January 21, 2005 The Firewheel is a rubber band machine gun designed to give children a projectile-firing toy gun that can be used without risk of injury. We took two Firewheels, two healthy boys (aged 11 and 13) and watched what developed. The result was several weeks of continuous use (ongoing at publication date), no physical injuries, universal envy from the childrens' friends and the inescapable feeling that the Firewheel represents extraordinary value at US$22.
Whether boys should be allowed to play with toy "weapons of war" is always problematic. There's lots of conflicting opinion on whether playing with guns should be allowed - lots of opinion, but not much evidence.
Since gunpowder was invented, boys have played with guns. This article is intended as informational for those parents who believe that it's better to offer a safe toy that won't cause physical damage than to leave fertile young minds to create their own devices.
Firewheel inventor Paul Sundstrom says the gun was created to, "distract children from the more dangerous stuff such as sling shots, home-made bows and arrows, and the like, and to achieve this, it was necessary to come up with a pretty mean and business-like looking bit of gear."
We started with one gun, but a week into our evaluation, Firewheel sent a second gun. Eleven-year-old George had been the main user of the gun until that time. Once the second gun arrived, older bother Tim became much more involved, as two guns turned the Firewheel from a single-person toy into a game.
The biggest single problem with rubber band guns is reloading, particularly so for machineguns, as multiple bands need to be loaded and it's a time-consuming and frustrating business with inevitable rubber band breakages.
In the beginning, we found it hard to reload the Firewheel at all, even with the instruction book and after studying the demonstration video.
A few hours later, George had the reloading sussed out entirely, and could reload the entire ten bands within 30 seconds. As time went by, the normal "load" was reduced to five or six bands as the last few are harder to load and most band breakages happen in loading the final few. One of the other major factors in loading only half the bands was that "it's harder to load when you're being shot at."
In terms of potential damage to children, the Firewheel does pack a punch up close - at distances less than half a metre. Graham (father of our testers) reported that the only "discernable welt" occurred when one of the boys crept up behind the other and fired directly into his neck .
Recognising that boys will be boys, clear plastic glasses were added to the kit from that point forth, to ensure no short range "accidents" occurred. Other than that, Graham and mum Maryanne were comfortable with the guns being used inside the house - there's just not enough momentum in a rubber band to tip over a vase or do any damage to the household finery.
How accurate is the gun?
The Firewheel web site claims the gun is so accurate that you can shoot flies out of the air. Both boys said they thought that would be very hard to do at any distance more than a metre (flies are very small and very fast), though we got the distinct impression the concept was challenging and would be attempted repeatedly from that point forth.
The Firewheel is relatively accurate to around four metres though the velocity of the rubber bands drops a lot from three metres onwards. When shooting at each other, both boys reported that the can't-dodge-the-bullet-distance was "about the length of a car" - around three metres - and the sting had gone out of the shot by that time.
Once the user is accustomed to the firing mechanism, it's possible to squeeze off single or multiple shots at will - it's a clever firing mechanism and works well.
Now human ingenuity is universal, and Firewheel are not the first to produce a great rubber band gun, though they appear to be the first to produce a cost-effective solution. We were able to find several other rubber band machine guns on the market, the most remarkable being a 144-band gatling-gun-lookalike that sells for US$395.
By comparison, the most remarkable thing about the Firewheel is the price - AUD$30 (US$22) - and the fact the gun comes with a lifetime warranty.
The only running costs are likely to be buying new bands. After two weeks of continuous use, there's still plenty of ammuniaion left from the original bag of bands that came with each gun, and jumbo-sized bags are available from your local newsagent for around $2.
In short, we think the Firewheel is a winner. Two guns cost US$45 and provided almost limitless fun, no damage and no tears.
The Firewheel can be purchased from www.firewheel.com
Should boys be allowed to play with guns
Some authorities are of the belief that play is a form of learning that stimulates a child's imagination and teaches important social skills such as co-operation and self-control.
Some believe that banning boys from playing with toy guns is futile and may even damage their development, while there are equally as many advocates against their usage.
One example is the Australian group National Action Against War Toys. The group believes such toys are harmful, in that they "engender an aggressive disposition in children which can manifest itself in subsequent violence, or that they engender a callousness and insensitivity to the feelings or suffering of others."
Very realistic toy guns cause additional problems and many governments have either banned or are considering a ban on realistic toy guns entirely as they regularly frighten the community and are often used in robberies.