Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

"You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"

Everyone probably recognizes that as the oft-repeated line from A Christmas Story, the heartwarming tale of a boy who so desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, he annoys the snot out of everyone around him. I mean everyone, too, including the audience. If you don't recognize the above quote, you can consider yourself lucky, since this movie is a pestilence upon mankind, even as you feel marginalized by your utter lack of pop culture knowledge. I mean, seriously, you probably think "Vanilla Ice" is a new dessert from Dreyers.

In any case, the boy's parents, older friends, and even a mall Santa all doubt the wisdom of giving this young man a device intended to propel small bits of metal at high velocities. Sounds like a reasonable proposition to me. In fact, I'm willing to bet this sounds reasonable to most of us.

I bring this up not because I feel like ragging on "A Christmas Story," but because of a story that recently ran on CBS's The Early Show. This story makes the bold assertion that, BB Guns Aren't Holiday Toys. Oh, sorry, did I say "bold?" I meant, "utterly fucking obvious." The news story tells the tale of one Alexander Barlow, a 6 year-old boy who was accidentally shot with a pellet gun, nearly dying as a result. Apparently the pellet managed to nick his lung and puncture the sack surrounding the heart. Without prompt medical attention, he doubtless would have died as the internal bleeding placed increasing pressure on his heart. A chilling story, to be sure.

I'm not here to chill you, however. I'm here because I think the CBS coverage of this incident maybe misses the point a bit. Their story comments that:

According to a new study published in the medical journal Pediatrics, as many as five children die every year as a result of non-powder [i.e. air-powered] guns, and about 21,000 are injured.

Wow. Five a year? To be frank, I'm impressed that so many people manage to die a year as a result of air rifles, but I'm hardly appalled by the statistic. I am quite sure that vastly more children die each year from falling down the stairs. Hell, I'm pretty certain that escalators claim as many lives on a yearly basis. So why all the concern about air rifles? Well, one answer is provided by the story:

"Traditionally, many of these non-powder guns are sold in toy departments. So the perception may be from parents and others who give this as gifts -- and the majority of these are gifts given to children -- that this is a toy," says Laraque. "They don't associate, you know, the risk of serious injury with a toy."

So, a parent decides that a device that is shaped like a gun and fires pellets of metal with pressurized air is completely safe because it was on the toy aisle? That doesn't make much sense in that most toys, even the ones that don't shoot things, are often age-rated. In many cases this is so that younger children won't be able to swallow small plastic parts, but many, many toys are only appropriate for children of a certain age or above. I sympathize with parents who lose a child to an air rifle accident, but I have a hard time grappling with the notion that the possible dangers of an air rifle are in any way concealed. I suppose that I should give parents some credit- I mean, air rifles are incredibly powerful, right? So powerful, in fact, that parents may be unable to judge how dangerous they actually are. Hell, as CBS reports:

First, he [Dave Townshend, firearms expert] tested the muzzle velocity [of a pellet gun] from three feet away. After 25 pumps, the pellet fired at 741 feet per second.

The bb travelled even faster.

In the test, a .38 caliber gun -- carried by many law enforcement officers -- only traveled at 629 feet per second.

Wow! Who knew that a pellet gun fires a pellet at a higher muzzle velocity than a .38 caliber gun? Doesn't that make pellet guns more dangerous than a police officer's service revolver? CBS certainly implies that it does, but the reality is somewhat different. Since kinetic energy is determined by mass times velocity, it isn't enough to talk about speed. It's fairly obvious that an ounce of clay moving at five feet per second probably imparts less energy on impact than a ton of iron moving at five feet per second- just talking about speed is misleading. So, let's think about this pellet gun to firearm comparison more seriously.

The heaviest pellet I can find advertised online weighs in at 37 grains. A .38 calber handgun bullet, on the other hand, is reported at 145 grains. Using the muzzle velocities reported in the article (741 FpS for the pellet and 629 FpS for the bullet) we find that the heaviest pellet delivers 27,417 foot-grains of energy, while the bullet delivers 91,205 foot-grains. So, in short, the bullet delivers 3.3 times more energy than the heaviest pellet, even though it's going about 110 FpS slower. When we consider that most people probably don't use the heaviest pellet money can buy, it's fairly obvious that despite CBS's implication, the pellet rifle isn't anywhere near as dangerous as an actual firearm. Hell, even if the BB did achieve higher muzzle velocities, that's only because BB's are, of average, even smaller than pellets.

