Airsoft rifles, and the wide variety of other airsoft firearms that are on the market, are an interesting development in the world of weapons training and warfare simulation. Essentially, airsoft rifles are uncanny replicas of actual assault rifles, and are designed to shoot 6mm round pellets, more commonly known as "BBs." When fired, these pellets travel at speeds that are significantly slower than real bullets, making them far less dangerous than the actual firearms they are intended to mimic. Aside from being struck in the eye with an airsoft pellet, which would cause very serious injury, being struck anywhere else on the body would likely cause nothing more than a brief, stinging pain and a welt where the BB struck. Despite the slow travel speeds of airsoft rifle BBs, protective outfits and eyewear are strongly recommended and usually worn.
The history of airsoft rifles can be traced back to Japan in the 1970s, when firearms were banned, and gun enthusiasts felt compelled to create legal replicas to take their place. The popularity of airsoft replica rifles grew and expanded to other Asian countries like Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines throughout the 1980s, and eventually began to take hold in Europe and the United States in the 1990s. Though initially created as a response to the Japanese firearm ban, airsoft firearms slowly became a popular tool for police and military training, as well as role-playing strategic games, historical reenactments, and the filming of action movies.
These rifles are considered toy guns, though they are nonetheless elaborately designed and imposing looking, with some manufacturers using the actual molds of the original firearms to create their airsoft replicas. They are most often made of steel mechanical parts (e.g. magazines, internal mechboxes, sights, etc.) and high-impact, molded ABS resin. Airsoft rifles can often be expanded upon with additional scopes, flashlights and laser sights to make them more elaborate and impressive. They are a legal firearm, and most states require no license to own and operate an airsoft rifle, though they are generally not sold to anyone under 18 years of age.
There are hundreds of different models of airsoft rifles, with at least one replica for each actual assault rifle that exists. The impressively large selection of airsoft rifles currently on the market divides into one of three categories. These are automatic electric guns (AEGs), gas-powered guns, and spring-powered guns. AEGs are the most expensive of the three airsoft rifle types, though they are also the most popular, as these fully-automatic, nickel-cadmium battery-powered firearms provide a realistic rate of fire. AEG airsoft rifles are typically capable of achieving a rate as high as 600 to 900 rounds per minute. Gas-powered airsoft rifles are most often used by those with somewhat less experience, and who don't necessarily require such fast rates of fire. The propulsive element that powers this less expensive type of airsoft rifle is a form of propane known as 134a green gas. Lastly, the spring-powered airsoft rifles operate in a straightforward cock-and-fire manner, much like the common toy BB guns of yesteryear. These are the least expensive types of airsoft rifles, and are usually recommended to beginning airsoft rifle users. Most airsoft rifles fire at a distance of up to 100 yards, with target accuracy declining significantly after 50 yards. Within 50 yards, airsoft rifles can generally hit their target within a six to eight inch group, depending on the ability of the shooter.
A few of the better-known airsoft gun manufacturers are A & K, Javelin, AGM, Double Eagle, Accuracy Pneumatics Systems, Unicorn Hobby Corp, ICS and Tactical Airsoft Gear. Prices for airsoft rifles range anywhere from just under $10 to over $1000. A good example of one of the cheapest airsoft rifles you can buy is the Spring Double Eagle M304 Rifle, a spring-powered, cock-and-fire rifle made of high-impact plastic, and capable of holding a 100 round magazine. For experienced airsoft rifle enthusiasts who are willing to spend a bundle to get the best, there are models such as the Electric SOCOM Gear Barrett, an all-metal AEG with a mono pod, folding bipod, and a 190 round magazine. The majority of airsoft rifles fall within the $100-$300 price range, and include models such as the Electric Bushmaster Predator, an AEG rifle of composite metal and plastic construction with a 300 round magazine, and semi or fully automatic firing modes.