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
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.
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