Eye injuries due to toy guns on rise

Andrew Toskin / Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

More moms around the country may soon be echoing the famous line, “You’ll shoot your eye out,” from the movie, “A Christmas Story.” That is because eye injuries as a result of so-called “toy” guns are on the rise, and health experts are taking note.

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 death, it was so painful. I thought I was either gonna be blind or die,” he recalled.

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, he picked it up, and knicked the trigger by mistake. The bullet ricocheted off his nose and hit his eye, just missing his cornea.

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.

Doctor Rick Whitehead is with the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology. He has seen this increase in injuries firsthand.

“These guns are surprisingly popular. There has been a significant increase in marketing to kids,” he said.

Doctor 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,” he explained.

Although airsoft guns are not classified as firearms under federal law, some states do have stricter regulations. Doctor Whitehead thinks increased regulation could help, but it really comes down to the parents.

“The more likely solution is that parents and the people who buy the guns themselves, if they were educated properly on their use, and kids wore proper eye protection,” he said.

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

“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,” he said.

Doctors and the NRA 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 used, or a similar paintball-type mask. These will give you full facial protection,” explained Doctor Whitehead.

Joshua’s mom says she now knows how important it is to make sure kids are aware of gun safety, no matter what.

“I think it’s just important everybody be educated on the risks involved,” she said.

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. Doctor Whitehead says this is not unusual for someone who has suffered a severe eye injury.

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