Why Wear Shooting Glasses?

Why wear shooting glasses? Come on, anyone who’s seen A Christmas Story knows the answer…”You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!”

Sure, it’s just a classic holiday movie, but the fact still remains — shooting sports can be dangerous. How dangerous?

Ralphie consults Santa on the matter of gifts.
Ralphie found out firsthand how easy it is to shoot your eye out. Here, Santa tries to warn him as Ralphie consults Santa about gifts, but Ralphie wouldn’t listen. Remember, Santa sees us when we’re sleeping. He knows when we’re awake. (Photo by Vanity Fair)

Some Stats

BB/Paintball/Airsoft Guns

According to the US Eye Injury Registry, most such eye injuries occur at home and involve young men. That makes sense.

The agency now has a worldwide database that, so far, has recorded 14,000 severe eye injuries worldwide. The percentage of those injuries caused by BB guns was approximately 6%. Annually, in the United States, about 30,000 people go to the emergency room with BB/pellet-type injuries.

I was surprised to learn that BB/pellet guns accounted for such a significant percentage of eye injuries. Then again, I shouldn’t be. Considering how many BBs I fired through my BB guns as a kid, it’s a wonder I have either eye in my head at this point. During the summer months, I used to run through a box of 7,500 BBs each week. Needless to say, I shot several BB guns to death over the course of a few years as a youth.

Reading the Data

From this information, we can surmise that it would be an incredibly good idea to wear protective shooting glasses at the range and wherever we are using BB guns. Ricochets are a big cause of eye injuries.

Needless to say, when an eye receives trauma from a high-speed projectile, the prognosis is often not very positive.

Given their rising popularity, paintball guns also account for a significant portion of ocular injuries among people these days. Injuries from these guns have risen by 50% since 1990.

Airsoft gun injuries are seeing an even more marked increase; they are up 600% since 2010.

It stands to reason that using protective eyewear would prevent virtually all of these injuries. Many people don’t use eye protection with such guns because they don’t consider them to be actual firearms.


The above information is just for at home; we haven’t even gotten to the actual firing range yet!

Most shooting ranges, whether indoor or outdoor, require both eye and ear protection. This is for good reason, and I imagine insurance companies won’t even insure them if they don’t have these requirements. Over the course of my career, my agency required us to use eye and ear protection for qualifications and all other firearms-related training.

Even if you’re shooting at a place that doesn’t require eye protection, I strongly urge you to wear shooting glasses anyway. You only have two eyes, and it’s very easy to lose sight in one of them when high-speed projectiles are whizzing through the air.

Dangers on the Range

A few dangers come to mind when we’re shooting on the range.

My agency used revolvers as our duty weapon. More than once, I was hit in the side of the face or body by flying pieces of lead from the shooter(s) next to me on the range. How does this happen?

Revolvers have what is called a Forcing Cone, which essentially funnels the bullet into the barrel when it leaves the cylinder. If the chambers of the cylinder are not perfectly lined up with the barrel, as the bullet enters the forcing cone, a small piece of the bullet can be shaved off, which can go flying off into space. Or into the side of your face. Or your eye. You get the picture. This was not at all uncommon, especially considering that we used hundreds of revolvers; not every one of them was perfectly tuned.

Even Backstops Pose a Danger

Some backstops at the range are nearly perfect for absorbing bullets without allowing any fragments to come back toward the shooter. Others are not so great. The range where I typically shoot has dirt backstops. Since rocks are in the dirt, there are sometimes rocks. When bullets hit the rocks, fragments can find their way into our eyes.

Shooting steel at the range absolutely demands eye protection because of what we call “splashback.” Fragments commonly find their way back to hit shooters, and it’s happened often with me. Fortunately, the pieces of bullet jacket just stuck into my skin rather than my eyes. During a training exercise on the job, though, a coworker was hit by a slug from a .38 Special after it ricocheted off a steel target frame. The round hit his forearm under the elbow, breaking into two pieces and traveling under his skin for a short distance. No serious harm was done, and after a trip to the hospital, the pieces were removed. However, had that bullet hit an unprotected eye, he would have surely lost the eye, and it could have very well traveled into his brain. Plan accordingly.

