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.