Why aren’t firearms seen in modern comedic cartoons?

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The newest batch of Looney Tunes cartoons (actually named “Looney Tunes Cartoons”) made news recently over a report that there won’t be any firearms in the shorts. The cartoons’ producer, Peter Browngardt, states that the Looney Tunes’ other trademark elements will remain:

“We’re not doing guns,” Peter Browngardt, the executive producer and showrunner of the series, told the New York Times in a recent interview. “But we can do cartoony violence — TNT, the Acme stuff. All that was kind of grandfathered in.”

Yosemite Sam will also lose his iconic double pistols in the series. Neither Browngardt nor WarnerMedia, HBO Max’s parent company, have explicitly stated the reason for the decision to drop guns from the series.

An example of this is shown in one of the shorts. Elmer Fudd is seen chasing Bugs with various other weaponry, including a scythe:

Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny
Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny from “Looney Tunes Cartoons.” (Warner Bros.)

Of course, some conservative media outlets and online users grumbled about “political correctness” ruining classic cartoons. However, aside from Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam (who until now were, well, grandfathered in in Looney Tunes revivals), firearms have largely been disposed of in comedic cartoons. Police officer characters (who have their own problems currently) might be seen with only clubs. Soldiers, government agents, and the like might use futuristic phasers or other laser-based weaponry (or grenades, missile launchers, etc.). Cowboys might use something besides pistols as weapons, just wear empty holsters, and/or rely on lassos Wonder Woman-style.

Even some action cartoons have shied away from realistic firearms, though there’s some exceptions: Tommy gun-wielding mobsters, bank robbers, cartoons set in the Old West, cartoons aimed at adults, etc.

Still, the average comedic cartoon nowadays isn’t likely to show characters using realistic guns. Below, I offer some guesses why this is the case.

Parents’ groups and anti-violence backlash

In the late 1960s, some parents’ groups, such as Action for Children’s Television, were campaigning against violence in children’s TV programming, along with less commercialization. Part of this was aimed at the superhero and action shows that were popular in the mid-60s.

Such campaigns (plus ongoing changing tastes) led to less violent programming emerging, starting in 1968 with shows like “Wacky Races” and “The Archie Show.” This led in 1969 to the biggest hit of this new wave of programming, “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” (which I’ve written about before). These new cartoons had few or no firearms, yet were still entertaining.

This anti-violence backlash peaked in the cartoons of the 1970s. As animation fans know, theatrical cartoons (like Looney Tunes) saw made-for-TV edits for content starting in the late 60s, including to some uses of guns. While anti-violence bans eased up in the 1980s (as seen in action cartoons like “GI Joe” or “Transformers,” or “Batman: The Animated Series” in the 90s), the use of realistic firearms never really recovered.

Real life events and changing attitudes toward guns

Real life events likely also fed into changing attitudes toward firearms. As anyone who’s paid attention to history knows, 1968 was a very turbulent year, which saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. The US’ involvement in the Vietnam War also peaked around 1968. All of this might’ve made seeing firearms in cartoons (or realistic violence of the superhero/action show variety) less appealing in the late 1960s.

Recent years in particular have also seen a rise in mass shootings. Numerous shootings have occurred  at public schools, gay nightclubs, movie theaters, and so on. All of this doesn’t help sell the case for gags about realistic firearms in modern cartoons.

Most children’s cartoons since the 70s star kids, not adults

As I wrote in a previous post, most Western children’s cartoons since the 1970s have shifted to starring children or teenagers, not adults.

Adults like Elmer Fudd or Wile E. Coyote using guns might be OK; Yosemite Sam had his pistols in the previous Looney Tunes shorts made in the 2010s. However, the idea of Timmy Turner, Jimmy Neutron, or Lincoln Loud carrying a realistic pistol wouldn’t sit well with most modern viewers (or their network).

Similar gags can be done using dynamite, TNT, etc.

Finally, most gags in classic cartoons about guns usually involve their blowing up in the characters’ faces. See the classic “hunting trilogy” of Looney Tunes shorts featuring Bugs, Daffy, and Elmer Fudd, for instance, or a single bullet blowing up Wile E. Coyote (somehow).

Fortunately, other long-standing cartoon gags can fill the need for something blowing up: dynamite, TNT, time bombs, missiles, etc. See the 90s Warner Bros. cartoons like “Animaniacs” or “Tiny Toon Adventures,” where the characters got a ton of mileage out of dynamite or cannons.


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