Paintball Guns Are Not Toys!

A primer for the parents of future paintball players

The proliferation of paintball equipment into mainstream department stores has almost certainly been one reason for the continued and rapid growth of the game. Add to that the power of Internet shopping, and suddenly you have exposure to the masses of what was once a relatively unknown sport. As the game grows, the laws of supply and demand bring more competitive pricing, more innovations, and more availability of the products -- which is great for those of us who are long-time enthusiasts. However, with the good usually comes something bad. In this case, the "bad" is a lack of a similar proliferation of safety information.

This Is Not A Toy
"let's get the kids some of those little paintball toys for Christmas.."

As a matter of self-preservation, it has been to the benefit of stores that specialize in paintball equipment to promote the safe play of the game. Most "paintball stores" will not let a parent come in and buy a paintball gun for their teenage child without stressing the importance of safety. On the other hand, large department stores have neither the personnel, time, nor the knowledge to deal with customers on an individual basis -- and most Internet outlets which sell paintball equipment in a mail-order fashion are impersonal by nature. This leads to parents often unknowingly putting their children into a potentially dangerous situation.

Although they may have heard of it or may have seen it on TV, the majority of people are ignorant about paintball in general. While some may have an outright fear of the activity due to the fact that it involves shooting a gun, others tend to take the capabilities of the guns far too lightly. I have personally run across the following scenario on a number of occasions: Knowing I am an avid player, someone will approach me and ask what kind of paintball gun they should buy for their 14-year-old to "just play around the house" with their friends. Usually, the people who ask such questions are under the very mistaken impression that paintball guns are toys for children. They are not. There are warnings on nearly every paintball gun sold stating "This is not a toy". That's not to say that they are unsafe, but the misuse of a paintball gun can lead to serious injury or death.

Headshots Happen
"Oh, I won't get shot in the head, and I won't shoot someone else in the head.."

The most potentially dangerous aspect of a paintball gun obviously stems from the fact that it fires a projectile at a fairly high rate of speed. Although the projectile is a paint-filled gelatin capsule designed to break apart on impact, the velocity at which it travels means it still carries a enough force to cause injury -- serious injury in sensitive areas such as the eyes. Even a paintball traveling at far less than what is considered the industry standard safe speed of 300 feet per second can cause enough damage to lead to the loss of an eye. That's why at commercial paintball facilities eye and face protection are mandatory, as should be the case everywhere.

Eye protection requires equipment specifically designed to do the job. In other words, safety glasses or simple shop goggles will not work. The lenses on shop goggles are not strong enough to withstand numerous paintball impacts, and in some cases cannot even withstand a single impact without shattering or breaking loose from their mounting system. In addition, the goggles themselves are not designed to stay in a secure position throughout the rigors of a paintball game. It does little good to attempt to protect one's eyes with a pair of goggles which refuse to stay in place or will become easily dislodged by a paintball impact.

Over the last decade, the paintball industry has developed standards which the manufacturers of eye and face protection strive to meet. The standards include not only lenses which can withstand multiple impacts at point blank range, but mask which provide protection to sensitive areas of the face and head. As insurance companies become more heavily involved those standards are sure to increase. To respond to possibility of eye and face injuries, many manufacturers now include eye and face protection packaged with the guns they sell in mainstream department stores. These starter kits allow a beginning player to get started in a safe manner, at least from an equipment standpoint, but there are still other safety aspects to consider.

Black and Blue
"You got that playing paintball?"

Additional protection beyond the mandatory eye/face gear is up to the discretion of the player/parents, but just like little league football and baseball, young players can benefit from extra protective equipment. Yes, paintball impacts can leave bruises and welts. At most commercial fields the minimum age limit for children is 10, and children under 18 are not allowed to play without the written permission of their parents. Although the situation is different for each individual child, because paintball impacts can leave deep bruises, the age of 10 is probably a good place to draw the line. Even for children who are a little older, parents may want to consider additional protection beyond eyes/face gear. Thick clothing, long sleeve shirts or jackets can help protect the arms, while caps or hats will help with head protection. Both boys and girls have their own sensitive areas for which protection should be considered, and often protective gear used in other sports will work.

A lot of times the level of protection needed or wanted only comes with experience. For instance, the first day I played I took several direct hits on the hand, which can be somewhat painful. I have been wearing gloves when I play ever since.

