Nonpowder Gunshot Injuries
Dr. Amy Movius
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
When you hear someone’s been shot, you probably think first of violent crime, such as that which occurred in Arizona recently, or maybe a hunting accident. What you probably don't think about is an injury from a “nonpowder” gun, such as a pellet or BB gun. Despite being thought of more as “toys” than weapons, injuries from these guns can be deadly.
Millions of nonpowder guns are sold every year. Non powder guns use the energy of compressed air to launch a projectile (pellet, BB, paintball) rather than the energy generated by burning gunpowder. One of the main factors in injuries caused by guns is the speed at which the ammunition travels – be it bullet, BB, or pellet. The muzzle velocity of nonpowder “air guns” can range from 150ft/second to 1200ft/second; traditional firearm pistol velocities range from 750ft/second to 1450ft/second. Basically, the higher velocity air guns can produce projectile speeds equal to those seen with some pistols. About half of the air guns sold have muzzle velocities greater than 500ft/second. The typical air gun involved in an injury is a rifle that was received as a gift. More than half the cases were unintentional, with the victim coming into the line of fire. Other circumstances included firing while loading, misfiring, or playing with a gun thought to be unloaded.
The entry wound made by a nonpowder gun often appears deceptively trivial. However, tens of thousands of injuries from these guns are seen in emergency rooms each year. About 4% require hospitalization and deaths do occur. Before the introduction of high-powered air rifles in 1972 only 2 nonpowder gun deaths had ever been reported; there are now about 4 deaths/yr reported. Most injuries and deaths are seen in pre-teens and teens. Injuries to the head and chest are most often associated with serious injury, disability, or death. About half of patients hospitalized with an air gun injury require surgery. Eye injuries are also common with air guns and a particular problem with paintballs. Lack of adult supervision, use of a nonpowder gun for a purpose other than target practice and being at a friend’s home or yard are all risk factors for injury.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has published the following conclusions regarding nonpowder guns:
1. These guns pose a serious risk of injury, permanent disability and even death.
2. The range of muzzle velocities for these guns overlaps velocities reached by traditional firearms.
3. Lack of supervision and unstructured use may be risk factors for injury.
4. Injuries should receive prompt medical management similar to the management of firearm related injuries.
5. NONPOWDER GUNS ARE WEAPONS AND SHOULD NEVER BE CHARACTERIZED AS TOYS.
Laraque et al. Injury Risk of Nonpowder Guns. American Academy of Pediatrics Technical Report, Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention. Pediatrics 2004; 114:1357-1361