One of the most famous holiday movies in U.S. culture centers around a now-controversial plot point: toy guns. In the 1983 film "A Christmas Story," 9-year-old Ralphie begs his mother for a replica weapon — to be specific, a Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle — and gets rebuffed because it's dangerous. "You'll shoot your eye out," his mom warns, and later he nearly does.
More than 30 years later, the world has changed. After the Nov. 13 Paris terror attacks and the Dec. 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, toy industry analysts say parents shopping for Christmas presents are increasingly opting for brightly colored blasters over realistic-looking guns -- or buying no weapons at all. Even as actual gun sales are up, kids and parents seem to be leaving authentic toy versions off their shopping lists.
"Nobody wants anything that looks real," said Richard Gottlieb, founder of Global Toy Group, a consulting service based in New York City. "We like to shoot each other. It's a fantasy play. But it's not to kill somebody -- it's just the joy of hitting a target, particularly when it's your best friend."
Standing in front of a beeping "Star Wars" display at a Target store in Brooklyn, New York, on Thursday morning, Andrea Hilton said her two sons didn't want or need toy guns. She doesn't buy them, and that's a stance she's had for years.
The "Star Wars" lightsabers Hilton was considering buying -- one red, one green -- at least provide for a teaching moment about recognizing good and evil in the world, she said. But overall, her sons aren't allowed to play with toy weapons. "I want my children to remain children for as long as possible," Hilton added.
Children, especially boys, have historically been drawn to toy guns because their fantasies often revolve around the struggle between good guys and bad guys, according to Michael Thompson, child psychologist and coauthor of the book "Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys." Kids look for ways to project their power, and one of the ways they see to do that is by using weapons, he said.
Thompson said there's no link between playing with toy guns and adult violence. "It is pretend, and boys know the difference between reality and pretend," he said.
The Toy Industry Association, a trade group based in New York City, noted that toys themselves don't spread bad behavior. "Quite often, military and other role-play items may help kids work through or cope with what is happening in the world around them through play rather than through outwardly aggressive behavior," the association wrote in a statement on its website.
Data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives showed earlier this year that gun production has more than doubled since 2008, and recent shootings have inspired spikes in sales. Towns in Texas, Iowa, California and Alabama have reported increases amid renewed discussion about guns and terrorism.
However, the toy gun industry has experienced decades of restrictions. In 1989, the federal government passed a law requiring most imitation firearms to have an orange tip marking them as fake. This year, at least seven states saw legislation about toy guns, USA Today reported. A state representative in Pennsylvania proposed a bill that would ban any imitation firearm that isn't white or brightly colored, transparent or translucent, and stamped with its brand, among other requirements. An Ohio lawmaker introduced a bill that would prohibit any BB gun or replica that a "reasonable person" might think is an actual gun, which was the case in the fatal police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland in 2014.
Last month, Boston banned replica handguns in public spaces and allowed police to begin confiscating them from rule-breakers. Disney World announced Thursday -- a day before the new "Star Wars" movie premiered -- that it would start prohibiting toy guns from its Orlando, Florida, theme park.
Melissa Palermo, owner of the Fun-est Toy Store Ever in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, said she's never stocked many toy guns. She said she usually gets a few requests for them, but even those have declined in recent months. "I'm not seeing as much interest in them as I have in the past," she said.
Part of the declining demand for toy guns may be due to the growing lack of options. Toys R Us, which calls itself the leading kids store in the U.S., hasn't sold realistic-looking toy guns since 1994. The chain stopped stocking them after two young boys were shot by New York City police officers who mistook their toy weapons for real ones. Amazon, Walmart and Kmart agreed this year not to sell toy guns that were blue, black or silver, and New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Tuesday that 30 additional online retailers did the same.
These sorts of regulations and changing attitudes about gun control have lead to the rise of toy "blaster" guns, said Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of the product review website Toys, Tots, Pets and More. Blasters tend to be brightly colored and shoot foam projectiles -- think Nerf guns over BB guns, he said.
Barbara Fineblum has seen blasters skyrocket in popularity at her toy store, Barstons Child's Play in Baltimore. She said that while sales of cowboy costume holsters were about the same this year as last year, "Star Wars" and Nerf products "are selling like crazy."
A spokeswoman for Hasbro, which owns Nerf, wrote in an email that global point of sale was up 25 percent this year. The National Retail Federation found that Nerf guns were the No. 9 top toy that boys requested for the holidays, with "Star Wars" -- which features fictional weapons like lightsabers -- coming in at No. 2. LEGOs were No. 1.
Kizzy Green's 12-year-old son Jailen put Nerf guns on his Christmas wish list for the first time this year. Green, who lives in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, said she raised Jailen without toy weapons but has relented now that he's more mature. She still has strict rules, though: No play weapons of any kind are allowed outside the house. Green said she's afraid the police could mistake them for real ones, especially because her son is African-American.
"They're shooting first, asking questions later," Green said. To avoid the issue, she said she plans to get toy guns that look obviously fake. Nothing Army-themed or camouflage makes it into her shopping cart, and bright colors are best. "I buy the most obscene-looking thing I can find," she added.
Other parents and advocates said they didn't want to see kids with toy guns at all. The Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin Inc. recently started a petition urging black mothers and grandmothers to stop buying them. World Against Toys Causing Harm, a Boston nonprofit, declared the $13.99 G.D. Jiefing Toys foam dart gun as one of the top 10 worst toys for 2015.
Joan Siff, the group's president, said she worried children could get eye injuries from projectiles. Also, if a kid is playing outside with an item like a blaster at night, a police officer or neighbor might not see the bright colors. "In general, I think that in this day and age, toy weaponry is something that could be avoided with everything that's going on in the world," Siff said.
Current events drove Danielle Herzog's 4-year-old son, Cooper, to take a gun off his Christmas list. Herzog wrote a blog post for She Knows about how Cooper saw a TV news segment on the San Bernardino shooting, realized the role guns played and then decided he'd rather use a banana -- or his fingers -- instead. Herzog, who lives in Omaha, Nebraska, said she was happy he came to the conclusion on his own.
"My intent was never to have a conversation about mass shootings," she said. Cooper just put the pieces together himself, thinking "I don't like what this toy does in real life, so I don't think I want one," Herzog added.