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Subspecialties Basic & Translational Research, Health Economics and Policy, Education and Training, Practice Management

Paint Blank?

Credit: Image used in the artwork is sourced from Unsplash.com

Paintball guns are often viewed as harmless toys, especially when compared with their bullet-firing counterparts. However, research from the University of Chicago Medicine, Illinois, USA, has yielded some alarming results upon examining the injuries inflicted upon innocent bystanders assaulted with paintball guns. Though these guns may not be lethal, outside a regulated setting and without the proper protective equipment they are still capable of causing irreparable damage to the eye (1).

Drive-by paintball shootings have increased over the past few years – but things in Chicago seemed to come to a head in October of 2021. A single weekend that left eight paintball shooting victims in its wake prompted researchers to investigate the damage such weapons were causing. Shivam Amin, Chicago-based ophthalmologist and lead author of the study, explains, “We were evaluating clusters of patients who were being attacked with paintball guns and suffering devastating harm to their vision. As we conducted a literature review, we realized no one had really scientifically examined exactly how dangerous paintball guns were when used as an assault weapon and aimed at someone’s eye. Once we knew, we felt it was important research that could raise awareness of the scope of the issue.”

Assessing 20 patients who had received eye injuries from paintball gun assaults, the researchers found that most patients required surgical intervention and a quarter of those examined were left blind in one eye. Half of those who needed surgery suffered a ruptured globe – the highest rate of ruptured globes among all studies that included at least five patients – and half of patients with ruptured globes eventually required an evisceration. “Ophthalmologists are stewards of people’s vision and eye health, and it is our responsibility to advocate for our patients when we are aware of the dangers that certain objects or activities pose for our patients’ vision,” Amin says. “We hope other ophthalmologists can use our study to educate their patients about how dangerous paintball guns are outside regulated settings and encourage the use of protective eyewear.”

These results also have significance beyond drive-by paintball attacks. One example is the use of paintball guns and rubber bullets as nonlethal alternatives for police and law enforcement looking to implement crowd control measures. Although paintball guns may seem more appropriate than other weapons, paintballs are small, heavy, and can be fired over 200 miles per hour at their fastest. As a crowd control measure, they have the potential to leave many people irreversibly blind.

There are a number of potential solutions to prevent future injuries, including better regulating the sale of paintball guns and restricting the velocity at which the guns can fire. Amin says, “Ultimately, our hope is that paintball attacks stop in Chicago and throughout the US. Following the attacks in October 2020, we were able to raise awareness of the issue in the local press. Since then, we have seen fewer attacks. We hope this study will raise even more awareness in the community of Chicago and elsewhere as to the dangers of paintball guns.”

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  1. SV Amin et al., Am J Ophthalmol, 242, 139 (2022). PMID: 35594916.
About the Author
Jed Boye

Associate Editor, The Ophthalmologist

I have always been fascinated by stories. During my biomedical sciences degree, though I enjoyed wet lab sessions, I was truly in my element when sitting down to write up my results and find the stories within the data. Working at Texere gives me the opportunity to delve into a plethora of interesting stories, sharing them with a wide audience as I go.

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