1980s Cap Guns.. When Boys Could Be Boys

It never ceases to amaze me how toys evolve as society changes. When you think about it, it's a great gauge to see how far we've come (or in some cases taken a step back) as a culture. Case in point, cap guns.

Flintlock Musket Cap Gun
 Flintlock musket mini cap gun

The first cap gun I ever owned was exactly like this one. It was a pirate musket with a cool skull and cross bones on the handle. As you can see, there was a key chain attached to the cap gun (something us kids immediately removed after the package was opened). My parents wouldn't allow me to play with toy guns when I was a kid. In fact, they begrudgingly allowed me to play with water guns. I found my way around this obstacle by using my allowance to buy my first cap gun off of the black market.

My supplier came in the form of a 4th grade elementary school friend named Jeff. One day at recess, Jeff showed me a cool little snub nose cap gun that he had tucked away in his sock. It was all of two inches long and had very impressive detailing. We walked around the backside of the cement dodgeball wall, where Jeff raised the tiny pistol in the air and pulled the trigger. The loaded cap gun exploded loudly, and it kind of shocked us both. We slowly peeked around the corner, and the playground monitor Mrs. Lupsack, was scanning the crowds of kids to see if she could get a bead on what brat was packing heat in the form of a cap gun. She turned and walked the opposite direction towards some boys who were playing around a tire fort. We were safe, so we cautiously ducked back behind the wall.

Jeff surprised me yet again when he pulled a fresh ring of plastic caps from his sock. He twisted off one cap to reload his gun with, and placed the ring remaining caps back in his sock. Pulling the hammer away from the gun, he removed the freshly fired cap and handed it to me. I could smell the aroma of freshly burnt gunpowder, as I intensely examined the spent ammo. I immediately began to covet Jeff's little cap gun and woefully explained my misfortune of having "goody two shoes" parents who wouldn't let me have cool toys like this. Still looking down at his gun, he said:

"I can get you one if you want"

"Really!?! How?" I excitedly responded.

"There's a gas station right behind my house that sells them. My mom lets me go there all the time to buy candy and stuff."

"Cool!  How much do they cost?"

"One Dollar"

"I'll bring you the money tomorrow, I promise!"

That night I raided my Mickey Mouse bank and withdrew one dollar for Jeff. I knew the mini cap gun surely cost less than one dollar, but I didn't care. Even at that young of an age, I understood the concept of a finders fee. I brought him five bright shiny quarters the next day, so he had more motivation not to forget. By the weekend, I had my very own mini cap gun. A mini pirate musket on the end of a keychain. I immediately removed the keychain once I got home and ran to the corner convenience store to buy some ammo. I spent that weekend scaring ducks and fish at the lakes behind my house. I felt like a real big shot.

Luger Cap Gun
 A mini Luger cap gun
I bought this after my musket broke in 1980.

In 1983, I moved onto this bigger cap gun pictured below..

38' Snub Nose Revolver cap gun

Yes my friends, this is a toy.  My buddy gave this to me when he upgraded to a PPK Walther (007's trademark gun). The gun didn't look this realistic when I first got it however. I used my model airplane paint to give the black handle some color, changed the cylinder from gray to black, and painted the faux safety latch silver. After all, your toy gun needs to look just like a real gun right? It was quite the upgrade from my single shot mini cap guns, as this pistol had a revolving barrel that held an entire ring of eight plastic caps.

Go to the toy store nowadays and see how many cap guns you can find that are any color besides neon orange or white. Cap guns that look as realistic as this one just aren't available off of the store rack any longer, and with good reason. I would never let my kids play with a toy like this, but for entirely different reasons than my parents. Heck, I personally would never tote this toy around anywhere besides the confines of my home. Things sure have changed since the 80s.

SUPER BANG Mini Cap PistolThis is a mini cap gun I bought a couple of months ago for old times sake. It's the exact same brand as the ones we used to buy as kids. Notice the way cool leather-ish key chain holster. Look at the bottom of the gun handle as well.  There is still a round eye that was meant to be used as the key chain attachment.  These little cap guns literally haven't changed in over 30 years! Actually, I do see one small change, and that's the neon orange cap on the barrel of the gun, which any self respecting kid will indubitably remove as soon as they open the package.

In the summer of 1983, I spent the night at my friends house on a Friday night. On Saturday we invited our buddies over for a good old fashioned game of war. At 1:00 in the afternoon we all converged at the neighborhood playground with our cap guns in hand. The premise for the war game was spy versus spy, Russians against American's. If you got shot (we had a strong honor system) you had to lie perfectly still on the ground for one minute. When your time was up, you had five seconds to take cover before anyone could start firing at you again. 

About an hour into our game, a couple of policemen patrolling the park totally took us by surprise. We all noticed the officers approaching us at almost the exact same moment. We were all sure that neighbors may have complained about the noise emitting from our cap guns. We all gathered around and readied ourselves to get a good scolding.

The first officer said 
"How are you boys doing today?"

We all squeaked out a collective "fine" 
and awaited reprimand. 
"What kind of gun do you have there son?"

"A PPK Walther" my friend Dave said

The officer then turned to me and said "you?"

"A snub nose 38" I replied.

Everyone took turns sharing the models of their guns, and once again waited for a stern reprimand. Instead, I noticed the first officer warmly smiling as a proud father would, while the second officer patted a couple of us on the shoulder and said "All right boys, you have fun and stay out of trouble today okay?"

We all stood there, affirmatively nodding our heads as the officers left to continue their patrol through the park. All of us talked for a few minutes about the cool policemen, and how we thought they were going to yell at us for being too loud. Just to be safe, we waited until they were out of ear shot and resumed playing.

After the policemen event, our senses were more in tune with what was going on around us in the park. As we were in the midst of a raging shootout, we noticed others approaching the playground. It was a group of four or five girls walking our way. We all quickly jumped up, dusted ourselves off, ran our "Goody" and "Ace" brand pocket combs through our hair, and quickly stashed the cap guns. We all lined up against the playground equipment trying to look our coolest. We threw some greetings their way as they sauntered past, and felt pretty proud of ourselves for doing so. This was the last war game any of us ever played together. Yes my friends, 1983 was quite a year.  It was the year I finally decided I liked girls more than Star Wars (and cap guns).

This story makes me realize just how different society is now compared to the 80s. So many kids have been shot by policemen over the years for holding or pointing realistic looking toy guns. Now, first person shooter video games have nearly replaced our old strategic war games that made us use our imagination, and bred creativity. Many parents don't want their kids playing with toy guns for the violence aspect, but I don't see how video games with blood and gore are a better alternative.

If you're itching to relive your youth, I actually found these retro items below on Amazon. I actually bought a set of the Ray Gun water pistols just for fun. Two ray guns come in one box, and they've been a lot of fun in the pool!

Retro Cap Gun and Water Pistols I found on Amazon..

I swear those mini keychains above are the exact ones I bought as a kid. I think companies keep acquiring the rights to them and selling them under different names. Whatever the case, its always nice to see remnants of my childhood still available to this day.