Don’t shoot! Why paintball’s outlawed in Scouting (and the one exception)

expertlogo1This is a rule so obvious it shouldn’t need to be said: Shooting at one another is an unauthorized activity in Scouting.

But what about paintball? Participants in that popular activity shoot at each other, but they do so using nonlethal capsules of colored dye. How do the BSA’s health and safety experts qualify this activity that seems to be in a gray area?

That’s what Bill B., a Scouter who emailed me earlier this week, wanted to know.

He writes, simply:

Does BSA have any guidelines on paintball competitions as a troop activity?



For the answer, I went to the BSA’s experts: Health and Safety head Richard Bourlon and Insurance and Risk Management leader Mark Dama.

Here’s what they said:

Paintball and Scouting

Shooting at each other is an unauthorized activity in Scouting. This includes paintball.

“Paintball has been evaluated on several occasions to see whether it might work as a program but to date has not been deemed appropriate,” Bourlon says.

The Guide to Safe Scouting

What’s the source? Check out the Guide to Safe Scouting’s list of unauthorized and restricted activities.

The lone exception

One time that paintball guns are authorized is during target shooting, much like what was seen at the 2013 National Jamboree (picture in the photo at the top of this post).

If you have approval from your council AND your Scouts are shooting at targets that are neither living nor human representations, paintball is allowed.

Here’s the reference from the Guide to Safe Scouting. The bold emphasis is mine:

1. Pointing any type of firearm or simulated firearm at any individual is unauthorized. Scout units may plan or participate in paintball, laser tag or similar events where participants shoot at targets that are neither living nor human representations. Units with council approval may participate in formally organized historical reenactment events, where firearms are used and intentionally aimed over the heads of the reenactment participants. The use of paintball guns, laser guns or similar devices may be utilized in target shooting events with council approval and following the Sweet 16 of BSA Safety. Council approval means the approval of the Scout Executive or his designee on a tour permit specifically outlining details of the event.

Why this rule is in place

“The policy was reviewed and affirmed by both the Health and Safety support Committee and the Risk Management Advisory Panel,” Dama says.

During the review, Dama and his team of volunteers and professionals learned of several instances of catastrophic eye injuries when paintballs were shot by youth at youth — not in Scouting, but involving Scout-age participants.

The rates indicate paintball injuries happen around 2.7 times for every 10,000 players, Bourlon says. That means if 500,000 youth played paintball, the team would predict up to 135 eye injuries.

“The rate is simply unacceptable as a risk at this time,” Bourlon says.

150 thoughts on “Don’t shoot! Why paintball’s outlawed in Scouting (and the one exception)

  1. As an avid hunter, Scouter, and military man, the safety of paintball is not relevant to me. We participate in plenty of activities with a measure of risk that we manage with safety equipment and procedures. What is relevant is the habit of proper handling of firearms. I’ve seen my own son’s loss of good firearm handling awareness (muzzle awareness, always pointing in safe direction), and I had to re-teach those habits after he has played Air Soft or Paintball. I played Air Soft once with him, and found it difficult to be around a group of people indescriminantly waving guns around during intermissions between fights. After a lifetime of hunting and handling firearms the right way (and this good habit saved a friend’s life years ago when I had an accidental discharge), it’s a natural reaction for me to feel aware and uncomfortable with even “toy” guns being pointed at me.

    The pretend war issue bothers me to some degree, although I don’t expect everyone to share the same perspective. There will always be times and places where war is a reality, and from some vantage point, a necessity. If I find myself in that position again, I’ll be ready to engage, again. But I don’t find pretend battle necessary or especially helpful in raising my boys to be good men. It’s not a field skill in and of itself, nor does it teach anything about good citizenship. I have great respect for the seriousness of combat, and those who have sacrificed on the battlefield. For this reason I don’t find the “fun” in paintball gaming, although I can understand it.

    This is what I believe:
    BSA is a paramilitary organization at it’s roots
    BSA should teach primarily field skills and good citizenship
    BSA should not teach potentially lethal bad gun handling habits
    BSA should not teach boys to try to “kill” each other

    I have no problem with the BSA prohibiting Paint Ball, and I’m quite sure my boys will still have a blast in Scouts, doing a thousand other Scouting activities. But I would implore the BSA to be honest about the reason for the paintball prohibition….and it’s not the safety issue. This discussion really boils down to “what do you really want to teach your boys?” And, is Paintball that important to you in the context of Boy Scouts?

  2. Interesting twist about “shooting at each other”. You’ll recall the Jamboree had a Powderball game, where foam targets were thrown in the air, similar to Sporting Clays, then shot with Powderballs from a paintball gun. These targets go up, sideways, along the ground and are shot just like Sporting Clays, but a great deal safer. (O.K. all shooting is safe is correctly overseen and controlled). But what is interesting is, in Europe they hold International paintball competitors and several teams are using these machines for practice at “moving targets”. With the tremendous interest at the Jamboree in this game, (approved by BSA), perhaps it would be a solution to the “want to play paintball” crowd – same skill set but no controversy. It would never replace the “essence” of Paintball – skirmish etc, but a new discipline?

  3. Disappointing to read this. They are holding back scouts from learning teamwork, communication, stress management, problem solving and simply having a good time by this choice. Obviously they misread the injury stats. They decided all injures were magically eye injuries in their own assessment. This could not be farther than the truth. Paintball is safer than golf and volleyball, the stats are public and easy to find. So it really is a disservice to the parents and the participants themselves to hold back such a rewarding activity. Paintball is just a modern version of tag, utilizing technology to achieve the goal at hand. We use paintball in leadership training and a host of other constructive activities at high altitude. The Girl Scouts have even participated.

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