For 30 years kids and adults have been enjoying fun activities that revolve around handheld foam dart launchers. This recreational phenomenon began in 1992 when Nerf introduced its first foam dart gun called the Sharpshooter. The foam darts proved to be so popular that they soon eclipsed Nerf's foam ball launchers which had been in circulation since around 1989. In the decades since the Sharpshooter hit store shelves, several toy makers have stepped up to provide an expansive selection of dart launchers ranging from tiny pocket-sized single-shot models to outrageous contraptions that include fully automatic belt-fed rotary cannons!
My kids love them. Our one son in particular is a dyed-in-the-wool enthusiast who already knows what he wants for Christmas and his birthday long before we ask. His collection is impressive and he takes pride in knowing how to make the most of each of them while mixing and matching their modular components.
It should be noted here that while foam darts and balls fired from these launchers are mostly harmless, they do have the potential to hurt someone's eye should the launcher manage to land a direct hit. The darts can also knock over and break some fragile objects as well. Because of this we have a few important ground rules that the kids have to follow when using them. For those who are interested, I thought I would pass them along here:
Mind Your Muzzles & Your Manners
We insist the kids practice good “muzzle manners.” Simply put, don't point the launcher at anything you don't intend to dart. Not at people, not at pets and not delicate antique glassware that can't be replaced. Just keep the muzzle pointed down until you're ready to engage a designated target (more on that in a minute).
This muzzle-down policy has both physical and social benefits. If, due to the frailties of human nature, the launcher should happen to be fired unintentionally, the foam dart will strike carpeted or hardwood surfaces, both of which can safely withstand the impact. Eyes, antiques and the dog's nerves will all be left in their original positions and conditions. It also does away with the annoyance and nervousness that comes with being muzzled. Nobody likes that feeling of being ambushed or targeted with launchers when they haven't agreed to play the game. And so it's just good manners to keep the muzzles down so that we'll all get along with each other.
Designated Players & Targets Only
A designated target is simply one that has been approved for foam dart launching. If the kids want to play dart tag with the friends outside, then only those who have agreed to play the game and are wearing safety glass can be considered designated players. Everyone else is off limits. Players need to agree on the boundaries of the playing field. This reduces annoyance to the neighbors who are not playing and it makes it easier to find and retrieve the reusable darts.
For practice indoors we have used a variety of designated targets including paper taped to the wall, packing boxes and various unbreakable objects set up along the stairs leading into the basement. The key is to make sure that these targets are set up in a safe area where darts that miss won't hit people, pets or breakable objects.
Fingers Off the Triggers For Transport
I've never liked the term “accidental discharge.” An accident, according to Oxford’s English Dictionary, is an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause. Like having a deer jump out in front of your car on a mountain road. That situation is an accident; it could not have been reasonably avoided without a crystal ball or hiding in the basement and never leaving home.
But launchers of all sorts, including those that send foam darts, arrows or bullets into flight, do not go off accidentally. The launcher must be intentionally picked up by an operator and then loaded, which is something the launcher can’t do for itself. Finally, the trigger or actuator must be pressed to launch the projectile. This last action by the operator can be either intentional or unintentional depending on their attention level in the situation. In other words, launches can be intentional, unintentional or negligent, but not accidental.
In order to avoid an unintentional foam dart launch, inside or outside, the operator needs to keep their finger off of the trigger until they are on target and ready go. Trigger fingers are kept outside of the trigger guard or the launcher is carried with that hand wrapped around the stock or a carry handle.
Let’s Do Launch
Foam dart launchers have provided our family with an enjoyable pastime and some useful teaching moments. My wife and I believe that home is the classroom and laboratory where kids learn and practice the behavioral skills they’ll need as adults. Why don’t you get into fights with your siblings when they rub your hair the wrong way? Because some day, when you’re older, you’ll need to keep your cool and speak politely when a stranger, an employer, or possibly a police officer causes your stress meter to top out. It’s better to practice keeping a cool head now than to try and develop that skill on the fly in the heat of the moment.
Foam dart launchers have provided similar learning opportunities. Proper launcher handling has helped to reinforce the importance of respecting personal boundaries, environmental awareness and the consequences of our decisions. Not too long ago, our devoted launcher fan shared another benefit of good foam dart habits. He said, "Hey Dad, you know those rules we have for the launchers? They would be good for people when they go to a shooting range to shoot real guns."
Hmm, he just might be on to something here….