During my Sociology class in 2011, I wrote a paper on this subject. I will present it here for those interested in reading it. I apologize in advance for the multiple posts, as it is too long for one post.
Analyze a Social Issue
University of Phoenix, Axia College
October 29, 2011
This is my Rifle, This is my Gun
How many of us remember playing our favorite heroes as kids, characters like The Lone Ranger, or playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians, or even just pretending to be soldiers in the Army or playing G.I. Joe? All of these had one thing in common; they involved the use of toy guns, usually cap guns or clickers guns that made clicking sounds or something similar when the trigger was pulled. Today, this idea of playing with toy guns has found new heights due to modern technologies; in fact, today we play Paintball or Airsoft games and we do not just fire a gun that makes noise, but that actually shoots a projectile. In the case of Airsoft guns, these projectiles come in the form of a 6mm plastic bb. However, there is another issue that comes from this new style of play, the misuse and misrepresentation of these toys as real guns.
The History of Airsoft
In order to understand the issue, we must first learn a little about the item at its core, the Airsoft gun. In the 1960s, possession or ownership of a real firearm was banned in Japan; this inspired a drive to create replica firearms that shot plastic projectiles using compressed air, while in the 1970s an American version appeared as a childs toy gun that fired small rubber bbs using a mechanical means of expelling the bb from the gun. These two styles of guns eventually evolved into what Airsoft is today (About, 2006).
Todays Airsoft guns come in three basic types, Automatic Electric Guns (AEGs), gas powered guns, or spring powered guns. The first of these requires a battery in order to operate the gun, the second uses a propellant such as Green Gas (propane with a liquefied silicone oil added) or Carbon Dioxide gas (CO2), and the last one uses a mechanism that compresses a spring and releases it, which activates a piston that compresses air and fires the projectile. However, it is not the method by which these guns operate that is the general issue; it is how these guns are used that poses the majority of problems for this fast growing sport.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Airsoft started as a hobby, it grew into a sport, and it is now gaining popularity across the entire world. It is played in many countries in similar ways; in general, there are three basic styles of play, MilSim (Military Simulation), Skirmish, or Backyard. The first method is the most popular among enthusiasts because it involves the use of these realistic Airsoft guns, military based gear and equipment, and tactics, strategies, and military skills in completing various military type scenarios, such as capturing an opponents base or saving a hostage. Skirmishing is kind of like playing cowboys and Indians, two teams square off against each other, their objective is to either capture the other teams flag or headquarters while eliminating the members of the other team, generally by shooting them with a bb. This is often referred to as a one shot, one kill rule, if a player is struck, anywhere on their body, they are out of the game or they must return to a specified area to respawn. Respawning means the player returns to an area, waits a predetermined amount of time, and then can reenter the game. Finally, the third style of play is the one most often associated with the primary issue of this discussion, playing in ones backyard, which is somewhat of a misnomer because this could also include playing in the street, in a public park, or even simply using Airsoft guns in an inappropriate manner.
A perfect example of this type of behavior can be found on You Tube in a video called How to play Airsoft like a Noob Part 1 (You Tube, 2011). In the video, the two hosts portray uninformed, ignorant players performing actions that, if witnessed by neighbors could be construed as potentially dangerous; however, the viewer should realize almost immediately this is intended as humorous, of course, humor is in the eye of the beholder. It is such actions as these and others that are actually much worse that contribute to the negative image of Airsoft.
Let us consider these more drastic actions, which are the focus of this discussion. In December 2010, one such action occurred in California when three teens were engaged in an Airsoft game in the darkened streets of their neighborhood. Police on routine patrol witnessed these actions and investigated. Two of the three youths fled, the third appeared to be drawing his weapon and targeting the officers. They reacted based on their training, the appropriate reaction, of course, was to fire on the youth, they did, wounding him. After things settled, it was determined that the boy was carrying an Airsoft gun that replicates a Beretta 92F handgun. Due to the conditions of the situation, it was impossible for the officers to determine this even though the federally required orange tip was intact (LAT, 2010).
In another incident, while less public, a 13 year-old Jefferson County, Colorado boy is now facing felony charges for shooting his friend in the eye with an Airsoft pistol. According to the local Fox news station, Fox 31, the two boys were just messing around with a toy Airsoft gun, shooting at each other and shooting at targets like cereal boxes without eye protection. When the other boy said something that made Jacob mad, he did what he calls a quick draw, and fired the plastic bead. To his horror, he hit his friend in the eye, (Airsoftgun, 2011, Jeffco). Although the boys worked out the issue between themselves, and the other boys parents did not press charges, the District Attorneys office followed another path. In fact, they are charging the 13 year-old with a second-degree felony assault charge, which if convicted, carries a mandatory five-day stay in juvenile detention and removal from his familys home for up to a year (Airsoftgun, 2011, Jeffco).
