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Air weapon injuries: a serious and persistent problem
  1. H Ceylan1,
  2. A McGowan2,
  3. M D Stringer1
  1. 1Departments of Paediatric Surgery, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds, UK
  2. 2Accident and Emergency Department, St James's University Hospital, Leeds LS9 7TF, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
    Mr M D Stringer, Level 8, Gledhow Wing, St James's University Hospital, Leeds LS9 7TF, UK;

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Air guns and rifles are potentially lethal weapons

At first sight, air guns and air rifles may appear relatively harmless but they are in fact potentially lethal weapons. They use the expanding force of compressed air (or gas) to propel a projectile down a barrel and have been in general use since the time of the Napoleonic wars. The projectiles are usually lead pellets or ball bearings. Technological refinements have increased the muzzle velocity and hence the penetrating power of these weapons. In a review of experimental studies, DiMaio concluded that the critical velocity for penetration of human skin by an air gun pellet was between 38 and 70 m/sec (125–230 ft/sec).1 Most modern air weapons exceed this velocity and many air rifles can deliver a projectile with similar muzzle velocity to a conventional hand gun.2, 3 Air weapons in the UK typically discharge a 0.177 inch or 0.22 inch calibre pellet of the diabolo waisted type, although several other pellet designs exist.4

Injuries from air weapons can be serious and even fatal.3, 5–9 This has long been recognised in the United States where all types of firearm injuries occur more frequently in children than in the United Kingdom. Several case reports from the UK have highlighted the dangers10–14 but have tended to focus on specific injuries to the eye or brain.10, 15–17 Air weapon injuries commonly involve teenage boys.18, 19 Our local urban experience in Leeds confirms this observation. A retrospective review of accident and emergency records at St James's University Hospital between January 1996 and June 2001 identified 73 injuries caused by air weapons (unpublished data). …

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