All this, of course, ignores the fact that pumping up an air rifle 25 times is a whole lot, and that many air rifles include pressure valves to prevent the rifle from being over-primed.

Am I saying this because I blame the victim for this incident? No, I don't blame young Mister Barlow at all. My problem, though, is that this story seems to take the stance that pellet guns are dangerous. Certainly they are, but like so many things in life they are dangerous in direct proportion to how responsible the user is. Automobiles are perfectly safe, if well-maintained and responsibly operated. When used by careless individuals, however, they can be instruments of staggering mayhem.

"Yeah," you reply, "but we license people for cars. We don't let kids drive cars."

Indeed we don't, which is why I wonder why Alexander Barlow, a six year-old boy, was playing with an air rifle. I have cared for children that age, and younger, and feel quite confident claiming that six is an inadequate age for any sort of gun. Even my hypothetical roommate, who hails from an even more rural area than I and has sung the praises of squirrel meat on more than one occasion, agrees that a six year-old boy is far too young to be operating an air rifle. Yet, even if six were an appropriate age, there is yet another problem. What is this problem, you ask? Well, consider for a moment the testimony of Alexander himself:

"We [Alexander and his best friend] were shooting at little pop cans. Then we started shooting a bee on a flower and must've missed and it went by and hit me."

Assuming that this is the truth, a problem is immediately apparent: Alexander's friend was shooting at something in the same direction as Alexander. It is a simple and clear rule among gun owners, both of the air and powder varieies, that one never discharges a weapon when another person is down-range. These children should have been taught this rule but, more than that, they should have been supervised by adults who ensured that such a rule was observed by young, probably-irresponsible children. Many devices are perfectly safe when used responsibly, but when used irresponsibly they can and often will turn around and bite their user or, worse, innocent bystanders. When such devices are in the hands of children, it is the responsibility of older and wiser heads to instruct them properly.

This little boy was not injured because of his own carelessness, nor the carelessness or inherent evil of air rifles. He was injured because of the irresponsibility of one or more adults. I don't necessarily mean his parents, though that is a possibility, but some number of adults do carry a burden of guilt for this incident. The blame falls with them, and suggesting anything else is to do us all a grave disservice. To blame someone for things that are not their fault, such as a rape victim for her attack or oppressed groups for their poverty, is wrong, but to fail to assign blame to where it justly lies is dangerous. When only a tiny handful of people are killed by such devices (I am not terribly concerned with the injury statistics since injuries aren't defined) the failure is not with the manufacturers or the guns:

The failure lies with us.


Blogger Hazel said...

Right you are, drek - about A Christmas Story being the bane of holiday existance, about the ridiculousness of the BB gun expose, and also about the number of people killed each year on escalators. Courtesy of your friendly neighborhood demographer, via the CDC wesite:
An average of 4 people die each year on escalators in the US.

Thursday, December 09, 2004 2:33:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

Ah-HA! See? Now, when people ask me, "Why, Drek, do you associate with known demographers?" I can just smile knowingly at them.

Thanks for the link, Hazel. I have to admit, though, that I find the idea of dying in an escalator accident to be a lot more gruesome than dying from an air rifle shot.

Maybe that's just me?

Friday, December 10, 2004 9:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

indeed, you are very right, the use of such weapons of mass destruction do lead to deaths and injuries. and indeed, most of them, meaning, all of the deaths and injuries were preventable. responsibility is a must with anything and the rules must be followed. people should be taught but are not because hey, its only a bb gun, what can it do right?

back in the ninties, daisy put out a bb gun where bbs could get stuck in the magazine and when the gun was shook, because they were stuck, it would sound empty so the user would think the gun was empty. after checking it was empty, the retard would go about pumping it up and shooting at people with just air.

unfortunatly for the person on the other end of the gun, the bb got loose and was fired at them. the parents sued the daisy company for deaths and injuries.

its not the companies fault that their product was used in a very irresponsible manner and caused those deaths and injuries. its not like there arent warnings and shit on the labeling.

now a days, the air rifles are mainly still near the toy department but are closer to the gun section.

yet, injuries still continue.

basically, people are retarded, and thats that.

Saturday, July 08, 2006 8:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

o wow pellet guns can only hurt someone if u dont respect them.

Thursday, April 24, 2008 8:31:00 AM  

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