"Johnny, now don't shoot your sister, she's not playing in your little game.. And make sure you stop when you see the mail man coming up the drive.. "

One important safety aspect a lot of parents fail to take into consideration is the venue of play. "Around the house" is never a good idea, unless that house is in an isolated area and you care nothing about the property in question. The first problem with playing "around the house" is the possibility of bringing non-players into the field of play. Non-players are not usually wearing the proper safety equipment, and the only thing worse than a player getting a senseless injury is for someone who is not even involved in the game to be injured. It is impossible to completely control every shot fired from a paintball gun -- especially during an intense game -- and non-players or people not wearing safety equipment be should never be directly exposed to paintball play in progress. The term "non-players" should also include family pets, which can suffer the same (and in some cases more serious) injuries as people.

To keep things safe paintball needs to be played in a controlled area, isolated from non-players. Obviously the best idea is a well run commercial field. A commercial field will have safety procedures in place, including a chronograph which measures the muzzle velocity of paintballs to ensure safe speeds, and personnel on duty to help when problems arise.

For some people the commercial field option is not available. A safe alternative could be private land which is fenced off or well marked and cleared of dangerous debris or obstacles, however, it should be noted that playing on private land can open up the land owner to liability should an accident occur.

Playing on public land is rarely a good idea unless the circumstances can be controlled in such a way as to ensure that non-players won't accidentally stumble into the field of play. In some public areas such as parks, playing paintball could violate a variety of local ordinances such as those prohibiting the discharge of weapons, or classifying the marking of trees as vandalism. Playing in a public park is also an extremely bad idea because people running around with guns could be mistaken for something other than paintball players, which could bring an unwanted response from local law enforcement.

Besides personal safety, another thing to consider when selecting a venue of play is the possibility of property damage. While the paint inside paintballs is generally water-soluble and non-toxic, it can still leave a stain on painted surfaces, especially if left over a period of time. The impact of paintballs can also cause damage to property. For example, a paintball fired at close range could leave a noticeable dent in the body of an automobile, and could break a thin window in a home or other building. Here again, a commercial facility designed specifically for paintball play is the best choice.

Powered Up
"can I fill this thing with my compressor?"

All paintball guns currently in production use compressed gasses as a power source. Both Carbon Dioxide (Co2) and High Pressure Air (HPA) tanks store gasses at relatively high pressures, and can be a safety hazard if handled improperly. While the Sears compressor in your garage may put out 150 psi for the operation of air tools, a standard Co2 tank can produce in excess of 1000 psi on a hot day, while the more expensive HPA tanks are holding up to 5000 psi.

Something as simple and attaching or detaching a tank from a gun can cause a sudden rush of gas if performed improperly and should not be left up to children who have no knowledge of what they are doing. Likewise, a paintball gun should never be disassembled while it is pressurized or loaded. Doing so can cause paintballs or parts to fly in one's face. General care should also be taken with the handling of tanks, as abuse or rough treatment can cause a catastrophic failure which results in injury. Accidents involving pressurized tanks are rare in paintball, but like anything else, the possibilities certainly exist if they are misused.

"Hey guys, watch this... "

The single most important safety device any person can have is a sense of responsibility. Instilling a sense of responsibility in a child who is allowed to play paintball can go a long way toward ensuring that other safety aspects are always followed. Unfortunately, in the United States the growing availability of paintball guns has been accompanied by a growing number of cases of vandalism and assault. Children who are allowed access to paintball guns need to understand that committing such acts is not only wrong from a moral standpoint, but it can also endanger someone's safety and bring serious criminal charges. Some jurisdictions have even gone as far as to pass specific ordinances and penalties concerning such uses of paintball equipment.

For all intents and purposes paintball guns should be treated every bit as serious as real guns:

  • Paintball guns should never be pointed at anyone or anything outside of the field of play.
  • Paintball guns should not be kept loaded in places where they are not intended to the be used, such as the home or a vehicle.
  • Paintball guns should not be mistreated or abused.
  • Paintball guns should never be carelessly displayed in public where someone (including Police Officers) may get the mistaken impression they are real weapons.
  • All safety procedures such as the use of protective gear, safeties, and barrel blocking devices should be adhered to at all times.
The biggest question a parent should ask themselves before purchasing paintball equipment for their children is "are my children mature enough to handle this responsibly?" -- and be honest with your answer -- the safety of your child or someone else's child may depend on it.
-Billy Goodman