There has been a lot of talk about airsoft guns over the last week since the tragedy in Santa Rosa, California. While we do not have all the facts we need to be able to judge the actions of the officer involved in that shooting  (and we may never have them), we can learn some very important lessons from the situation and take this opportunity to address safety in regard to airsoft replica guns and firearms education for children in general.

Real or Replica? How about at Night? After you've been given a reason to be scared?

Real or Replica? How about at Night? After you’ve been given a reason to be scared?

I have a long history with Airsoft Replica guns. As a kid, I owned a couple of the very first “Softair” replica’s available. These guns were 1:1 replicas sold by Daisy . There is a great write up on them inside of the is article on Air Pistols at Mr. Guns Place. These plastic guns actually had cartridges into which you loaded the airsoft pellets and then loaded into the cylinder or a magazine. If anything, they were more realistic in look and operation than the replicas that I have seen in the hands of kids these days. They were also conspicuously missing the Orange Muzzle that is now a required safety feature on these toy guns. I grew up playing cops & robbers, laser tag, paintball and playing with the early airsoft guns. I also grew up shooting real guns. I had ping-pong ball shooting guns, cork guns, cap guns of various designs, rubber band guns and Nerf guns. Sometime in the early 1980’s, I was playing airsoft with my uncle around an apartment complex. Apparently, someone got the idea that people were chasing each other with real guns through the neighborhood and, long story short, my uncle ended up in handcuffs and I was somewhat out of breath by the time I got to my aunt’s! Luckily, the misunderstanding ended at “choose your competition field more carefully next time.”
A lot has changed in the last 30 years in regard to the way both kids with guns and guns in public are perceived in our society. It is fair to say that law enforcement has changed quite a bit in that time as well… understandably so, given the

The 1980's Daisy Replica of a S&W Model 19 Revolver... a 1:1 model in look and operation.

The 1980’s Daisy Replica of a S&W Model 19 Revolver… a 1:1 model in look and operation.

street war that some of America’s law enforcement is engaged in around the country. Regardless of how we feel about those changes emotionally or politically, we need to accept them as reality and deal with our children and guns in a pragmatic way.

In my early teens, I had access to both the Daisy Softair Model 04 replica of a S&W Model 19 and an actual .357 Magnum Model 19. I could equally utilize either, at my own discretion. I understood the difference and managed the responsibility… but, I was also a lifelong shooter, introduced to shooting at a very young age. I knew the consequences of miss-use and I very much knew the difference between the real thing and the replica. I am not sure that is the case with today’s middle-schoolers.

While there are groups of adults around the world that play sophisticated war games with airsoft equipment, this evolution of  “The Survival Game” isn’t what most of these unsupervised kids are doing.

Just a few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I had to confront the issue of her 13 year old son playing airsoft with his friends around the neighborhood. We chose to not allow him to attend a late-night airsoft game that was taking place after a birthday party on a Friday Night. He wasn’t happy, but, based on observations of how the kids treated the guns, the safety issues and their observation of the admonition to stay within the fenced boundaries of one family’s home, we decided that the event wasn’t in line with our thoughts about interacting with guns, even toy guns. At no time had we factored in the idea

Which is Fake and which is Real? Which is a .22 and which is a high-powered rifle? Which is a "toy" and which can kill a couple of dozen people without being reloaded when used with evil intent?

Which is Fake and which is Real? Which is a .22 and which is a high-powered rifle? Which is a “toy” and which can kill a couple of dozen people without being reloaded when used with evil intent?

that one of them could be shot by a local cop. We later found out that the local police did need to interact with the boys that night… after midnight, in an alley near the home where the party had taken place. A couple of weeks later, we saw the news about Andy Lopez. Rather than feeling vindicated, we both were more worried and talked about trying to spread some education amongst the community. We live in a rather peaceful suburb… but, had the same event happened just a mile or two away, in a worse part of the city, the police response may have been very different. In fact, it may have been much more like what happened in Santa Rosa. “Kids with guns in the alley” cannot be dismissed as “Oh, they’re just playing cowboys & indians” in 2013 America.

