How to Shoot your Eye Out

Raplhie: A Christmas Story

I've probably seen A Christmas Story a thousand times, even before TBS put it on an endless holiday loop, but to this day I have no idea what “you'll shoot your eye out” really means. One minute Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) is shooting at Black Bart and the next minute he's on the ground.

The story, of course, revolved around Ralphie who wanted nothing more than a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas and is thwarted around every turn. But in A Christmas Story, the phrase “you'll shoot your eye out” is such a common place warning that its along the lines of “tie you shoes” or “don't run with scissors.” His mom said it, his teacher said it, a department store Santa said it. Was it that common? In the 30's and 40's, were eyeballs just popping out left and right? Were the streets littered with the eyes of BB gun accident victims? The Great Depression, of course, referring to all the sunken in eye sockets.

I understand all the stats and figures of Christmas related eye gouging. Toys with points are dangerous, toys with projectiles are dangers, toys with small pointy projectiles are doubly dangerous. But are they more of a danger to the child or the child's little brother who's just standing their like a dumb goon practically asking to have his eye poked out? My point being projectiles are designed to move away from the projector, and while a projectee is very much in harms way, the projector is relatively safe. Of course, accidents do happen, and some kid will inevitably find a way to shoot his or her own eye out, but you can't warn about a freak accident because that's why it's an accident (as in it is unforeseeable). Saying don't shoot your eye out is like saying don't get struck by lightning. Still there are several plausible “shoot your eye out” scenarios in A Christmas Story:



As a kid I've shot air rifles at paper plates, tin cans, birds, the dirt, rocks, metal fences, trees, straight up in the air, apples on the heads of small neighborhood children, basically anything that could be shot at was shot at. I was the Rambo of BB guns. And while I've never managed to hit any of these targets, I've also never managed to have a BB ricochet back at me either.

Are we suppose to believe that all these adults were warning Ralphie about a magic BB? A magic BB that bounced off the target, off the roof, headed downward toward Ralphie at an angle of 17 degrees, then moved upward—where it waited exactly 1.6 seconds, turned right and continued into Ralphie's left eye. And if this was the case, if this was what the entire town was truly scared of happening, his cover story about the BB hitting an icicle was essentially the same principle except instead of the BB ricocheting back into his eye, it ricocheted into a far more deadly icicle which then plunged toward his eye.



It's impossible to gauge how much force is precisely needed to dislodge an eyeball. It depends on the eye socket size and relative depth of the eyeball, and the size, shape, and speed of the object hitting the eye, in this case the Red Ryder BB gun as it recoiled into Ralphie's cheek. Recoil is a matter of caliber size of bullet vs the weight of gun, so a large caliber on a small gun creates a huge kick back. A BB has virtually no size at all (it's like firing a piece of lint), and a BB gun is incredibly heavy by comparison creating virtually no recoil. So, unless Ralphie's eye was already partially hanging out of his face then the Red Ryder's minor recoil was probably not the cause.

Around the World

Around the World

Most BB's probably top out at about 200 yards, but given the right circumstances, the right angle, the right trajectory, what if the BB was able to achieve escape velocity from the atmosphere and travel around the world? It's conceivable then for Ralphie to fire his BB gun into the air, for that BB to travel around the planet, then hit Ralphie on its way back. Completely plausible. My only problem with this is that if it takes a bullet about 2 seconds to travel a mile, and it would take that same bullet over 13 hours to travel the circumference of the Earth (that's, of course, if it maintained that same speed the whole time). That's for a bullet shot from a high caliber rifle, too, a much slower moving BB would take even longer. Now I'm more than willing to believe firing a BB that travels around the world, but Ralphie standing in the same place over 13 hours later is a little hard to swallow.



The Red Ryder model BB gun was well known for opening wormholes through the fabric of space and time. The problem with wormholes though is that they can reopen just about anywhere—the Alpha Quadrant, in the middle of a Peacekeeper dogfight, the Kaliem galaxy on the far side of the known universe—this means it's even possible for the wormhole to reopen right in front of Ralphie's face. Space was actually folded in such a way that Ralphie was facing himself. Also, given the unpredictable nature of wormholes it's entirely possible for the portal to open up into a parallel mirror universe, where Ralphie's evil doppelganger (Ralphie 2) just so happens to be pointing his evil Red Ryder at Ralphie 1. Ralphie 1 shoots Ralphie 2 and vice versa. This same unpredictable nature though makes it difficult to calculate the odds of this cosmetic event actually occuring, however, it does seem like the most plausible explanation of shooting his own eye out.

