Our Opinion: No harmless prank to spray paintballs on Wilson's streets

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THUMBS DOWN to teenagers and young adults targeting innocent bystanders in potentially high-stakes "paintball wars" in Wilson neighborhoods and on city streets.

Police arrested three young men following a string of paintball-shooting incidents last Sunday and two teens caught in the aftermath of a paintball attack that led an irate homeowner to give chase, resulting in the suspects crashing their car on Wednesday.

When played with willing participants wearing safety gear on private ranges and fields, paintball is a fine sport. But when paintball guns are used in drive-by sprayings of people, cars and homes, the activity causes panic and the consequences could be deadly.

Paintball markers use carbon dioxide or compressed air to fire small projectiles that stain their targets with dyed gelatin. Many markers, or paintball guns, are designed to resemble tactical rifles. They can be mistaken for real firearms — specially when seen for a split second through the window of a speeding car. An intended target could fear for his or her life and retaliate with live fire.

Spraying unsuspecting non-participants with paintballs isn't a harmless prank. It's assault and criminal vandalism, and it can quickly escalate into the use of lethal force. The suspects fleeing from a furious target could have struck and killed innocent people or barreled into the utility pole they struck at a higher speed, ending their own lives.

Taken in the best light, the paintball peltings show youthful stupidity. And we have our doubts that the intent is benign — Wilson police spokesman Sgt. Steve Stroud told the Times for a Friday story that some suspects are believed to be gang members.

For the community's peace and for your own life and safety, play paintball as woods-and-field shooting sport it's intended to be. Don't take it to the streets.

THUMBS UP to Wilson's small businesses, some of which earned some well-deserved recognition from their congressman on Thursday.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-Wilson, visited shops including Tig's Courtyard, Art at 123 and Artisan Leaf in historic downtown Wilson on the first leg of a Small Business Tour he plans to continue in Tarboro, Greenville and elsewhere in the 1st Congressional District. Butterfield correctly noted that entrepreneurship is a key driver of domestic jobs and growth.

"Our economy in America is based on small businesses and if we can empower small businesses to grow and prosper and to succeed and create jobs, we can be a stronger country because of it," he said.

U.S. Small Business Administration figures show that independent firms with fewer than 500 workers account for more than 99 percent of all American companies and provide nearly half of our nation's jobs. From mom-and-pop stores and local restaurants to family businesses that employ dozens or several hundred, small business is our nation's backbone.

Congressional colleagues, state lawmakers and local officials should join Butterfield on his appreciation tour. The generous tax incentives lavished on tech giants and mega-manufacturers place small business at a competitive disadvantage. Why not let small-scale job creators hold on to more of their hard-earned income? 

A handshake and encouraging words are nice, but if government really values local business, it ought to put its money where its mouth is.

THUMBS UP to Wilson County Schools' 8.8 percent overall improvement in North Carolina's end-of-grade and end-of-course tests, announced during last week's school board meeting and reported in Tuesday's edition of the Times.

Test scores show plenty of room for improvement in some grade levels and in some schools, but this year's robust gains give parents and students reason to cheer. A nine-point climb, after all, is nearly the equivalent of a full letter grade.

EOG results for third- through eighth-graders showed a robust 10.6 percent gain in reading, science and math scores. Our public school district is moving in the right direction. 

Superintendent Lane Mills noted that school officials "have plenty of work to do" but applauded the hard work that went into 2017-18 improvements.

"I think that is very powerful for our school system and powerful for our community," Mills said, "and I am very proud of our students, teachers and staff."

Take a bow, Wilson County Schools. You've earned it.