How common are airgun deaths, and how powerful can they be?

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Updated with clarification on the statute of involuntary manslaugther

The 10-year-old boy who'd been fighting for his life since Sunday passed away at the Children's Hospital of Atlanta late yesterday.

Criminal charges subsequently were taken out against a 17-year-0ld – Jamarious Jermaine Walls – listed with a Harrisburg address. Walls was arrested without incident and charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a mandatory minimum of one year in confinement and a maximum of 20, if convicted.

The key phrase in Georgia's involuntary manslaughter statute is "causes the death of another human being WITHOUT any intention to do so." The statute is defined as:

A person commits the offense of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of an unlawful act when he causes the death of another human being without any intention to do so by the commission of an unlawful act other than a felony. A person who commits the offense of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of an unlawful act, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one year nor more than ten years.

Walls is accused of shooting the 10-year-old boy in the head with an air rifle Sunday afternoon on Irby Street, located off of Allen Memorial Drive. Detectives haven’t made it immediately clear how the entire incident unfolded, aside from the fact that Walls pulled the trigger on the pellet gun, and the 10-year-old and was struck. Four "persons" were listed as being present during the incident on the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office's incident report, two juveniles and two adults, numbers that include Walls and the 10-year-old.

For perspective, below is a 2019 news segment from a network affiliate in California. Interviewed is Carlos Flores, the trauma coordinator for a hospital in the area.

"Air-powered guns are not the BB guns of old," says Flores, then referencing Ralphie and the Red Rider BB gun from the "Christmas Story" movie. 

Flores then pointed out that many modern BB guns and pellet guns have a muzzle velocity of roughly 1,000 feet per second, which is around the same as a .9 millimeter traditional firearm.  More powerful air rifles, meanwhile can travel upwards of 2,000 feet per second, according to Flores, capable of taking down deer and other larger wild game.

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For whatever it's worth, BB guns and pellet guns are both "airguns" and essentially the same thing, with the one major difference  being the shape of the projectile.

In terms of pellet gun and BB gun statistics, more recent data isn't readily available. The last large and thorough study was completed by the American Academy of Pediatric's Committee in 2004. According to the study, "nonpowder guns kill an average of four Americans yearly, and from 1990 to 2000, there were 39 such deaths, according to the report...Thirty-two of the deaths were children younger than 15."

The study added that out of the 21,480 related documented injuries between 1990 and 2000, the majority were children "ages 5-14.


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