Was Sacramento State pellet gun shooting death a ‘freak accident’ or a sign of a problem?

At a party at his fraternity house early Friday, Sacramento State student William Molina, 21, was shot by a pellet gun and died. According to police radio communications, a friend accidentally shot him.

Investigators continue to investigate the incident, said officer Marcus Basquez, spokesman for the Sacramento Police Department. No arrests have been made.

Deaths caused by pellet gun injuries are rare, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The agency reports about four deaths per year caused by BB guns or pellet guns, saying airguns that fire pellets at muzzle velocities higher that 350 feet per second can be lethal.

Unlike firearms, which use a primer and gun powder to fire a bullet, pellet guns use air to propel small, metallic pellets. Pellet guns are typically used for target practice or hunting small animals such as rodents and birds, said Andrew Ponis, owner of Laguna Shooting and Accessories and Laguna Shooting Center.

Pellet guns also differ from airsoft guns in that they exclusively fire metal projectiles, while airsoft guns are loaded with plastic BBs.

Ponis said pellet guns are usually pumped or use carbon dioxide cartridges to fire pellets, and can injure someone if struck by a pellet, but don’t often kill.

“I’ve never ever heard of it,” he said. “That’s an unfortunate, freak accident. That’s just not likely.”

Statewide, the number of emergency room visits related to the accidental discharge of an airgun jumped by 14 percent in 2017. In that year, there were 1,038 such reported incidents throughout the state, according to data from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

In 2016, a California law went into affect making it illegal to sell “BB devices,” which are guns that use air pressure or springs, to any person under 18. The law, SB 199, written by Sen. Kevin De Leon, also made BB devices subject to laws governing imitation firearms.

In Sacramento, city code prohibits people from carrying or using “any air gun for the purpose of discharging” except in licensed shooting galleries.

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