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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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As Ralphie can tell you, BB guns are not toys
By C.T. Bowen, Editor of Editorials
Published February 26, 2008
The adults in Ralphie Parker's world were right. His parents, his teacher, even the department store Santa Claus. All warned the fictional grade-school pupil named Ralphie in the 1983 film A Christmas Story that possession of the Red Ryder BB gun would mean, "you'll shoot your eye out."
Or somebody else's, they could have added.
Or somebody's window.
Fast forward 25 years and the rules of physics and geometric angles haven't changed. Nor has the thought process of adolescents.
A trio of boys pulled out the supposed toy rifles the other night to play an incomprehensible game in the dark. Incomprehensible to adults, anyway. Fire the projectile into the concrete driveway and see if you can catch it on its way back to Earth. Honest, this was the explanation offered by the middle-school aged children.
The details of calculating the velocity of the ricochet and its postimpact route escaped the youngsters. One fired from the top of a driveway incline, but the other two didn't get an opportunity to retrieve. As best as can be determined, the pellet struck the cement and, rather than flying straight up as they expected, its trajectory continued in a southern direction away from their location and toward a residential street in front of the house.
They are known collectively as nonpowder guns that shoot metal ball bearings or plastic pellets from pistols or air rifles. There also is the popular post-Ralphie Parker era invention known as paintball in which participants play war games. It has evolved into a cable-television sport. There is no doubt the guns are popular with more than 3.2-million sold annually.
Three years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics - the doctors who treat your kids - warned of the danger surrounding these toys. Thirty-nine people, including 32 children younger than 16, died from nonpowder gun-related injuries during the 1990s, reports the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Estimates of emergency room visits for injury treatment number about 20,000 annually with 4 percent resulting in overnight hospital stays.
The academy's study said the guns' muzzle velocity, or how fast the projectile travels, can range from 150 to 1,200 feet per second, meaning some models are comparable to the muzzle velocity of traditional firearm pistols that shoot bullets at speeds ranging from 750 to 1,450 feet per second.
Wednesday evening, amid talk of a pending lunar eclipse, high school Spanish homework and the traffic slowdowns from road construction, a Land O'Lakes resident and his 14-year-old son departed for a commute to soccer practice. They turned right, then left, and just a little more than a quarter-mile from their home, they drove past a driveway where three middle-school students played in the dark.
The noise it made can best be described as "Whump!" Then the unmistakable sound of breaking glass as the rear passenger window disintegrated into a heap of tinted shards covering the rear seat and floor.
Fortunately, the teenage occupant sat in the front seat. The driver initially suspected a baseball or a piece of citrus fruit had been tossed at the vehicle. After he stopped the car and walked up the driveway, he saw one rifle on the ground, another in the hands of a youngster and multiple sets of adolescent eyes avoiding contact with the rising adult anger.
The irritated soccer dad is yours truly. As a disclaimer, the two youngsters in our household both possessed pellet-shooting guns at one time or another. One lost his for misuse and the other gun broke. (Yeah!)
I did not summon the authorities, choosing instead to take my complaint to the parents. The kids told us the shooter and his friend had converged at the home of a third acquaintance who owned the rifles. They said they hadn't aimed at the passing vehicle and obviously didn't understand the potential consequences of their nocturnal sniping. None of us commented on their marksmanship.
Asked if they fired a BB gun or an air pellet gun, one child answered "I don't know." This was the evening's most troubling comment. The youngster just pointed and fired without thinking about what was loaded in the gun. That they intended to try to catch said unknown, fast-moving object was mind-boggling.
I left, still agitated at the close proximity of a projectile and breaking glass hitting my own child. Much later, it dawned on me that it was better my window than one of their eyes.
You think Ralphie Parker's parents worried about their child being considered a party to reckless endangerment?
C.T. Bowen is editor of editorials for the Times' Pasco County editions.