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Growing number of injuries from air guns

NRA, doctors recommends all safety precautions be followed

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There was a time when 12-year-old Joshua Schermerhorn was worried he would lose sight in his left eye.  He severely injured it with an Airsoft rifle.

"I was scared to

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death, it was so painful," Joshua said. "I thought I was either gonna be blind or die."

Joshua was at a friend's house when it happened.  He saw the Airsoft gun on a dresser.   Thinking it was a foam pellet gun, Joshua picked it up, and nicked the trigger by mistake. The bullet ricocheted off his nose and hit his eye - just missing his cornea.

"It looked pretty bad at first. He couldn't even open his eye.  And I thought

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for sure he was gonna lose his eye or be blind," said Joshua's mom, Nicole Schermerhorn.

A recent study by the Stanford University School of Medicine found injuries in children from non-powder firearms which include paintball guns, Airsoft guns, BB guns and pellet guns, are up more than 500-percent from just a few years ago.    

Ophthalmologist Dr. Rick Whitehead, with the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology, says he has seen this increase in injuries - firsthand.

"These guns are surprisingly popular," said Whitehead. "There has

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been a significant increase in marketing to kids."

Whitehead says injuries can range from relatively minor to very serious.

"Probably the worst injury I've seen are injuries that damage the retina. Because that retina is so thin and fragile, any time you have an injury to it, it can permanently damage it," Whitehead explained.

While some states have stricter regulations, under federal law, Airsoft guns are not classified as firearms.

"In Florida, with Airsoft weapons, they're sort of treated like BB Guns. 16:49 They are not considered full weapons like a handgun so kids are allowed to play with them," said News4Jax Crime

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and Safety Analyst Gil Smith.

Smith says it really comes down to the parents.

"I recommend the parents get the manual out with the kids. Let them understand how the weapon operates," he added.

Jeremy Greene with the National Rifle Association echoes this sentiment. He says parents should treat air rifles and BB guns like any firearm.

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"Making sure to sit down and go over the owners' manual, making sure to use the proper ammunition for the air rifle that is suggested, and making sure the parent talks about gun safety rules with their child before they ever fire an air rifle," Greene explained.

The NRA and doctors agree: Once a family owns one of these guns, eye protection, safe storage and proper training are a must.

"Frequently, the ski goggles can be

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used, or a similar paintball type mask-these will give you full facial protection," Whitehead advised.

Smith emphasizes it is very important to make sure kids are aware of gun safety, no matter what.

"I would strongly recommend that parents supervise the kids and be with them when they are playing with these weapons," said Smith. "Also, go over gun safety  with them as though it is a legal weapon, they need to know the dangers and properly use the weapons."

Joshua recovered his full eyesight, but he does now have a form of glaucoma, and will need to go back for eye pressure checkups every year for the rest of his life.

The National Rifle Association offers several entry level gun training classes for children and parents.  For more information go to http://youth.nra.org/.