One of the challenges we face is that the community we live is also a bit left leaning… it is fair to say that the PDN Tour Truck sticks out like a sore thumb amongst the Volvos and Minivans on our block. We also know that firearms ownership, much less firearms use and being identified as “shooters”, is the exception in our part of the world. It is a bit ironic that the same parents who would hesitate to let their kids accompany ours on a trip to a real gun range to learn about firearms safety & operation have no problem letting their kids run around the streets at night with replica firearms. No doubt, these kids also watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that I would be much more likely to restrict a ‘tweener from than I would forbid them from going shooting or handling a real gun properly. This, to me, is the first level of the serious problem we have: Kids are not being educated about proper firearms handling & safety. I have stated many times before that I believe this education should be part of American Life. Just as we educate our kids about fire, pollution, sharp objects, drug abuse and safe sex, we should absolutely be educating them about firearms. It has always befuddled me that the US Educational System can deride firearms as unbelievably dangerous, yet refuse to allow children to be taught how to deal with the dangers involved. Step one for parents considering letting their kids have Airsoft Guns: Get them a real education on the proper respect, handling and operation of actual firearms. I believe strongly that putting guns in a proper perspective will help kids understand why Airsoft Guns need to be handled differently than remote controlled cars or team sports equipment. I am not a fan of teaching real gun safety with toy guns that will be pointed at their friends 10 minutes later.

Parents, you’ve got to parent! Don’t let your child dictate what is acceptable and what isn’t. Don’t worry about what other parents in your town are doing and certainly, don’t worry about your kids’ cool factor. Mistakes with airsoft guns can get your kids killed. With that said, I suggest the following rules for Kids & Airsoft Guns:

airsoft_41. Orange Tips MUST be required:
Not only should the orange muzzle tips that these guns come with be maintained, I would suggest adding some orange to the stock as well. We all know that part of the experience of the game is to have specific guns that represent real ones… but, these guns need to be handled off the playing field and in front of people who don’t know what is going on as well. Parents, you might want to double check your own kids guns. Upon inspection, we found some that had much of the manufacturer’s orange tip covered with black tape… allowing a child to disingenuously say “yes” to the simple question “Does your airsoft gun still have the orange tip?”

2. Case the Guns when not being used

When kids are moving their airsoft guns from home to a playing area, they should be cased. This one simple step would probably have kept the situation in California from ever developing. Certainly, even if the replica had been in a rifle case and the case itself had aroused the suspicion of the officers involved, I can’t see how that would have lead to a shooting.

3. Have a Referee / Safety Observer

All Airsoft games should have someone clearly overseeing them, wearing an orange safety vest and the proper protective equipment. Preferably a parent. Not only can this person enforce the rules of the game itself, but their presence would do much to quell any concern from a casual observer. If you were to look outside and see two people ducking behind cars with guns right now how would you react? What if they were being observed by someone in a paintball mask wearing a blaze orange hunting jacket? If nothing else, If the police were ever called to the scene of a game, this safety observer would be much more aware of their presence than someone engaged in the game and much less likely to react inappropriately to their commands. Even if this observer is one of the kids who rotates in and out of the game, it is better than having everyone involved carrying a gun and focused on the tactics of winning the game and oblivious to what is going on around the game.

4. Play in a Controlled Environment 

gotcha

Airsoft isn’t the type of game that should be played randomly across neighborhoods.  Despite how cool it seemed like it would be in 1985 to wander a college campus with a paintball gun and no eye protection stalking your friends as they tried to meet nice ladies and shooting them while yelling “Gotcha!”… that’s a pretty obvious recipe for disaster. At worst, you get shot with a real gun by someone who doesn’t know what is going on. At the very best,the kids will just annoy people in the public space. Somewhere in between, they might take a bystander’s eye out because the pellets are flying in the direction of people who aren’t part of the game. And, this never leads to dating Linda Fiorentino. High fenced yards, out in the woods, on competition fields being operated for this purpose, at a private farm, in one of the parents’ warehouses… anywhere but in the public.

5. Wear proper protective equipment

Not only will the proper equipment do the obvious, keep people from loosing an eye or choking to death on a pellet to the face, wearing a paintball helmet may very well be the deciding factor in how people who happen to see the game respond to what they see. Certainly, a police officer who sees kids with paintball helmets and guns is going to have a very different initial response.

How much like real guns are these replicas?  The manufacturers of the REAL guns are selling them...

How much like real guns are these replicas? The manufacturers of the REAL guns are selling them… and they are being sold in the same stores.

Airsoft guns are hyper-realistic in regard to their appearance. It is completely reasonable for someone (police officer, concealed carrying citizen, security guard, etc.) to mistake them for the real thing. That is a fact.

At least for now, let’s table to the “Militarization of the Police” rhetoric and the  RKBA Utopian “I wish guns in public were more commonplace” Naiveté… let’s focus on the safety of kids.  The use of Airsoft Guns needs to be controlled and kids need to be educated about firearms safety and operation.

-RJP

  1. Shawn says:

    Excellent article. I always appreciate your approach to gun related current events. Education, security of weapons, and proper training is definitely the key to safety.

