[Editor's note: In my day, we shot tennis balls out of cannon made from soda
cans. -- jdcc]

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,3-558570,00.html

January 29, 2003 
Safety chiefs target German craze for 'bazooka' spud guns
>From Allan Hall in Berlin

GERMAN youths have taken up a dangerous new pastime: firing potatoes as fast
as a rocket from ³bazookas² made from drainage pipes.

One man almost lost an eye, a woman had her leg broken and one teenager was
badly burnt when the hairspray used as the propellant exploded in his face
as he prepared to fire.

A 16-year-old in the university city of Göttingen lost part of his ear when
the firing chamber ripped open as he pulled the trigger.

The so-called Kartoffelkanone are made from piping and masking tape bought
at any hardware store. With a range of 200 metres they could split a manıs
head at 15 metres and penetrate a wooden wall at 90 metres.

The guns are not governed by the usual strict firearms regulations in
Germany, but prosecutors in the republicıs 16 states are passing emergency
rulings to try to outlaw them.

Horst Przbyla, a munitions expert for police in Brandenburg near Berlin,
said: ³What started out as an extreme form of paintball has become deadly
dangerous. Certainly, anyone caught in the path of the projectiles can
expect to sustain very serious injuries indeed. It can only be a matter of
time until the first death.²

Police are considering asking leading hardware chains to sell piping only to
adults. 

Local stores that sell hairsprays and pressurised lighter fluid, the
favourite propellants for the DIY weapons, may also be asked to sell them
only to adults. Failing that, police suggest that youngsters should have to
explain why they are buying them.

A website used by the Kartoffelkanone enthusiasts was receiving only 20 hits
a day just three months ago: now there are more than 700.

German police fear that the youths will turn to more lethal ammunition than
potatoes. Tests have shown that such a bazooka firing an empty film canister
filled with sand and the cardboard centres of toilet rolls filled with
cement could penetrate brickwork.

An apple fired from one of the guns almost took out the eye of a middle-aged
man near the Baltic coast.

In Bavaria a 55-year-old woman suffered severe injuries when a potato
smashed into her thigh as she walked near woodland with her dog. A school in
Weinstadt in Baden-Württemberg recently came under a potato barrage from
children playing truant, while in the Taunus region several windows of a
block of flats were smashed.

The hairspray is ignited using a battery which provides a spark. Some youths
have made multi-barrelled potato cannons, resembling the Soviet Katyusha
rocket launchers of the Second World War and capable of firing at a
phenomenal rate. 

Thuringia in the east has imposed a ban on the guns and four youngsters in
the town of Schlotheim caught by police had their weapons destroyed and were
sentenced to 25 hours community service. Police also caught two teenagers
with a cannon nearly 6ft long in one Rhineland town. A spokesman for the
police in Brandenburg said: ³Woodland on Sundays echoes to the thump-thump
of these guns. It is a growing social problem that needs to be tackled.²


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