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Canadian Paediatric Society

Private member’s bill ignores risks of air rifles and BB guns

Posted on May 21 2015 by the Canadian Paediatric Society | Permalink

Topic(s): Advocacy

Dr. Katherine Austin, one of the authors of the Canadian Paediatric Society position statement on firearms, presented to the federal Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security on Bill C-637, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (firearms storage and transportation), in Ottawa on May 14. Here are her remarks.

The Canadian Paediatric Society is a national professional association, representing  more than 3000 paediatricians, that advocates for the health needs of children and youth. The Canadian Paedatric Society has published a position paper on firearms and youth, which addresses the dangers of air guns and BB guns, also called “non-powder firearms”. Therefore we are grateful to you for inviting us to share our expertise and recommendations on the subject of Bill C-637.

Modern-day air guns and BB guns have the ability to cause serious internal injury and death.  The Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology published a study reviewing accidents resulting in the loss of an eye in Ottawa-area youth over a twenty-year period. From 1973 to 1994, the leading cause of injury requiring enucleation among Ottawa-area youth was air and BB guns.

Permanent blindness is not the only problem these guns can cause. Air and BB gun injuries can be fatal. The medical and surgical literature is full of reports of deaths from BB and air gun injuries. Deaths occur secondary to brain trauma, or penetration of the neck, chest wall or abdomen. Physicians treating injuries caused by modern-day high power air and BB guns are advised to treat them as seriously as injuries from powder firearms—meaning,  don’t assume a lesser injury just because the weapon was an air or BB gun.

A lot of time and effort has been expended to understand how the velocity at which a gun shoots its projectile relates to the likelihood of injury for someone who is shot. We need to understand what these numbers mean in order to understand the impact of Bill C-637:

  • Over 500 feet per second (>152 m/sec): These must be licensed and registered, and are highly likely to cause serious injury and death.
  • Between 214-500 feet per second (65-152 m/sec): At this velocity, the projectiles can cause serious injury and death. Under our current Criminal Code rules, guns in this category are rightly deemed to be capable of causing serious bodily harm. They don’t have to be licensed or registered, but there are criminal penalties for negligence in storage or transportation.
  • Under 214 feet per second (<65m/sec): While these are less likely to cause serious injury, the projectile velocity must be below 214 feet per second (65 m/sec) in order to have a low potential for eye penetration. Some researchers have proposed the V 50 for eye penetration, which is 246 feet per second, as a cut off. At that velocity, there is a significant risk of eye damage from the weapon. We would recommend using 214 feet per second as the cut off between the middle and lower categories.

Let me give you an example. The Crosman TR77NPS rifle, with a projectile velocity of 495 feet per second, falls into the medium-velocity category and can be purchased without a firearms license. Remember that the cut-off between the top two groups is 500 feet per second. That means that this rifle is only 5 feet per second under the cut-off to the highest velocity category. If its projectile velocity was 5 feet per second more, the buyer would need to obtain a license.  This air gun is capable of causing terrible injury and death.

Under current Criminal Code regulations, guns like the Crosman TR77NPS rifle in the 246-500 feet per second group are considered to have the potential to cause serious bodily injury.  So current law allows criminal penalties for a person who shows extreme disregard for safety in the way they transport or store the gun. For example, a person who left a loaded Crosman TR77NPS rifle on a park bench next to a children’s playground would be liable for criminal charges under clause 86.1 of the Criminal Code:

“86. (1) Every person commits an offence who, without lawful excuse, uses, carries, handles, ships, transports or stores a firearm, a prohibited weapon, a restricted weapon, a prohibited device or any ammunition or prohibited ammunition in a careless manner or without reasonable precautions for the safety of other persons.”

Unfortunately, Bill C-637 specifically excludes all guns in the below-500-feet-per-second category from clause 86.1. So the person who left the loaded Crosman TR77NPS rifle on the park bench would not be breaking the law. Here is what Bill C-637 proposes:

“For the purposes of section 86 and the provisions of the Firearms Act as they relate to the transportation and storage of firearms, a barrelled weapon is deemed not to be a firearm if it is proved that the weapon is not designed or adapted to discharge:

For the purposes of section 86 and the provisions of the Firearms Act as they relate to the transportation and storage of firearms, a barrelled weapon is deemed not to be a firearm if it is proved that the weapon is not designed or adapted to discharge:

(a) a shot, bullet or other projectile at a muzzle velocity exceeding 152.4 m per second or at a muzzle energy exceeding 5.7 Joules; or

(b) a shot, bullet or other projectile that is designed or adapted to attain a velocity exceeding 152.4 m per second or an energy exceeding 5.7 Joules.”

The Canadian Paediatric Society is vehemently opposed to this bill. Owners of high powered air guns and BB guns must be held strictly responsible for careful storage and transportation. These are not toys – they are powerful weapons that can maim and destroy.  

We recommend:

  1. Air guns and BB guns capable of causing serious bodily injury should continue to be classified as firearms for the purposes of the storage and transportation clauses of the Criminal Code (86.1). This would include all air and BB guns with a projectile velocity greater than 214 feet per second.
  2. Currently there is no specific guidance for the storage and transport of guns with velocities between 214- 500 feet per second. These air and BB guns, which are powerful enough to cause serious internal damage, should have to be stored locked, unloaded and separate from their ammunition.
  3. Air and BB guns that are less powerful (under 214 feet per second) and less likely to cause serious bodily injury should be regulated through the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act.




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Last updated: May 21 2015