I often write about toy safety, but this story's got to be a first: According to the Miami Herald, a 39-year-old Florida man allegedly shot his stepson in the chest with a BB gun the kid got for Christmas, in order to show the child that getting shot with a pellet gun can hurt. This after the boy (age not specified in news reports) shot his autistic cousin in the behind. The boy ended up with a welt on his chest, and the stepdad faced a charge of cruelty toward child without great harm.
This may be one of the more boneheaded families in America, but their misadventures do bring up the question: Is this a toy too dangerous to be tucked under the Christmas tree? In the still-popular 1983 movie A Christmas Story, based on the story by Jean Shepard, 10-year-old Ralphie longs for a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, but the adults in his life tell him: "No, you'll shoot your eye out." I won't tell you what actually happens in the movie, but that fate would make Ralphie one of the approximately 21,000 people injured each year by nonpowder guns like BB, pellet, and paintball guns, and air rifles, with about 4 percent of those injuries resulting in hospitalization, according to a 2004 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says kids under 16 should not use BB guns or pellet guns, and it says about four people a year die from using the guns.
I'm all for safer toys, but as a kid I shot BB guns, handguns, and rifles, all supervised by my dad, a hunter and farm boy. I still have both eyes and all my digits, and I expect the vast majority of kids who mess around with BB guns do, too. I have let my 6-year-old target-shoot with a BB gun on a farm owned by friends, closely supervised by myself and her dad. I figure I'd much rather have her learn about the allure and risks of guns from me, rather than from TV shows. And I want her to learn how to handle a gun safely. Where to start? The 4-H Club has a good BB gun safety guide online, and the group BB-guns.org points out that Ralphie would never have put his sight at risk if he'd been wearing protective goggles.
I'll never forget the long-ago afternoon when a neighbor's child shot a playmate dead with a handgun found under Grandpa's bed. They thought it was a toy. I don't want that to happen to any child, ever again, and I'm hoping that letting my child learn how to use a BB gun with care might help.
Would you let your child shoot a BB gun? Should gun safety be part of every child's education? Or are guns just too dangerous to be toys?