Ralphie: I want a Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle. Oooooooh!
Mother: No, you'll shoot your eye out.
If you remember that dialogue from "A Christmas Story," you will recall that Mother was right. A study published last week in Pediatrics confirms that parental cautions are justified about BB guns, pellet guns, paintball guns and airsoft rifles.
The study examined 26 years of data on children treated in U.S. hospital emergency departments for "nonpowder firearms injuries." An annual average of 13,486 children and teens under age 18 were treated in emergency departments for injuries from guns that are often considered toys.
The study was conducted by the Research Institute of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It does not include injuries that were treated outside hospitals, such as walk-in clinics or doctor's offices. None of the injuries in this study were fatal, but the authors noted that there have been deaths associated with injuries from these devices. However, the data studied did not capture deaths that occurred outside a hospital emergency department.
The good news is that the number of injuries and the rate of injuries in the under-18 U.S. population is trending down. Unfortunately, the number and rate of eye injuries is increasing.
Eye injuries from "nonpowder firearms" accounted for just 15% of all injuries in the data set, but they tended to be more serious than average.
Corneal abrasion, hyphema (blood in the eye), foreign body and globe rupture were the most common diagnoses for children injured by these guns that shoot metal or plastic projectiles.
Few of the injuries were documented as intentional. Most children had self-inflicted injuries, except for kids under age 6 who were more likely to have been hit by a projectile fired by someone else.
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Paintball gun injuries had the highest rate of hospital admissions, followed by pellet guns and airsoft rifles.
Among all patients, 47.5% were 6-12 years old, 66% had an injury to the head and neck and 37% were diagnosed with a foreign body.
During the period studied — 1990 to 2016 — the number and rate of pediatric nonpowder gun injuries treated in U.S. hospitals decreased by about half for all age groups and both boys and girls.
"Contrary to this overall trend, the annual number and rate (per 100,000 children) of eye injuries associated with nonpowder firearm increased significantly from 1990 to 2016 by 45.5% and 30.3%, respectively with a peak in 2006," Margaret Jones, Sandhya Kistamgari and Gary A. Smith wrote.
"Nonpowder firearms should be regarded as potentially lethal weapons," they continued. "Most fire projectiles in excess of the minimum velocity to penetrate human skin, which is 230 feet per second ... and many achieve a muzzle velocity similar to a handgun."
More than one in five children with eye injuries were admitted to the hospital. "These findings agree with previous studies, which emphasize that eye injuries are commonly reported in association with nonpowder firearms and result in serious adverse outcomes, including partial or complete vision loss. Indeed, nonpowder firearms account for most pediatric eye injuries that are admitted to the hospital."
The researchers noted that appropriate eye protection would reduce injuries, but is rarely used. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends protective eye wear for children participating in various sports and recreational activities, including the use of nonpowder guns.
If there's an air soft rifle in your home or paintball guns on your Christmas list, the best way to reduce the risk of accidental injury is parental supervision. Talk to children and teens about being responsible and careful where they point "nonpowder firearms."
For holiday entertainment without risk of BB gun injury, get out to Billings Studio Theatre where "A Christmas Story" will be performed Dec. 5-8 and 12-15. Admission costs $21 for adults, and $19 for seniors, members of the military and students. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday.