Airsoft guns may soon be going the way of real guns around the world, even in the US. Built to resemble actual weapons, Airsoft guns instead shoot pellets and are used in several games much like paintball. These games range from freeform death match style in which all the players are basically out for themselves and anything goes, to team play that resembles war games. Although pellets are used instead of bullets or paintballs, getting hit can still result in a nasty sting and a lingering wound.
Complaints against Airsoft guns have come from a number of quarters. For instance, the University of Hawaii at Manoa has banned Airsoft guns. Despite that ban—or, indeed, perhaps because of it—the campus was the site of a series of assaults on students by someone using an Airsoft pellet gun. Even so, much of the uproar has less to do with the damage done by the pellets and more with the construction of the guns themselves.
Airsoft guns can take the form of handguns or larger rifles and they can look remarkably realistic. It is this realism that has raised questions of safety, not the actual damage done by the pellets. Recently in Florida, a middle school student was shot by police after he brandished a weapon at them. The weapon turned out to be a pellet gun, though it was never established whether or not it was actually an Airsoft gun. From a distance, Airsoft guns definitely resemble the real thing and this has certainly led to a move to ban them.
In light of the calls to ban what are essentially toys, it’s quite ironic that the rise of Airsoft popularity began in Asian countries where access to real firearms is difficult. The realistic look of the guns contributed to the popularity of the games in which they used, lending them a certain reality that older style pellet guns simply didn’t have. Eventually, the craze pushed westward and took up residence in Europe and America. With the lax gun control laws in America, these Airsoft guns are much more dangerous. While it’s unlikely that a large group of young people in Japan or England would be walking around openly carrying real guns, the police in America don’t have the luxury of second guessing. If a policeman sees a gun that looks real he simply has to assume that it is real, especially when pointed at him.
The answer, clearly, doesn’t have to be outright banning of Airsoft guns. Since even accidental victims of pellet shots often admit that getting shot by one of them isn’t terribly painful, it seems rather ridiculous to ban these guns when the banning of real handguns are impossible. Rather, why not just make them less realistic? That doesn’t necessarily entail stripping the Airsoft guns of all realism, but would it hurt to redesign them subtly so that it is obvious they aren’t actual handguns?
The cost of realism in a game hardly seems worth the price of a life.