Those who have seen A Christmas Story will be familiar with the classic taunt, “You’ll shoot your eye out, you’ll shoot your eye out!” The line refers to the young protagonist’s dream of owning a Red Ryder BB gun — a dream which is repeatedly squashed by adults who think the toy is simply too dangerous for a child to handle. Of course, when the protagonist finally does receives the gun, he promptly shoots himself in the eye exactly as his mother predicted.
It’s a funny scene from a comedy film; but in real life, the end result is often significantly worse than a reddened eye and a few tears of embarrassment. Despite their classification as “toys” and insistence that they’re “not really guns,” BB guns meant for youthful play manage to cause numerous gunshot accidents and personal injury every year. In extreme cases, BB and pellet guns can even kill.
BB Guns Can Fire at 550 Feet/Second, While 200 Feet/Second Can Fracture Bone
Pellet and BB guns are often lumped together. In fact, they are separate devices. Pellet and BB guns use compressed air to fire projectiles, and are also known as air guns for that reason, though the ammunition used for each is not always interchangeable.
BB guns can fire at speeds of up to 550 feet per second. Pellet guns can be even more powerful with speeds approaching 1,000 feet per second.
Those are mildly interesting figures, but they mean little without some point of reference for injury. Human skin — far thinner and softer than most animal hides — can be punctured by ammunition traveling at just 150 feet per second. Increase the speed to 200 feet per second — an increase of only 50 feet per second — and the potential for injury escalates to fractured bone. Injury can happen faster than a car accident.
Fortunately, BB ammunition loses considerable strength relative to distance, and jeans or other tough materials can be sufficient protection against penetration outside the range of about two dozen meters.
Unfortunately, that says nothing about the power of BB and pellet guns used at close range — and children using their guns usually are at close range, because they are playing together. This social context of BB and pellet guns means the already-present risk of injury and death is increased.
CHOP Reports 7,000 Air Gun Injuries Treated Every Year
Pellet and BB gun injuries can either be direct hits, or hits from ammunition bouncing off of nearby surfaces like rocks and trees. In both cases, the damage can be devastating.
Before we continue, take a moment to guess how many children are admitted to the hospital for air gun injuries each year. Would you estimate a few dozen? A few hundred? Maybe one or two thousand, at most?
According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), in 2005 nearly 7,000 children were taken to emergency rooms for medical treatment for air gun injuries. Averaged out, that’s nearly 20 incidents every day, or almost one incident per hour.
The numbers balloon dramatically when you expand the patient base to include adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report a yearly average of roughly 30,000 BB gun injuries in the United States alone. About 95% of those injuries represent wounds sustained from ammunition, though a small handful of injuries are the result of cuts or blunt strikes from the actual gun itself.
As of 1995, the CDC stated, “3.2 million nonpowder guns are sold in the United States each year; 80% of these have muzzle velocities greater than 350 feet per second and 50% have velocities from 500 fps to 930 fps… At close range, projectiles from many BB and pellet guns, especially those with velocities greater than 350 fps, can cause tissue damage similar to that inflicted by powder-charged bullets fired from low-velocity conventional firearms. Injuries associated with use of these guns can result in permanent disability or death.”
BB Guns Can Kill Small Children
Injury seems believable enough; but do BB guns honestly kill?
They can. And sadly, they have.
In March of 2010, 11-year-old Dallas Barnes and his 16-year-old uncle were playing with their BB guns in Louisville, Kentucky. Barnes died after a single BB fired by the older boy pierced his chest and heart. It was called a tragic accident, and no charges were filed; but it’s a somber reminder of the damage these dangerous toys can really inflict.
The gun in question was a Daisy Pump BB Rifle.
“I don’t think anyone realized the nature of what this rifle could do,” said Louisville Metro PD Detective Barry Wilkerson. “They were playing all day.”
Barnes’ young age contributed to his death. In an older person, the sternum would have been been harder, and a greater thicknesses of fat and muscle would have stood between ammunition and heart. But for a small, still-developing child, a single pellet proved deadly.
This qualifier is not reassuring — just the opposite. According to the CDC’s 1995 report, “Most of these guns are intended for use by persons aged 8 to 18 years.” Unless they are a collector or a hobbyist, most adults will simply purchase a “real” gun for themselves. BB guns are meant for children.
Firearms expert Ken Pagano of Bluegrass Indoor Range cautions parents and enthusiasts alike against the overlooked — and underestimated — capabilities of all guns. “If you come across any type of gun: stop,” he says. “Don’t touch it. Leave the area and tell an adult. Everybody needs to know that, as surely as they need to know how to dial 911, don’t take candy from a stranger, stop drop and roll. That message needs to get out more.”
Work with a Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer of The Reiff Law Firm
If you or someone you love was seriously hurt by a BB gun, pellet gun, or air rifle, you may have a personal injury claim. To speak privately in a free consultation with an experienced attorney, call the law offices of Pennsylvania firm The Reiff Law Firm at (215) 246-9000, or contact us online.