Warfare is simultaneously the most thrilling and the most terrifying experience known to humans, so naturally, ever since the invention of weapons we’ve typically tried to come up with a non-fatal ways of simulating battle. This worked pretty well for a while – dull blades and long sticks replicating the real things well enough – until guns became par for the course. Unfortunately, propellant-based guns generally either work with deadly effectiveness or do not work at all, so for several centuries the human race was left with a question: How do you make guns less fatal?
A Deadlier Airsoft
One could argue that the first ever game of airsoft was played during the Austro-Turkish war from 1787 to 1791 when the Austrian empire fielded Girandoni air rifles, a musket-sized firearm that used pressurized air held in a special air flask stock to propel bullets. It was a novel and terrifying idea at the time, as the Girandoni air rifle was extremely accurate and quiet compared to powder guns, but the air flasks that made up the stock of the rifle required a good 1500 pumps to charge for a mere 30 shots and the leather seals had to be kept wet in order for the gun to not leak air and become useless (And you thought your CO2 guns were high maintenance!). Of course, in 1787 airsoft rules had yet to be invented, and while the Austrians had the decency to keep to a maximum 500 feet per second limit, their Girandoni air rifle fired a 13.6 gram, the 13mm lead ball instead of a 6mm plastic pellet. The Girandoni air rifle was as fatal as any other rifle of the time and none of Austria’s neighbors would buy the fragile weapon to join in on the fun.
Daisy Airguns and Japanese Disarmament
Flash forward to 1886 in Plymouth, Michigan, USA. The Plymouth Iron Windmill Company is trying to sell windmills to rural folk and has come up with the novel idea of giving a one-airgun-free deal with every windmill purchased. Obviously, the guns were a more interesting product than their windmills, and in 1888 the company capitalized on it, shifting their focus to airguns and becoming Daisy Outdoor Products — purveyor of affordable air rifles marketed towards young, American boys. Naturally, somewhere along the line, it became a fine American tradition for rural teens everywhere to know at least one person either who’d shot an air rifle at someone else or been shot by one in the name of fun. Unfortunately, while metal BBs and pellets typically won’t kill anyone, they’re pretty good at getting lodged in the skin or taking eyes out, so figuring out how to invent airsoft was still a ways off in the future.
After World War 2, America went to work disarming Japan, and in 1946, in principle, all guns not used exclusively for hunting were banned from civilian ownership. In 1950, the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers pointed out that this meant missing out on good ol’ American fun, leading to a slight relaxing of gun laws and, in 1955, the legalization of civilian nail guns and, most importantly, air guns for target shooting.
Soft-Air To Modern Airsoft
In the early 1970s, “Soft-Air” guns began to appear in Japan, named so after the gas used as a propellant, a propane-lubricant mixture that we know now as green gas. Much like the Americans across the water, the Japanese realized that these guns could be shot at people as well, but because the Japanese were using plastic 8mm and 6mm bbs instead of metal 4.5mm bbs or pellets, shooting at people generally didn’t result in the penetrated skin. And thus with spring pistols and propane guns, Airsoft was born.
By the mid-1980s, airsoft begins to be played in small communities all around the globe and has grown ever since. However, airsoft is still a young sport and its acceptance in various countries around the world has been hard fought. In the Netherlands, for example, ownership of Airsoft guns didn’t become legal until 2013, and even then still require membership in the Dutch Airsoft Sports Association. Prior to this, Dutch players had to typically drive to another country to play and store their guns on foreign soil.
Australia, on the other hand, requires an “Importation of Firearms – Police Confirmation and Certification Form” as well as an existing firearms license unrelated to desires to own airsoft guns. Additionally, all automatic airsoft guns and anything that even somewhat looks like a sub-machine gun or machine pistol is absolutely banned. Provided you manage to satisfy the above prerequisites by being a license-holder looking for a bolt-action spring rifle, chances are whatever state you’re in outright bans airsoft. For example, in Victoria, Australia, the Victoria Police Licensing & Regulation Division (LRD) denies any authorization for import on the grounds that “no genuine reason exists to own them because there is no approved range in Victoria to undertake these war games”. Fortunately, Australians can at least visit New Zealand to sling some plastic, provided they belong an appropriate club.
Much of the acceptance of our sport comes from the fact that many of airsoft’s rules were created out of self-regulation – for example, in many places around the globe, governments didn’t tell airsoft players to treat their guns like real firearms and not bring them out in public, airsoft players did. It’s fairly common sense to not wave fake guns around, but it only takes a few bad eggs to do it, makes a scare, and ruin it for everyone. Despite this, the airsoft community worldwide shows a remarkable sense of concern when it comes to making sure the sport is perceived in a positive light.
Airsoft History Final Thoughts
Despite this article beginning with a centuries-old preface, it ends with you – the current generation of airsoft players. Airsoft is a community that’s unique in the world, full of great, friendly people with a passion for this hobby. It’s hard to say how much airsoft will grow in the coming years and how much or little it will be accepted in various places around the globe, but whatever its future is, it’s decided by you – today’s players. Please take a look at our airsoft rifle reviews or our informative articles on our website.
- Wikipedia: Daisy Outdoor Products
- Library of Congress: Firearms-Control Legislation and Policy: Japan
- Wikipedia: Legal issues in airsoft
- Wikipedia: Girandoni air rifle
C.S. Wilhelm has is a 28 year old ex-military guy who’s been playing airsoft regularly for over a year in the forests of west coast Canada. Less interestingly, he’s also a tremendous nerd. C.S. Wilhelm has a degree in both Creative Writing and English, is a former editor of Portal magazine, and is currently an IT student.