friend’s house.

      1.  I remember seeing a piece on TV a few years ago in which kids around that age were shown a gun and told if they ever found one they should never touch it, and immediately notify an adult. The kids all nodded in agreement and it seemed they got the message loud and clear.

        In the next segment, a hidden camera filmed the kids playing in a room and coming across a gun (unloaded, of course) that had been hidden in a drawer. With few or no exceptions, the kids all did the same thing: they picked up the gun, pointed it at their classmates, and pulled the trigger. The ones who were too young to lift the gun steadily still made attempts to pull the trigger, sometimes pointing the gun at themselves.

        I wish somebody would find that video online and post a link to it. It was frightening.

        1. Firearm education should not be limited to “if you find a gun, don’t touch it” (and I assume that isn’t what you’re claiming, kmoser).  It’s a very good policy, of course, but kids tend to have grabby hands.  I also agree with Stooge up top, in that if small children have access to a loaded firearm the stupid stuff has already happened.

          The purpose of gun training, based on my own experience, is how to correctly handle a gun — when one understands the operation and safety aspects, and novelty is not an issue, it should be much easier for a child to handle firearms safely, which should include not touching them at all, when appropriate (which would be frequently). 

          [ETA] I should note that, having been raised in a family that included regular outdoors/hunting/fishing activities, and having been acquainted with firearms at some early age or other, I suspect that people who don’t come out of the same “culture” have a much different perception of guns than I; I also recognize that this is not without reason.

          Also, as long as I’m just chattering away, the next time somebody says “firing a gun makes me feel so powerful!” I may have to apply a purple nurple.

  9. The ad misses the central point that accidental discharge is not the problem, discharge is the problem.  A modern firearm simply will not fire unless you pull the trigger.  The problem with children is they don’t know not to pull the trigger.

    For reflexive firearms-haters (I respect your opinion, but you are wrong), replace “firearm” with “an open second-story window” or “a busy road” or “common household cleaning supplies”.  All are potentially lethal to an unsupervised child, and you shouldn’t leave a child alone in the presence of any of them.

    My opinion: Lock up your firearms.  Keep them away from your children.  When your children are grown, teach them to use firearms safely.

    1. Open second-story windows, busy roads and common household cleaning supplies exist for the sole purpose of killing people?

      1.  No, and neither do guns. Here in Britain it’s illegal to own a gun for self-defence, but I still have friends who own legal guns for target shooting or hunting.
        Even in America (where I have a lot of friends) all the people I know who own guns own them for the purpose of killing animals not killing people.

        1. Context, dude, context! We aren’t talking about sports guns here, this is clearly about ready-to-use guns for threatening deadly force. You wouldn’t usually use a revolver to hunt and neither would you store your hunting rifle fully loaded.

          The statement I replied to would make sense if there were two kinds of cleaning agents in the grocery store: one designed for killing people, one for cleaning drains.

  10. I like a gun ad to have a detail pic so I can see what I’m buying. Guess this is just an art piece and not an ad. Oh wait, it shows it can be bought for 6 bucks… Now I’m totally swayed and forgot all my own values about gun handling/usage. Whoa! That’s amazing how this art changes my values. Not.

  11. It’s irresponsible alright.

    My father told me the truth, rather when I was little:  These are guns I keep here, there and there… They are serious mechanisms, weapons that can kill not toys, do not play with them under any circumstances or show them to anyone, assume they are loaded with a round in the chamber, a fired bullet cannot be recalled and can make big holes in people and “sorry” won’t make it right, don’t ever point them at anything you don’t intend to shoot. Want to touch/clean/take apart/shoot them, ask me I’ll teach you…
    Modern (and every age of the world) homes, and the world outside are full of potentially deadly stuff and the most important part of a children’s education is to teach them that reality is amazing and unforgiving too. Lives: 1. Instant Health Medikits: 0.

  12. Reminds me of a quote from the latest Pinker book,”The reason toddlers don’t kill people with guns and knives is that we don’t give toddlers guns and knives.”

  13. Leon Czolgosz purchased a similar Ivars Johnson gun for $4, and then assassinated President William McKinley in 1901.

      1.  Iver Johnson makes a decent gun in the low end of the mid-priced range. Serviceable and fairly reliable. I’ve had several of their Pony 380 model. They’re a sweet little piece if you’re running Glaser Safety rounds in them. They make an impressive wound channel.