These examples appear to be limited to the actions of juveniles; however, this is not always the case. In an article by Katy Sweeny on ParadisePost.com, a 52 year-old man opened fire on several teens waiting on their school bus because he claimed one of the teens attempted to enter his vehicle parked nearby. According to the article, the man fired an AK-47 look-a-like Airsoft gun at the teens, striking one boy in the leg and while no serious injury occurred, the act itself could gain the man a misdemeanor battery charge or a displaying an imitation weapons charge (Sweeny, 2011).
The Community, the Courts, and the Consequences
Actions such as these have had a lasting impact on those who play Airsoft worldwide; laws, regulations, and other actions have plagued Airsoft almost from its beginnings. The Airsoft community consists of a wide variety of people from all across the globe, including men, women, and children, Americans, Asians, Britains, Germans, and so on. In fact, this community is so vast that it would be improbable to cover all of them; therefore, we will focus mainly on the American community.
In the United States, federal law requires a 6mm portion of the tip of the barrel of all Airsoft guns be a bright color, generally orange. It also requires that this tip must be permanently affixed to the gun and that this tip must be in place for sale, transport, or transfer of these guns; otherwise, one must be 18 years of age to purchase an Airsoft gun, these are the only requirements or limitations placed on Airsoft guns by the federal government (GPO Access, 2010). However, that does not mean there are not many state and local laws that affect Airsoft guns and their owners; for example, the incident in California with the 13 year-old boy prompted state legislators to create SB 798. This bill would require that all Airsoft guns must be brightly colored over most if not all of their body (AmmoLand, 2011). This poses a problem for those hardcore enthusiasts who play MilSim, as these brightly colored guns would be counterproductive because the very nature of these games requires players to be able to camouflage themselves in order to move in a realistic military manner.
Imagine yourself as one of these players, your mission is to infiltrate enemy territory, gather intelligence, and report it back to your team. However, this would be nearly impossible if your gun is bright orange, yellow, or pink, as it would surely give away your position. SB 798 opens the door for even more problems for Airsoft players in America because it allows individual communities or counties to allow or ban any Airsoft gun that does not meet these coloration requirements. This would mean that if one lives in an area that allows Airsoft guns colored or not, and they travel to an area that does not allow them unless they are colored, this person could be breaking the law without even knowing it (AmmoLand, 2011). While SB 798 will only affect California at first, history has shown us that laws passed in California eventually are adopted by other parts of the country. This means there is the potential for this law or ones similar to it to spread across the country, further affecting Airsoft and its players. As it stands now, Airsoft guns are banned in some communities, such as in North Ogden City, Utah, where public display or use of Airsoft guns is banned completely; however, possession of Airsoft guns or use on private property is perfectly legal (Airsoftgun, 2010, Our).
Around the World and Back Again
Although our primary focus is the American Airsoft community, it would benefit us to look at other countries and how they have dealt with similar issues. For example, In the United Kingdom, there are several restrictions to the use and ownership of an Airsoft gun. One of which is similar to SB 798, whereas Airsoft guns must be brightly colored over at least half their surface. In addition, Airsoft guns and owners must be registered with the United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers Association (UKARA), registration not only allows ownership, but the ability to purchase Airsoft guns. Registration with UKARA allows the Airsoft guns to be fully realistic, in other words, no coloration is required (Airsoft UK, 2011). In Japan, where Airsoft originated, the only limitation placed on Airsoft guns by law is related to their muzzle velocity, which may not exceed 0.98 joules or 325 feet per second (fps) with a 0.2-gram bb. In Hong Kong, this requirement is 2 joules or approximately 475 fps. In the Netherlands, Airsoft guns are banned completely, owning one is a federal offense. In Canada, portions of the gun must be clear and to purchase or import them one must be licensed. In Australia, Airsoft guns that look like real firearms require a Class A firearms license and written consent from local, state or territorial police in order to own them (AirsoftGun, 2011). The amount of restriction varies greatly across the world; however, restrictions or not, misuse or misrepresentation of these realistic toys can still have serious repercussions.
Who is to Blame and Who else is Affected?