Steel targets have become quite popular because of their instant feedback, which makes shooting them both fun and informative. That instant feedback lets us know whether or not we’ve hit our target, which is helpful for training. Steel targets are also used in many competitions now, which definitely adds to the enjoyment. With steel shooting being so prevalent, it makes wearing eye protection even more important.


Pellets fired from shotguns have poor aerodynamics; there’s no spin, and they just fly on out there, come what may. When they hit solid objects, they tend to go all over the place. And part of that “all over the place” could very well be headed back at us or others on the range. The hunting field has even more variables, and it wouldn’t hurt to wear eye protection in the field, just like on the range.

Ruptured Cases And Other Failures

Occasionally, one of our firearms might experience a ruptured case in which the wall of the brass casing blows out. During such an event, gases can escape from the chamber area of our firearm. Depending on the firearm, those gases can be vented into the shooter’s face or even onto those nearby. Those hot gases can certainly pose a risk to the eyes. Other times, a primer will pop out when a round is fired, also causing hot gases to exit the action of the firearm.

Catastrophic revolver failure.
Revolvers can fail, just like any other firearms. In this case, a ruptured cylinder. A similar case occurred next to the author at the range one day, and fragments of the cylinder flew past his head. Photo: The Firearms Blog.

I recollect an occasion on the range where I was shooting next to a guy who had a .45 Long Colt revolver. For whatever reason, that revolver experienced a catastrophic failure, which blew out the cylinder of the revolver. Pieces of the cylinder actually flew past my head, and had they hit, they would have caused serious injury. And it would have hit from the side.

Remember the pieces of bullet that can be shaved off the forcing cone of revolvers? Again, that can hit nearby shooters in the side of the face.

Another hazard that we can face on the range is from spent brass being ejected from semi-auto rifles, pistols, or shotguns.

Side Protection

Because fragments and other missiles can come from the side of the shooter and enter the eye from that direction, it’s important to utilize shooting glasses that offer protection from the side. Fortunately, these days, many shooting glasses offer side protection.


Nowadays, there are tons of great choices out there for protecting our eyes at the range and other places. And there’s more good news: it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg (or an eye). In fact, you can spend barely anything at all, or you can go hog wild and go for the gusto.

I’ll list a few possible candidates for eye protection here for readers to peruse to get an idea of what’s available.

Pyramex Safety Glasses

First is the Pyramex S41102 Intruder Safety Glasses. They’re polycarbonate, offering protection that exceeds ANSI Z87.1-2010 high-impact requirements. The lenses are clear, and they offer side protection. These are a very basic option to protect your eyes while staying inexpensive. How inexpensive? As this is written, they’ll set you back a whopping $1.99.

Safariland Safety Kit

Another option is the Safariland Impulse Hearing And Eye Protection Kit. In it, you receive both hearing and eye protection in the form of ear plugs, ear muffs, and shooting glasses. It’s great for beginning shooters who are starting out and need the basics. The protection is not fancy, but it’s solid and will certainly suffice. At the time of writing, the set goes for $32.99.

Safariland hearing and eye protection.
Safariland’s Impulse hearing and eye protection package cover all the bases at a very reasonable price. Photo: GunMag Warehouse.

Finally, some shooters might decide to go with the top of the line with their eye protection. Magpul’s Defiant Polarized Shooting Glasses should fill the bill for those yearning for high-end fashion and quality. They offer side protection and are anti-reflective. They’re polarized, offer Z87+ ballistic protection, and are tested to MIL-PRF-32432 ballistic standards. At the time of writing, these cost $132.99.

Bottom Line

With affordable eye protection available, there is absolutely no reason that anyone has to be without such protection at the range and elsewhere. Given the dangers that firearms, BB guns, airsoft guns, and others offer, the need for eye protection is very real.

We only have two eyes, and risking them is simply unacceptable. Just ask Ralphie – he nearly shot his eye out!

Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16 ½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy. He was then promoted to the title of corrections counselor, where he ran a caseload and facilitated cognitive therapy classes to inmates. His total service time was close to 29 years. He was involved in many violent encounters on duty, including incidents of fatalities. He is a dedicated Christian and attributes any skills that he has to the glory of God.

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