Air Guns Can Cause Permanent Physical Damage To Children

September 01, 1998

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Recent research shows injuries caused by air guns -- guns that use a spring or compressed air to deliver ammo -- can cause irreversible physical damage to children.

The researchers found these weapons, commonly viewed as toys and given as "beginner" guns to children, can cause serious physical trauma, such as permanent visual and neurologic disabilities. "The BB guns of old now act like high-powered weapons," said Donna Caniano, associate professor of surgery and pediatrics at Ohio State University and co-author of the study. "They're pressurized and can achieve high velocity."

Air gun injuries accounted for 87 of the 162 injuries caused by guns during the seven-year study period. The research, done at Children's Hospital in Columbus, was published in a recent issue of Pediatric Emergency Care.

On a surgical injury severity scale of 1 to 25, air gun injuries averaged 8.3. Injuries with higher scale numbers are considered more severe. Powder gun injuries averaged 12.7 during the same time period. "The injury severity score for regular guns is much higher, but it represents an injury for which you'd likely be hospitalized," Caniano said.

Out of 42 children hospitalized for air gun injuries, half underwent surgery. Operations ranged from removing pellets in an arm or leg to repairing lacerations in the eye and the arteries in the neck. Thirteen children had permanent visual disabilities. No children died during the study period from air gun wounds.

Injuries may look benign and leave little indication of trauma. "A child may not have terrible symptoms and may not be in shock," Caniano said. "A toddler with a major vascular injury had a tiny dot and a small bruise just above her collarbone. It didn't look like much more than a bee sting. But the pellet had penetrated her aorta. One message from this research is that parents and physicians must be highly suspicious of air guns."

Air guns closely resemble their gun-powder counterparts, a likeness that makes them incredibly attractive to kids, Caniano said. Parents may not understand the dangers associated with air guns. "When people now 35 to 50 years old played with BB guns years ago, they didn't get so severely injured," Caniano said. "Now these "toys" are really weapons. While powder handguns are still going to be more powerful, in young bodies, air gun wounds are serious injuries. The patients requiring major surgeries were the younger children."

Other researchers include Srikumar Pillai and Sharon Deppe, both of the Division of Pediatric Surgery at Ohio State; Donald Cooney of the Smith-White Clinic in Tempe, Texas; and Nishith Bhattacharyya and Colin Bethel, both assistant professors of surgery at the New Jersey College of Medicine and Dentistry. They received no external funding for the study.
Contact: Donna Caniano, (614) 722-3912;
Written by Holly Wagner, (614) 292-8310;

Ohio State University

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