Strangely, a simple Internet search for Airsoft related shootings or other examples of misuse or misrepresentation of these toys, appears to return few if any stories outside of the United States. Does this mean that only Americans perform such deviant acts or is it just not that news worthy in other countries? The answer is not clear, in fact, without any real comparisons, it is unlikely that such an answer even exists. Regardless, the facts remain; misuse or misrepresentation of Airsoft guns can have deadly results. The International Health and Epidemiology Research Center (IHERC) posts a fact sheet on their website that illustrates this point quite well, it lists 73 incidents going back to 1983 in which an Airsoft gun was used in some manner that is not consistent with its intentions. Many of them resulted in the death of the gun wielder and the ages of those involved varies greatly from as young as five years old to as much 55 years old. It should be noted, however, that some of these stories involve the use of real guns that were mistaken as toy guns and used in accidental shootings (Kioumehr-Dadsetan, 2008). All things considered, one question is predominant, who is to blame for these incidents? As with most situations involving children, the responsibility starts at home. Parents must make the decision to purchase these toy guns for their kids; however, this is generally where the responsibility stops, as the parents fail to understand the concept that these are still guns and should be treated as such. In an article on Parenthood.com, author Robin Fox puts it into perspective. She recalls a conversation between herself and Peter Ho (co-owner of Airsoft Extreme out of Santa Clara, CA) in which Ho states that he has noticed a “disturbing trend.” The trend is that many parents are clueless about Airsoft guns. They view them as toys and nothing more, Ho states, “They can’t seem to step outside themselves, from the outside looking in, and say, ‘Hey, this looks like a real gun.’” Ho continues to point out “Common sense should rule. Parents need to tell kids to use Airsoft guns away from the public eye where no one will mistake the guns for real guns or be hurt by an errant bb,” (Fox, 2004).
Fox also recounts a conversation with Robert Lopez (a 15 year veteran San Jose Police officer), who has two boys of his own, ages 10 and 13. Lopez states that he allows his boys to use Airsoft guns under proper supervision. Lopez’s idea of supervision includes using these guns at appropriate ranges, Airsoft fields, or on private property, using proper safety equipment, such as eye protection, and keeping the guns locked in a gun cabinet when not in use. He adds that his sons are allowed access only with express permission (Fox, 2004). However, as Fox points out, the definition of supervision varies greatly, she recounts an incident brought to her attention by Al Corso (president of the Martinez Gun Club), in which he witnessed his neighbors kids “running around in the streets with no eye protection, shooting at parked cars and into [people’s] gardens.” Corso confronted their father and explained that even though they are toys, they should still be treated as real guns; otherwise, when his kids do come in contact with a real gun, they will not know the difference between the two or proper gun safety, for that matter (Fox, 2004).
John Geisness (an NRA certified gun trainer) states in the article that the key is education, he recommends that both parents and children take a course in gun safety before using any type of gun, including Airsoft guns. Ho apparently agrees because he tells Fox that there are times he will refuse to sell an Airsoft gun to parents whose kids do not listen or pay attention when he discusses safety related issues with them (Fox, 2004).
Unfortunately, even parents who do take on the added responsibility sometimes fail to pass it along to other parents facing similar situations. Fox interviewed several parents who have extensive experience with Airsoft guns and games; many of them refused to cooperate or asked that they not be quoted directly because they “feared” judgment by those within their community. Some fear their “parenting skills” will be questioned or they will be accused of being “pro-gun” because they support their children’s choice in a hobby that involves the use of Airsoft guns.
One mother even states that she supervises her children very strictly, they are allowed to play with their Airsoft guns only in their own backyard; however, she feels that she may be looked down upon by other parents who do not place such restrictions on their children. However, Fox poses the question, how do so many kids get involved in this sport? Ho suggests that many of the younger players start off as gamers; they play their video games, especially those known as first person shooter games, such as Halo or Call of Duty, then they want to reenact their game in real life and Airsoft allows this. One parent concurs, “They get all fired up doing these video games for like an hour or two, [and] then they go play and act them out,” (Fox, 2004).
As one can see, Airsoft affects more than just those who play, it also affects those who do not but have connections to someone who does. I, myself, am an Airsoft player and I have a son who is seven years old, I would not dream of allowing him to play until he is at least 13; however, his mother does not share my belief, she would rather he never plays at all. In the end, the decision will be up to him, but should he decide to play, he will do so with the understanding that I will expect no less from him than I do from myself. He will learn proper gun safety, gun-handling techniques, and he will face severe penalties if he fails to do so.
