Eye injuries from BB, pellet, paintball, airsoft guns up 30% in last 15 years

Overall injuries down sharply, but eye injuries have gone up

Mark Hsieh and Melissa Oaki play the Shooting Box simulation game using Airsoft M4-A1 rifles as Kenny Suh looks on at the National Shooting Sports Foundation's 34th annual Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

BB guns, pellet guns, paintball guns and airsoft guns are marketed as toy or “starter” guns for children, but many are powerful enough for small animal hunting. Paintball guns have been popularized in recreational combat simulation games.

A new study, Nonpowder Firearm Injuries to Children Treated in Emergency Departments, published in the December 2019 edition of Pediatrics found that an estimated average of 13,486 pediatric BB, pellet, paintball, and airsoft gun (nonpowder firearms) injuries were treated in U.S. emergency departments annually from 1990 through 2016.

While the overall rate of these injuries declined by 54.5%, the rate of eye injuries increased by 30.3%.

Researchers for the study, which is published online on Nov. 25, examined National Electronic Injury Surveillance System data from 1990–2016 and found that BB guns accounted for 80.8% of injuries, followed by pellet guns (15.5%), while paintball guns accounted for just 3.0% of injuries to children.

Of those injured, 87.1% were boys, and 7.1% of those treated in the ER were also admitted to the hospital.

Researchers concluded that the severity and increasing rate of eye injuries related to these firearms is especially concerning and indicates that more prevention efforts are needed in the form of stricter and more consistent safety legislation, as well as child and parental education regarding proper supervision, firearm handling, and use of protective eyewear.

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