by B.B. Pelletier

This one is for DSW, who was surprised by the high prices of certain airsoft models. He asks what these guns are used for.

The origins of airsoft
Airsoft, or soft air as it is also called, originated in Japan some time around 1980. Firearms are unavailable to most people in Japan, and those interested in guns were looking for a legal way to enjoy at least some of the attributes. I understand this entirely, as there are times when I take out a particular firearm, be it a Garand or my Trapdoor Springfield, just to hold and mentally connect with the gun. Many women cannot walk through a fabric store without feeling the various fabrics and many men have a need to connect to things mechanical. For me, it is firearms, even when I’m not engaged in shooting them, so I understand the need to just hold something in my hands and let my imagination wander where it will.

Very realistic!
The early guns were extremely realistic, to the point of fooling even avid shooters. But the wood and metal replicas were quite expensive, and soon a cheaper class of gun that was affordable to the masses was created. That’s when airsoft really took off. So, in the beginning, the guns were made as replicas of firearms that could not be owned legally. The fact that they happened to shoot small (6mm most of the time, but many other calibers have been created, as well) plastic balls that the Asian manufacturers called BBs, was secondary to the realism factor.

Airsoft development starts to branch
Once collectors were satisfied, airsoft manufacturers found a second market with shooters who actually used the guns to shoot at things – targets at first. A secondary branch of airsoft development began to improve the accuracy of the guns. That branch is still actively working, but it has now merged with a third branch that has taken over the lead – gaming or skirmishing.

In Asia and later in Europe and last in the U.S., airsoft was employed as an alternative to the sport of paintball, which is only slightly older. It seems no matter what the culture, some people like shooting at other people. In England, the local law enforcement establishments and governments are using airsoft skirmishing to drain the energy from teenage gang members – setting the model for the world. In Asia and Europe, skirmishing with airsoft has taken the lead over paintball as the No. 1 combat sport. In the U.S., it’s growing rapidly toward that end – to the point that Nelson Technologies, the people who invented the paint marker for agricultural use only to see it grow a million times larger as a gaming sport, are now actively developing paintballs for airsoft guns. They see the future in airsoft, because the guns are more realistic and the “BBs” don’t hurt as much as a .50- or .68-caliber paintball.

Today, the guns are made primarily for those who want to shoot at targets with something very safe, and those who want to get into tactical games. The games will soon be a billion-dollar market, if they’re not there already. Secondary items like tactical clothing, field gear, radios, goggles, electronics, night vision and actual military vehicles, and even aircraft are entirely supporting some companies who don’t sell a single airsoft gun!

Law enforcement and military simulations
Law enforcement agencies and military units around the world are turning to airsoft guns to use as a safe and non-lethal simulation for tactical training. Unlike simunitions that work in real firearms, airsoft guns do not cause accidental deaths when someone mistakenly loads live ammo.

There are airsoft M16s and M4s that cost over $1,600 and are just as rugged as the firearms. They only hold 30 rounds, just like the firearm, so shooters are forced to play like the real world. These guns are sold only to the military and law enforcement, because they’re considered too realistic for civilians to own. Makes me glad to be an American, because the constitution guarantees me the right to own the real thing, unlike most people in the world!

The film and theater industry turned to airsoft in the 1990s, after accidental deaths like the on-set shooting of Brandon Lee (Bruce Lee’s son) resulted when live ammo was loaded instead of blanks. Property masters no longer have to worry about securing actual firearms on set. For that reason, Hollywood lobbied long and hard to be allowed to possess airsoft guns without the blaze orange markings

DSW, I thought I could do this in one report, but there’s more to come; so stick around for part 2!