Not Your Child's Toy Anymore BB Guns Are Now Deadlier, More Powerful Than Ever Before

By Kunz, Tona | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 19, 2006 | Go to article overview

Not Your Child's Toy Anymore BB Guns Are Now Deadlier, More Powerful Than Ever Before


Kunz, Tona, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Tona Kunz Daily Herald Staff Writer

BB guns once considered a rite of passage for young boys have come under the crosshairs as they become more realistic looking, more lethal and more common.

At a New Year's Eve party in St. Charles, a pellet from one of the air-powered toys tore through the chest of an 18-year-old Schaumburg woman, lodging in her heart and nearly killing her.

Jeremy Dekruyff, 23, of St. Charles is charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon for allegedly pulling the trigger after an argument at the party. He is scheduled to appear in court today.

It is the latest in a string of injuries and crimes associated with the guns that has led several states and Illinois towns to enact laws to regulate the pseudo-weapons.

Now the most recent victim is questioning whether increased regulations for air guns should become the norm.

"I think it was more comparable to a rifle than a BB gun," Heather Van Horne, recuperating after heart and lung surgery, said recently.

"I don't believe it is guns that hurt people but I think there should be thorough background checks to own (a BB gun)."

Dekruyff does not have a felony record in Kane County. However, in the last five years he has been sentenced to court supervision for misdemeanor charges of unlawful use of a Blackjack knife and illegal transportation of alcohol. He also was sentenced to conditional discharge, one of the least restrictive forms of probation, for possession of cannabis.

Just because a rifle uses air instead of gun powder doesn't mean it should always be considered a toy.

The .177-caliber pellet Van Horne was shot with falls just below the .18-caliber threshold to be considered firearm ammunition in Illinois. However, it's pointed shape and speed of 800 feet per second make it a deadly projectile and led prosecutors to charge Dekruyff with using a firearm.

"It is shaped that way to make it go faster and penetrate deeper, which is good if you are hunting rabbits, but it does make it more dangerous," said Assistant Kane County State's Attorney Joe Lewand.

An estimated 3.2 million BB and pellet guns are sold in the United States each year with many finding their way onto Illinois streets.

Although stores are supposed to require firearms ownership identification cards to purchase BB guns of certain velocities, that doesn't always happen because people aren't aware of the rules, police said.

St. Charles Police Chief Jim Lamkin called the holiday shooting unique and said he has not heard an outcry from the public to crack down on the guns.

Gun advocates oppose any reduction in the power of airguns or registration of their ownership, saying that they only serve to harass hobbyists, not deter crime.

"It works the same way with pellet guns as it works with other guns," said Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association. "It is only the law-abiding citizens that will follow the rules."

While no statistics exist tracking air gun use in crimes, anecdotally police say the guns can be a problem. The guns also have been associated with about four deaths and 20,000 injuries a year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In 1999, two Geneva High School seniors fired a BB gun into a crowd of freshmen students building a homecoming float. One boy suffered permanent damage to his eye, requiring him to wear protective goggles at times.

"There has been an increased lethality with non-powder guns, air guns and BB guns," said Sam Hoover, staff attorney for Legal Community Against Violence, a California-based research center that studies gun violence nationwide. "I think you are going to see more and more people will be developing a plan of how to deal with the guns. …

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