  2. Michael Wise says:

    Awesome article, Rob. I will be sharing this with all my students and I will be speaking with my classes about the subject.

  3. Mick Wood says:

    Thanks, Rob. I grew up in the ’60’s with some of what you describe; our kids did so in the early 2000’s as well, in a small country town. They’ve grown up shooting, one a GM2 Navy, just finished his 4 years and learned much more. All of ours know that they will likely have to amend this unless they choose to live away from towns, and will choose should the time come that we have grandkids. I’ll pass this along.

  4. Derek Chandler says:

    Good points, but we could also begin holding cops responsible for their actions. I’ve got a dollar in my pocket that says this cop, the shooter, is cleared of any wrong doing.

  5. CJ Voges says:

    When I lived in Florida in the late fifties, I was watching Disney’s Davy Crockett. I had my cap and squirt guns. In 1957, my family relocated to Tacoma, WA, courtesy of the U.S.Air Force. My dad and I traveled cross country in his VW. My first experience with shooting was with my dad buying a Marlin .22 lever-action rifle. I started shooting NRA small-bore(.22) competition when I was ten. I did have a neighbor call the police when a friend of mine and I were walking back home after playing in the woods and shooting at cans with our Daisy bb guns. By then, I was shooting larger firearms with my dad and hunting, so the bb gun phase only lasted one summer. My shooting training and experience served me well during my stint as a Security Policeman in the Air Force and later doing armed private security. I never fired my weapons at anything except targets and varmints.

  6. David Laverty says:

    Rob,I own a small range north of Harrisburg PA.,would you be interested in running course here sometime?-Dave

  7. Ted Kempster says:

    I grew up similarly, as a 3rd generation Army brat, taught the firearm safety rules by my grandfather from a young age, and knowing the differences among cap, water, paint, and bb guns. My children have had toy guns and have been taught to use and respect my real guns, but I had significant misgivings with the collective behavior of the players when they and their friends started to get into shooting each other with airsoft guns.

    Paintball, with its gear, bright mess and obvious form factor, never bothered me. The realism of the guns, energy of the pellets, and minimal safety gear of airsoft crossed the line for me. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to be “that dad” and so supported their participation, given rules such as the ones you describe with respect to private location and safety gear.

    A couple of incidents later, including my oldest son taking a pellet off the cornea (which thankfully healed), and those guns were in the trash bin. The experience proved my point that unsupervised use of realistic projectile weapons/toys by people untrained in gun safety is a recipe for disaster… as the family in Santa Rosa sadly learned.

  8. Daniel Stein says:

    I would like to bring light to a project I am working on to help not only educate the youth on the importance of safety and responsibility, I am also working to provide a safe location to ensure the players of the local airsoft community as well as the local community are safe. Its called the South Florida Airsoft Association, for the past three years I have been attempting to raise money as I have been granted the permits to build and maintain and County Sanctioned Airsoft field INSIDE a public park. This will be the first of its kind anywhere within the United States. Not a privately owned organization but non profit.

    The local Parks and Recreation Department and local Government see a rise in the use of replicas and is giving the community a chance to work together. For more information on how you can help us achieve our goal, please visit http://www.sf-aa.org or contact me directly at info@sf-aa.org and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

    This is an opportunity to help a community grow as well as educate the local community on the appeal of airsoft as well as stressing the importance of educating the youth on safety and responsibility.

  9. Gary Spraydoggie Goodman says:

    Thank you Mr. Pincus for the great article. Myself being an adult and a avid airsofter understand the need for proper handling and safety when using replica weapons. It makes me nuts when kids go around with airsoft guns in a open carry fashion. I have gone so far as to pull over and educated a young player walking down the street holding his gun in a ready position. I’m part of an organisation know as the SFAA (the south Florida airsoft association) where our goal is to provide a safe playing environment as well as safety and proper use of airsoft replicas. When we reach our goal we will have the first ever airsoft playing field built in a county park.

  10. Bob says:

    Finally, a post where people won’t overreact. This post is perfect, teaching about how we should use replica guns for SPORTS, not for shooting random people. Thank you.

  11. Alla says:

    I really apreciate this aticle… I have a child that is getting one of these guns for his birthday, so once he gets it he will have to read this whole article and then he canstart off.

  12. Jake Tallman says:

    This is an excellent article, thank you. I’m a 19 year old airsoft enthusiast (I have a few grand worth of gear and actually attended a 3 day event-day and night-with over 70 players a few weeks ago), and it drives me insane to see how irresponsible so many parents are with regard to these guns. It’s unfortunate for the kids, and it reflects poorly on the airsoft community as a whole (even though there is such a large difference between kids in their backyards and what I do that they aren’t even comparable)

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