I first learned about the little BB gun wars on a school bus headed for Greasewood.
One of the young athletes chatted freely about his plans for a BB gun war with friends the following day after school recently on a Friday. He thought nothing of this activity being potentially dangerous and said he’d participated in several such “fights” in the past.
When asked whether he realized that such a battle could result in serious injury, he flashed his irresistible smile and said that he and his friends only shot below the belt.
At this point my friend Patty interjected, sharing loudly her opinion that a bunch of 12 year olds couldn’t consistently hit below the belt.
I personally spoke with the mothers of two of the boys who planned to participate in the event.
On Monday morning, two of the participants showed up at one school with BB holes in their faces. One boy’s wound was an inch from his eye (his mother was warned), the other (my original informant who insisted that they only shot below the belt) took a shot right between the eyes.
A simple internet search through news sources quickly revealed how close these boys came to serious injuries. In May 2002, a 15-year-old boy met his death when a BB passed through his eye, lodging in his brain.
While some parents consider BB guns to be toys, they are legally considered to be firearms, according to Coconino County Attorney, Terry Hance.
In a phone interview Jan. 13, Hance said that had the youths who willfully participated in the event been reported in Coconino County, they would possibly face charges of aggravated assault as a class 3 or class 6 felony.
“It is not unheard of for people to die from being hit with a BB, particularly from shots in the face. In that case, perpetrators could possibly face charges up to second degree murder,” Hance said.
“It is an incredibly dangerous thing to do. There’s the old saw that says ‘you’ll shoot your eye out,’ but it’s not unheard of for death or serious injury to occur.”
Hance continued to describe a pathology conference he attended where it was brought out that two to three people die per year from BB or pellet gun injury.
“That figure has undoubtedly gone up, as this study was conducted at least 10 years ago,” Hance added.
The Handgun Epidemic Lowering Plan Network (HELP Network) reports that an average of 44 children are treated daily for injuries from BB and pellet guns.
The HELP Network describes itself as an international network of medical and allied organizations dedicated to reducing firearm injuries and death.
HELP Network research addresses the belief by many that BB guns are simply toys, encouraging parents to become educated about the dangers and the safe use of these weapons. In one of its press releases, the HELP Network emphasizes that some BB guns now pack as much power as handguns, and that more than 21,000 Americans are treated for injuries annually.
Further, the release points out that “these non-powder guns are sometimes used in violent assaults making their increased power, low cost and accessibility a major concern.
Many of the people I have spoken to over this week have friends and family members who have been injured. A childhood friend of Hance sports a glass eye from just such an injury.
“This type of activity is not a responsible use of essentially what is classified as a firearm. We continually take children down to juvenile for that very behavior,” Hance concluded.
According to educator Dr. Mark Sorensen, bringing a BB gun to school is cause for immediate expulsion.
In interviewing random parents about their feelings about the BB gun war, several laughed, saying that they had done the same thing as children. But parents who have seen serious injury within their family express soundly that they would not allow their children to even own a BB gun.
Elaine Riggs, who lives near Leupp, is one such parent. She believes them to be dangerous.
“I know of a person within the family who was hurt so badly that he was in a coma for several days and later had to learn to do everything over again—to talk, walk, and feed himself, like an infant,” Riggs said. He almost passed on from the injury. It is no fun looking at a family member on life support.”
I am not against the right to bear arms. My own son owns a BB gun, and I spent hours teaching him gun safety and supervising his use of the weapon. He knows that if he shoots anything living, he must eat it (which has been a very effective deterrent to such behavior) and that he must never point it at a human being.
Two years after purchasing his BB gun, I trust him to shoot outside our home—we live at a very isolated home site—but I continually check on him while he is doing so. Nonetheless, if another child arrives at my home while he is using it, he must bring it inside to be locked up.
The message I send is simple. There are games afoot that bear parental supervision. If one of our children shoots another, he or she potentially faces criminal charges.
I love children and spend a good deal of time volunteering to work with children and to encourage them in sports and education. I strongly believe that children should be allowed to be children—it is an all-too brief and magical period of an otherwise long and frankly quite busy life.
Nothing is more tragic than a serious event that robs a child of this wonderful period of his or her life, especially when such an event could easily be prevented.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I believe Benjamin Franklin said that. Generations later, this wisdom bears repeating.
(S.J. Wilson is a northern Arizona writer who frequently contributes to the Navajo-Hopi Observer.)