Pellet Guns in Kashmir: An Epidemic of Fatal Injuries

Pellet Guns in Kashmir: An Epidemic of Fatal Injuries

Best preventive measure is to completely ban the use of pellet guns

Piercing body by hundreds of small metal balls is all that is being done by police and forces to control the agitated civilians in Kashmir valley. Are we living in 21st century, is this the way to deal with present turmoil?  There are lots of questions which need to be answered.

The pellet injuries include a wide spectrum of injuries from superficial penetration of the soft-tissue to contusion of vessels. While pellet gun are considered “less lethal”, but when used at a closer range they can be lethal or cause serious injury like any other standard firearm injury.

Pellets fired by pellet guns do not have a predictable trajectory therefore can also harm peaceful protestors and bystanders.

Pellet guns do not offer effective aim at the target crowd accordingly and many peaceful protestors and bystanders and even the people living in close vicinity of the turmoil site may be injured. 

Proper training should have been given to personnel carrying pellet gun about its use to disperse the mob as this non-lethal weapon has turned lethal in untrained hands.

These weapons are very effective in causing pain and the projectile may penetrate, but more often causes blunt injury. Severe injury is far more common when the weapon is fired from closer than 60 feet and without the use of indirect action (ricochet).

 

Although any part of body can be hit by pellet but most common sites of injury are extremities, abdomen and back and chest. However, it becomes grievous once it hits sensitive organs like eyes or if hit towards the target at a closer range. 

 

A single pellet gun cartridge, upon fire from pellet gun, breaks into more than 500 small iron pellets which can penetrate any body tissue including eyes.  While the pellet wound itself may seem small, if not appreciated for the potential for tissue disruption and injuries to the head, chest, and abdomen, there can be fatal results.

Pellet gun (pump action short gun), though considered as a new benign modality (non-lethal weapon) for controlling agitated crowds, is not really benign. It can cause serious injuries with morbidity and mortality. Pellet guns either should not be used to disperse agitated mobs unless extremely necessary or the personnel using them should be better trained so that the people do not receive close hits and hits above waist. While the pellet wound itself may seem trivial, if not appreciated of the potential for tissue disruption and injuries to the head, chest, and abdomen, there can be catastrophic results.

In our setup we are managing patients in the same way like a bullet injured patient as most of the pellet injured persons have injuries above waist line and near the vital organs. So it is no different than any other standard fire arm injury. 

Over the past few years security forces in Kashmir valley have been using pellet gun to disperse violent mobs. Pellet fire arms have been introduced as the latest modality of crowd control considered to be non-lethal weapon. Ocular injuries following pellet gun fire has assumed alarming significance in Kashmir valley (India) over the past few years leaving many visually impaired and others blind. 

An eye can receive one or multiple pellets and depending upon its velocity and distance can cause both penetrating and non-penetrating injury to the eye.

Ocular injury is an important and potentially preventable cause of ocular morbidity. Even though the eye comprises only a small part of the surface area of the human body, despite being well protected, it is injured quite often. 

 

Pellet related ocular injuries are becoming increasingly common in Kashmir valley since 2010. In severely injured eyes the visual prognosis remains poor despite advances in micro-surgical techniques. So getting ophthalmologic experts from other parts of India to treat these poor patients will not help. The patient who has been hit in the eye by a pellet will be visually impaired for the rest of his life. The best preventive measures for such injuries will be banning the use of pellet guns.

 

There are various sets of weapon that may be included in the group of police arms for civil unrest but present use of pellet gun should be stopped. Pellet guns do not offer effective aim to target the crowd accordingly and many peaceful protestors and bystanders have been injured during their use.

 

Government should understand that since 2010 it has not been able to contain the violence and mobs by using these so called non-lethal pellet guns. It is high time that an alternative is sought immediately so that an epidemic of grievous injuries can be prevented. The use of pellet gun should not be encouraged and some other measure should be sought for controlling agitated mobs in order to prevent an epidemic of fatal injuries.

 

(Dr Zameer Ali is an Orthopaedic surgeon. Feedback at dralizameer@gmail.com)