They are often thought of as toys, but BB guns and other nonpowder guns are sometimes lethal and injure as many as 21,000 Americans each year, according to a new report.
Nonpowder guns kill an average of four Americans yearly, and from 1990 to 2000, there were 39 such deaths -- 32 of children younger than 15, according to the report in November's issue of Pediatrics.
The report, published Monday, comes just two weeks after the BB gun death of an 8-year-old South Carolina boy accidentally killed by a 13-year-old friend. The pellet pierced the boy's heart, said Richland County coroner Gary Watts.
"These are not the kinds of BB guns that I grew up with," Watts said. Today's BB guns "are extremely high-powered," and some can shoot with a velocity nearly matching a .22-caliber rifle, Watts said.
These guns include powerful air rifles introduced in the 1970s and paintball pistols used in war games. They are sometimes described as fake guns and often given to children as gifts, but the report says they can cause internal injuries similar to those from bullets.
The gun involved in the Oct. 18 shooting was a present from the older boy's parents, who had hoped it would lift his spirits after his own brother's recent death in a car accident, Watts said.
Nationally, an estimated 21,840 injuries related to nonpowder guns were treated in emergency departments in 2000 -- most in children ages 5 to 14, according to the report prepared by the American Academy of Pediatrics' Committee on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.