An online effort to curb firearm violence with paintball guns in U.S. cities has turned into a new public safety threat.
Civilians in New York City, Atlanta and Detroit have been shot by paintball gun-toting pranksters, sometimes leading to deadly incidents.
The so-called “Paintball Wars” have opened a new front in Milwaukee, which reported 65 incidents between Thursday night into Monday morning, cops said.
“This isn’t something that’s new throughout the country,” Sgt. Melissa Franckowiak told reporters Monday. “It’s just new to Milwaukee.”
The five-day paintball spree included an elderly man getting shot in the face — dangerously close to the eye — and led to one arrest of a teen.
“It’s a Facebook challenge,” Franckowiak said. “They see it. It’s just kind of going throughout the city.”
The social media campaign is believed to have been started by 21 Savage, an Atlanta-based rapper who implored people to trade real guns for paintball ones as a safer alternative.
But innocent bystanders are still getting injured.
Cops said there’s no pattern or one particular gang organizing the rash of paintball shootings in Milwaukee, two of which involved U.S. Postal Service workers.
Hours after cops gave the warning, a 32-year-old man was shot near the eye with a paintball, which can move at 300 feet a second, while on his bicycle.
Along with stringent warnings about potential felony charges such as battery or assault, Franckowiak warned of pulling a paintball gun on the wrong person — like someone with a concealed carry permit.
A licensed gun owner could suspect “you’re robbing them or something like that” and shoot, she warned.
That’s what cops think happened to Zyquarius Shalom Quadre Bradley, who was found shot to death on April 20 next to a paint-splattered car in Greensboro, N.C.
“We don’t encourage any kind of violence, you know?” Greensboro police spokesman Ronald Glenn said to USA Today. “Just because it’s paintballs instead of guns does not mean it’s safe.”
The NYPD doesn’t track complaints about paintball guns, but two men were arrested in October for shooting at a dozen people in Queens, including a 2-year-old boy struck in the hand by a blue pellet.
And in Atlanta, Christopher Cullins was charged for fatally shooting 3-year-old T’Rhigi Diggs on April 1 after getting enraged by the paintball scheme.
The 15-year-old took a real handgun out of his cousin’s car after getting hit by the paintballs at a Texaco gas station, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.
One of the real bullets he fired at the jokesters struck the SUV T’Rhigi’s mother was driving, piercing the toddler in the chest.
The boy’s family was friends with 21 Savage, who paid for the toddler’s funeral, according to the Journal Constitution.
Detroit has also been blighted by a wave of paintball shootings, including a Friday drive by that struck three boys, who aged from 9 to 11.
“These children could be walking around blind for the rest of their life and y’all just out here playing,” the mother of one boy hit in the leg told local ABC affiliate WXYZ. “It’s not good to do that at all.”
Cops fielded roughly 95 calls about paintball shootings in the Motor City during the last week of April, the Detroit Free Press reported. One cop in an unmarked car spotted some 50 people firing paintball guns at one another.
Several cities — like Atlanta — ban firing the air-powered weapons.
Franckowiak, the Milwaukee police sergeant, implored people to use indoor paintball facilities with “willing participants as opposed to citizens” caught in the crossfire.
“There are plenty of places to do this where it’s legal to do this,” she said.
With Graham Rayman
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