Suggestions, Solutions, and Something else
Fox lists some responsibilities that parents should take into consideration, including:
Ø Learn and follow firearm safety guidelines
Ø Teach proper gun handling and ensure its use
Ø Always use eye protection, especially full face protection for younger children
Ø Actively supervise your children, know the rules, and keep watch over them when playing outside of approved fields
Ø Do not remove or cover the orange tip
Ø Cooperate and coordinate with parents of other players
Fox also includes a list of items children should know, including:
Ø Always point an Airsoft gun in a safe direction
Ø Never point an Airsoft gun at non-players
Ø Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
Ø An Airsoft gun is not safe just because the safety is engaged, remove magazines, gas cartridges, or batteries as well
Ø Always use an Airsoft gun as it is intended, do not bring it to school or other public places
Ø Always transport Airsoft guns like a real gun, in a case, box, or bag
Ø If approached by an officer of the law, put down the Airsoft gun, step away, and follow the officer’s instructions
Ø Improper use of an Airsoft gun could lead to criminal charges
These are just a few helpful suggestions Fox presents; however, they cover many basic and important concepts that should be considered by both parents and children when entertaining the idea of purchasing, using, or playing with Airsoft guns.
As stated, I am an Airsoft player; however, I am also the leader of my team, which gives me a unique perspective. One of my team’s greatest issues is their lack of proper training, this same issue applies to many Airsoft players, especially those previously mentioned in many of the articles and examples of those misusing Airsoft guns. In my team’s case, it is a matter of tactical training; however, in the case of those involved in these incidents of misuse, it is a matter of education. I fully agree with Mr. Geisness, Mr. Ho, and Ms. Fox that proper firearm safety and use should be taught to anyone who wishes to use or purchase an Airsoft gun. After all, many federal, state, and local laws require it for “real steel” guns, why not for Airsoft guns.
In an ideal scenario, anyone who purchases an Airsoft gun in America should be required to take a firearms training course or at least a modified version as it relates to Airsoft guns. Such a course should include, but would not be limited to, gun handling, gun safety, history of the sport, and proper use and operation of an Airsoft gun. This last requirement is absolutely necessary because even though Airsoft guns look like their real steel counterparts, they do not operate like them.
With this in mind, let us look at a typical AEG rifle, such as the one in Figure 1, and compare it to a real M-4. In the Airsoft version, the gun is operated by electricity provided by a battery, located in the fore grip, the stock, or a PEQ box that attaches to the fore grip. The ammo goes into the magazine; however, these magazines can very greatly, for example, a low capacity magazine holds a maximum of 100 rounds, a mid-capacity magazine can carry between 100 and 250 rounds, and a high capacity magazine can carry up to 400 or 500 rounds. Each of these operates differently, the low and mid cap magazines use a spring and follower that pushes the bb’s into the gun’s hop-up chamber (we will discuss this feature shortly), the high cap magazines must be wound (like a watch) in order to gather and compress the bb’s into a channel that feeds into the gun.
In a real M-4, there is no battery; the gun operates on the compressed gases produced when the gun is fired. Magazines hold about 30 rounds, and they feed directly into the gun barrel. When the trigger is pulled, a firing pin strikes the primer of the bullet and the gun is fired. However, when an Airsoft gun trigger is pulled, the battery is activated, it turns a motor that turns three gears. These gears pull back a piston, when the piston reaches its full stroke, it releases, compressing air into a cylinder, which has only one exit. This exit is an air nozzle that extends outward to make a seal with the hop up chamber, in the process, the bb is pushed into the hop up chamber and then expelled out of the barrel.
As noted earlier, Airsoft guns use a 6mm plastic bb as ammo, unlike bullets, which spin on their horizontal axis as they fly through the air, bb’s do not have the same gyroscopic stability. They spin on all axes as they fly through the air; this means they can go just about anywhere once they leave the barrel. To correct this problem, Airsoft guns have a hop up chamber, which is an area at the beginning of the barrel in which the bb sits until fired. When fired, the bb makes contact with a rubber nub that puts backspin on the bb (kind of like in billiards); this backspin causes the bb to “hop up” as it flies along its trajectory. Normally, a bb flies in a relatively straight path, but it can swerve off to the left, the right, up, or down; by giving the bb backspin, it causes it to rise as it flies, this imparts an arching flight path which stabilizes the bb’s trajectory and allows it to fly in a much straighter path.
