Nonpowder guns are extremely powerful and continue to cause serious injury and disability

Nonpowder guns - ball-bearing (BB) guns, pellet guns, air rifles, and paintball guns - are extremely powerful and continue to cause serious injury, disability and even death to children and adolescents, according to a new American Academy of Pediatrics technical report "Injury Risk of Nonpowder Guns."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) claim there were approximately 21,840 nonpowder gun-related injuries treated in emergency departments in 2000. Between 1990 and 2000, the CPSC reported 39 nonpowder gun-related deaths, of which 32 were children age 15 and younger

Each year, approximately 3.2 million nonpowder guns are sold in U.S. department stores, including toy stores. The continued popularity of war and paintball games contributes to higher sales and subsequent accidents, especially eye-related injuries.

While nonpowder guns use compressed air instead of gunpowder to launch projectiles, they are often nearly as powerful as traditional firearms. According to the CPSC, 80 percent of nonpowder guns have muzzle velocities (the speed at which the object leaves the gun) at 350 to 450 feet per second, and 50 percent between 500 and 930 feet per second. A traditional firearm pistol has a muzzle velocity of 750 feet per second to 1,450 per second. Eye penetration can occur at a muzzle velocity of just 130 feet per second.

Of the reported nonpowder gun injuries in 2000, approximately 12 percent were to the eye, 24 percent to the head and neck, 63 percent were to extremities, and 1 percent was to other body areas. Most victims were males.

Technical report data suggests that a lack of supervision and unstructured use may contribute to the injury risk from nonpowder guns.

The report suggests that nonpowder gun injuries should receive prompt medical attention, similar to that associated with firearm injuries. Eye protective devices (EPDs) may be useful in decreasing but not fully eliminating eye-related injuries associated with paintball use.

Nonpowder guns, according to the report, are weapons and should never be characterized as toys.

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