  14. The ad is gruesomely amusing to me for a couple reasons. One, it sounds a bit like it’s aimed at the  parents who might be thinking, “You know, after that fiasco with little Johnny Junior and the Colt, maybe Baby Jane will get a safe Iver Johnson, instead.”

    Two, the graphic depiction makes me think of someone coming upon the scene of a crime, with the child slumped over in her bed, gun placed in the lap, and a feeble explanation hastily scribbled across the child’s nightgown before before the perpetrator skips town.

  15. The only safe gun is an unloaded gun.  A discharge is seldom “accidental” in the newspaper cliche sense that “the gun went off” (what all by itself?).   Most injuries with guns are the result of someone shooting it deliberately in a very stupid manner.   I guess you can call crashing your motorcycle while doing wheelies an “accident,” even though it would be more accurate to call it “inevitable.”

    1.  While an unloaded gun is certainly not going to go off, many if not most negligent discharges (and, sadly, deaths) occur because of “unloaded” guns.

      Americans live in a nation of firearms. Teach your kids firearms safety!

  16. Arms & Cycle Works.  The way drivers abuse cyclists, it’s probably good that you can’t really pop into the LBS to grab a gun for $6 today.

    1. From the old cop show satire “Sledge Hammer”

      LaRue: “Sledge, great news!”
      Sledge:  “You can buy hand guns in vending machines?”
      LaRue:  “What? No!”

    2. Major Taylor rode an Iver Johnson in the 1899 Sprint Cycling World Championship,  becoming the first African-American to win a World title.

      He is one of my all-time heroes.

  17. The thing that most struck me about this ad was that at least the pretty little girl with her dolly was expected to ALSO be interested in guns.

    Today, her room and all her possessions would be pink and housewifely and only her brother would be expected to be interested in guns.

    1.  I wonder whether the gun was one of the small ones designed to be carried in a woman’s purse…

  18. I’m wondering about the “not toys” part. Is it because the revolvers were small or cheap-looking (or actually cheap) so people thought they looked like toy guns?  Or is it because the Iver Johnson Arms and Cycle Works was more known for its bicycles, and people thought of bicycles as toys (but did they in 1896?)

    1. My grandmother found some neighborhood kids playing with an old Sears revolver that was basically rusted solid.  She took it away from them and showed it to me. I remember it as being nickle plated with engraving.  It definitely looked like a 1960s chromed pot metal cap gun. A quick google search and there it is!  Maybe a .32 short.

  19. How do you know the child is untrained?
    Its clearly quite an old advert, 80 years ago it wouldn’t have been uncommon for a child to shoot or even own their own firearm in parts of the nation.
    So, I’ll presume that children back then were more likely than those of today to know “Keep your boogerhook off the bangswitch unless you mean to fire it”… now they’re just told “stop, don’t touch, tell an adult” and the average adult doesn’t know to keep their finger out of the trigger-guard much less how to clear the chamber.

    Wish I could buy a decent revolver for $6 today. At least I will presume that childhood gun ownership was less dangerous to our society than the fiat currency of the private Federal Reserve Banks.

  20. I believe everyone should, when responsible enough, be taught to fire a gun at a shooting range.  I have always been against handguns but that didn’t make me safe; when I first handled a gun I pointed it at people and played with the trigger.  I’ll never forget the first time I was taught to shoot a handgun, well into adulthood.  I was shocked that the top of the gun slides back and can take your hand off if you accidentally have any part of your hands behind the gun.  I’d never learned that from all the movies and TV shows which were my gun education.   Somehow that never comes up when the hero tells his sidekick “I know you’ve never shot a gun but all you do is squeeze the trigger when you see the whites of their eyes.” 

    And smelling the toxic gunpowder fumes after shooting… it becomes clear that this flame-belching, body-kicking thing in your hands is a very serious machine of death, deserving of respect. 

  21. My father spent a few years as a postal inspector (i.e. mail cop) in the late 40’s, early 50’s. He was licensed to carry, but had to purchase his own firearm. He was not given to extravagant spending.

    It was, as my brother and I found out by the time-honored practice of searching our parent’s dressers, an Iver Johnson 32, much like the one shown above, but without the fancy engraving. Yes, it was a .32 short and probably would not have stopped an attacking kitty cat.

    My brother, being the gun nut of the family, sneaked it out one day for some target practice. He later reported that it was the most inaccurate handgun he’d ever tried. Knowing my father (now long passed away) he had it mainly for effect (and to meet job requirements) anyway.

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