Why is this so important? When a bullet follows it flight path, it drops according to the effects of gravity, but it still flies in a straight line; therefore, it is controllable to an extent. When a bb follows its flight path, it is also affected by gravity; however, due to its light weight and aerodynamic issues, it can veer off, uncontrollably, in a variety of directions, this makes it absolutely necessary that Airsoft players wear eye protection, if not full face protection. Additionally, because of the uncontrollable nature of a bb, Airsoft guns must be handled a little differently than a real gun. This includes aiming, shooting, reloading, and cycling the gun itself. As one can see, there are some significant differences between a real gun and an Airsoft gun; however, the most important difference is the one seldom considered until it is too late. An Airsoft gun can cause injuries, but they are generally limited to bruises and welts; whereas, a real gun can kill, a fact not lost on the many people, friends, and families of those involved in the various examples of misuse and misrepresentation of Airsoft guns. Therefore, it is imperative to educate Airsoft players to avoid such incidents as those presented. As with any problem, treating the symptoms is never enough, the core of the issue must be addressed; in this case, the core of the problem is the lack of knowledge on the part of the person wielding the Airsoft gun or in some cases, the lack of intelligence or common sense in the handling of an Airsoft gun.
A Final Analysis
Thus, the question is how do we address this core problem beyond the suggested educational programs. For one, we do not concentrate on the symptoms, simply requiring that Airsoft guns be brightly colored is not an effective deterrent because it is too easy to paint over the bright colors. For example, this excerpt from the IHERC fact sheet,
On May 5, 2008, in Southaven, Mississippi, five elementary school students were suspended for bringing two realistic looking toy guns (pellet guns) to school. The toy guns’ orange safety tips were painted black, (Kioumehr-Dadsetan, 2008).
It should be noted, however, that a pellet gun and an Airsoft gun are two different guns. Only Airsoft guns are required to have the orange tips, and pellet guns are not considered as Airsoft guns, they are actually Airguns, which are more commonly known as bb guns. Furthermore, a pellet is different from a bb, pellets are generally oblong or cylindrical in shape, and made of lead or other soft metal; whereas, a bb is a sphere and in the case of Airsoft guns, made of plastic. Even in reporting about Airsoft guns, there is often an amount of ignorance in regards to their exact nature. For such reasons, education is paramount in reducing or eliminating these incidents as presented.
Then what about age restrictions, considering that many of these incidents involved children, from ages 5 through 17 years of age, it should be apparent that parents do not follow these age restriction suggestions. In fact, the law requires that one be 18 only to purchase an Airsoft gun, there are no age restrictions on possession or use (GPO Access, 2010). Therefore, if age has not played a role in preventing or deterring these incidents in the past, what chance exists that it will have any affect in the future?
Then perhaps registration, such as is required in the United Kingdom; considering that registration is required to own a handgun in the United States and this registration does not prevent these guns from being used to kill people. Then what would lead one to believe that registration of Airsoft players would prevent Airsoft guns from being misused? Again, these are just symptoms, they contribute to the core issue, but they do not represent it entirely.
If coloration, age restrictions, and registration will not prevent or deter the misuse or misrepresentation of Airsoft guns, then it would appear that education is the primary resolution to the issue at hand; however, it is not an effective solution if not applied properly, nor is it effective if incomplete.
Although the main focus of this discussion has been the American Airsoft community and the issue of misuse and misrepresentation of Airsoft guns by various factions of this community, the idea of educating this community, and by extension the Airsoft community worldwide, is not only a good idea, but also a necessary one. After all, the entire point of playing Airsoft is to have fun, spend time with friends, and even make a few new ones. To think that a sport such as this, whose core intention is to entertain its participants, could be destroyed by the actions of so few in comparison to the many that participate in this sport overall is mind boggling. Consider this, if baseball bats can be used to assault people, does that mean that baseball bats in general are a bad thing. Is baseball to be looked down upon by those who do not play it? Does a baseball bat lead adults and children alike to an untimely death because a law enforcement officer feels threatened by a potential attacker wielding one? Would one feel threatened at the sight of a person walking down the street with a baseball bat? This comparison between Airsoft guns and baseball bats may seem a bit stretched; however, the principles are the same, the only difference is that guns, of any type, carry a stigma with them, a stigma that is extremely hard for many to overlook.
I will definitely email you. That was amazing. It really explained airsoft and gave true insight into the sport of airsoft. Great job.
"I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would have not sent a punishment like me upon you" - Genghis Khan
"Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore trust in your physician and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility." - Khalil Gibran