Maybe, though shooting your eye out is inevitable and instead of cryptic warnings, it might be better for parents to just invest in eye patches.

  • Pingu
    Comment from: Pingu
    12/20/10 @ 03:15:11 pm

    Shooting right around the world - lovely concept, but our hero’s eye would need to be several miles above ground level, I suspect. In order for the bb to not fall to earth in its delicate dance with gravity, it will have to enter an orbit markedly higher than eye height, which is a big ask indeed. I suggest that could make the dullest ever episode of Mythbusters.

  • Anna
    Comment from: Anna
    12/20/10 @ 08:21:14 pm

    I was shooting at paper targets in a chain-link fence once, and I kid you not, the bb managed to hit the damn chain link, bounce back, and hit me in the face, narrowly missing my eye. I was shocked at first, then fell to the ground in hysterical laughter, because all I could hear in my head was “You’ll shoot your eye out, you’ll shoot your eye out!”

  • Jonathan  Barnes
    Comment from: Jonathan Barnes
    12/30/10 @ 09:30:15 pm

    I am a new reader, and your posts are amazing the crap out of me. Props on your “interesting” logic and wonderful illustrations, did you make these yourself?

  • fewf
    Comment from: fewf
    01/28/11 @ 04:28:24 am

    I swear that this happened to me as a kid. I had a pump action air rifle back then. I was shooting it in my basement into a box full of newspaper. That thing worked great for catching the bb’s so I wasn’t wearing any safety glasses. Then I got the bright idea, “I wonder if I can embed a bb into a 2x4.” I smart enough to know that there was a POSSIBILITY of ricochet, so I put my safety glasses on for this one. I pumped it up real good and took the shot. The bb bounced off the 2x4 and hit me dead center on the glass of the safety glasses. I almost crapped myself and always made sure to wear the safety glasses after that.

  • Buster
    Comment from: Buster
    12/06/12 @ 07:07:02 am

    BBs will bounce off of targets. Pellets don’t.

  • Dicknose
    Comment from: Dicknose
    12/23/12 @ 11:38:03 am

    For whatever reason, mothers seem to think every kid is marksman enough to shoot out an eyeball at 60 yards…

  • C Dog Cat
    Comment from: C Dog Cat
    12/18/13 @ 08:45:03 am

    You’ve covered every possible angle, even the Kennedy ‘two shooter’ theory and the icicle. What you didn’t cover, of course, was language.

    The clue to this problem is Ralphie’s (hot to trot) teacher, Miss Shields. I know some might think I’m joking when I say ‘hot to trot’, but I actually have a thing for female characters in minor, supporting roles of the ‘I’m in a famous movie but I’m not out of your league’ variety. This includes Ralphie’s mom who, sadly, there are no internet nudes of, so don’t waste your time looking.

    Anyway, as we all know this story is narrated by Ralph himself, who believes himself to be the next Hemmingway at an early age though we, and Miss Shields, know he can hardly put together a coherent sentence, much less a ‘theme’.

    So we’re seeing this movie and events through the eyes of Ralphie, the non-writer with a limited grasp of the language. We laugh off most of his over-the-top antics and fantasies but here’s where we make our mistake that leads to the misinterpretation. He’s telling us everyone tells him ‘you’ll shout YOUR eye out, kid’ when what likely is everyone was telling him, ‘you’ll shoot MY out, kid’.

    If he can’t spell and he’s prone to exaggeration who’s to say he’s telling us the story ipso facto? And, of course, ‘you’ll shoot your eye out’ makes no sense, as you’ve aptly demonstrated- but no one questions it. Perhaps they already understand he’s really means ‘you’ll shoot MY out, kid’, but I think I have to make it clear for those who don’t:

    Little Ralphie Parker is a little liar and his dad’s potty mouth was the reason all he got for Christmas was a can of car wax and bowling ball on the nuts. Oh yeah, and his mom and the teacher are hot. Don’t chase after women who are untouchable- they’re usually damaged goods anyway. Take the low-hanging fruit.