MONDAY, Nov. 1, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The nation's largest group of pediatricians has issued a warning that "toy" weapons -- air rifles and guns that shoot BBs, pellets and paintballs -- are potentially deadly and shouldn't be marketed as playthings.
That they are not traditional firearms is no reason to consider them safe, according to an alert by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"They haven't been sold with the idea that they're dangerous. They're sold as toys," said report co-author Dr. M. Denise Dowd, chief of injury prevention at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.
Dowd and her colleagues studied statistics about "non-powder guns" -- so named because they rely on the force of compressed air or carbon dioxide, not ignited gunpowder.
The findings appear in the November issue of Pediatrics.
According to federal statistics, emergency room doctors treated 21,840 injuries caused by the air-powered guns in 2000. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 39 deaths due to the guns from 1990 to 2000; 32 were among children aged 15 or younger.
The commission says 80 percent of the guns can shoot rounds at a speed of at least 350 to 450 feet per second. Half of them shoot rounds at 500 to 1,000 feet a second, putting them into a league with traditional firearm pistols.
"A lot of them will go as fast as what you'd shoot out of a .22 caliber rifle," Dodd said.
According to her, people don't realize the danger of the guns. "We see a lot of little kids who run around with BB guns and shoot at each other. People think little BBs [ball-bearings] or pellets can't go through the skull or the tissue in the brain, but they're wrong because they can."
The alert comes less than two weeks after Boston police killed a woman with a pellet gun that, while certainly not sold as a toy, operates on the same principle.
On Oct. 21, soon after the Boston Red Sox defeated the New York Yankees to capture the American League pennant, a celebratory crowd became unruly outside Fenway Park. Police used pellet guns to subdue the out-of-control revelers, but one round hit an Emerson College student in the eye, killing her.
The academy's alert has nothing to do with the death of the student. However, the weapons described in the group's report, like the pellet gun used by the Boston police, are also widely considered to be hardly a deadly threat even though they also use compressed air. Indeed, the college student was killed by a pepper-spray round from a pellet gun that went through her skull.
Dodd said the emergency room at her hospital sees about one injury from an air-powered gun each week, especially in the summer. "In general, they're puncture-type injuries, penetrating injuries to the arms, legs, and to the chest or abdomen. Those tend to be really serious. The [rounds] can enter the abdominal cavity, which means they have to go to surgery."
Eye injuries are also common, and can lead to permanent loss of vision, she said. The report added that while eye protection lowers the risk of injury to people playing paintball games, they don't eliminate it entirely.
Dodd recommends that parents supervise their children when they use the guns and make sure they're only firing at targets. Users of BB guns should also wear eye protection and only fire at targets. "That's safe," she said. "But that's not usually the case with kids being shot by BB guns. They're usually out playing with the BB guns by themselves."
She also called for stricter laws about sales of the guns to young children. "They're not toys, they're weapons," she said.
Learn about the regulations regarding non-powder guns from Legal Community Against Violence.