Armed and Innocent (1994): Young Gun

Dave checks out a sturdy made-for-TV message movie that’s buoyed by two very different stars.

Tragedy strikes in this CBS slice of primetime.

When eleven year-old Chris Holland (Andrew Starnes) is left home alone for the first time by parents Bobby Lee (Gerald McRaney) and Patsy (Kate Jackson), the family pad is raided by three intruders. Terrified, Chris reaches for the thing that he’s been told will keep him safe – his father’s gun. Firing shots at random, the youngster kills two-thirds of the nefarious trespassers but one escapes, leaving Chris trapped in a whirlwind of trauma and at the mercy of Bobby Lee and Patsy’s differing solutions to his problems.

Airing on 4th January 1994 and produced by Christy Welker, the wife of CBS president Jeff Sagansky, it would be easy to shrug off ARMED AND INNOCENT as a puff piece that panders to the left-leaning Hollywood elite. An element of that is correct, certainly as far as the picture’s politics go – but there’s an on-screen tension that bleeds into the reality of its ideologically opposed leads.

Former Charlie’s Angels star Jackson made her thoughts on firearms clear to the Los Angeles Daily News just prior to Armed and Innocent‘s debut:

“Anybody who kills another person with a gun must take responsibility for the act. The dilemma is what happens when the shooter is not a bad guy.” [1]

For long-standing gun carrier McRaney, Armed and Innocent‘s script (by Danielle Hill and tenuously based on a true story) must have been a challenge – even if Jackson insists that their respective beliefs didn’t get in the way:

“We didn’t get into the politics of gun control,” insisted the actress. “We walked away from it and made the movie.” [1]

McCraney – who hit it big in the ‘80s with an eight-season run on private detective drama Simon & Simon – was a proud member of the National Rifle Association and had appeared alongside his ex co-star, Jameson Parker, in a commercial where they declared “I’m the NRA!” [2]. Armed and Innocent casts him to type. Bobby Lee basks in the adoration of his primitive neighbours (“I’d like to shake your hand. You raised a fine young boy”) and shrugs off his wife’s insistence that their son receive counselling.

Thankfully for Chris, he finds understanding in a friend’s father, Vietnam veteran Lonnie (Cotter Smith), who explains how the boy’s dad comes from a generation where people were taught to handle things themselves. It’s a poignant moment in the film – albeit one that’s over too soon as director Jack Bender’s desire for a pacy narrative diminishes the emotional fallout. Nevertheless, Armed and Innocent is still capable of delivering a gut punch, with even Ray Loynd of The Los Angeles Times remarking how “this anti-gun drama packs a stinging theme over the psychological price of keeping guns in the home.” [3]

Armed and Innocent‘s message was diluted by U.K. distributor Odyssey Video who bafflingly referenced Home Alone (1990) on their VHS art so it was never likely to have the impact of something more contemporary like Judd Ehrlich’s powerhouse documentary, The Price of Freedom (2021). However, for U.S. audiences – i.e. those in a country where more than three-hundred civilians are shot on any given day – Armed and Innocent is a flawed but fascinating piece of telepic history; a disobedient middle finger in the direction of an all too powerful lobby.

USA ● 1994 ● Drama, TVM ● 93mins

Kate Jackson, Gerald McRaney, Andrew Starnes, Dru Mouser, Cotter Smith ● Dir. Jack Bender ● Wri. Danielle Hill

[1] Los Angeles Daily News, 4th January 1994.
[2] Incidentally, shortly before Armed and Innocent was made, Parker was shot outside his home in Studio City following a dispute with a neighbour over dog waste.
[3] TV Review by Ray Loynd, Los Angeles Times, 4th January 1994.

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