I had been planning to write about this concerning the recent events in Ohio, and then I ran across this story: New York attorney general to retailers: stop selling guns that look real | Fox Business. I decided this really can’t wait. This will finish up a week heavy with gun advocacy news.
Here’s a little test. Which of these young men shooting is using the real gun? I’ll answer that at the end of this article.
Let me say – and this may surprise some people – I agree with the Attorney General. In today’s world, toy guns should not be mistaken for real guns. The laws for the orange markings should absolutely be followed. I am also going to add that I am speaking as both someone who – and who’s family – enjoys shooting and as a Cub Scout BB gun instructor.
Unfortunately, beyond that point, Schneiderman pretty much gets everything wrong. Obviously, his argument is based on the Cleveland, Ohio shooting of a child with an airsoft gun. I’m certain that the AG has his heart in the right place, but he and far too many parents are seriously mistaken about airsoft and BB guns. To put it simply:
They. Are. Not. Toys!
Let me say that again, neither BB/pellet guns or airsoft guns are toys. They may not be firearms according to the definition used by the BATF, but they are guns.
Let’s talk BB/pellet guns first. I know several people who hunt with with them or use them for pest control. Some pellet guns shoot with velocities exceeding a .22LR (though the projectile is much lighter) and they can – and have – kill a child. Even the low-powered, 300 feet-per-second guns intended for children will break skin, cause serious injury and can even kill small game.
Think of it this way, both BB guns and airsoft guns are found in the sporting goods sections of stores here in the U.S., either with or near the standard firearms. You have to be over 18 to buy them. In some States, the more powerful guns even require a Federal Firearms License (FFL) in order to sell them. Most State natural resource departments take them into account in their hunting seasons and rules.
Having said that, I also think there is no problem at all with allowing children to have a BB gun. I consider shooting a life-skill, the same as swimming, cooking or laundry. Not only is shooting useful and fun, but all of the skills you learn on a BB gun transfer right over to a gunpowder run firearm. When I am teaching BB guns to Cub Scouts, I am teaching the same rules as for firearms. I’m teaching the same discipline and techniques used with firearms to shoot correctly and hit the target. More important, I am replacing the unreasonable fear of guns taught by many schools with the healthy and proper respect that they deserve.
Whether it’s a lever action Red Ryder or a break action Gamo, these guns do not have an orange tip. The
should not must not have an orange tip. They are real and we do not want them mistaken for toys. Likewise, there really isn’t a practical way to make them look fake. To do so is to try and make them something they are not. In fact, I would argue that to make them look like a toy would create a safety hazard. After all, they are not Nerf guns!
This brings us to airsoft guns. Most airsoft guns come with the orange muzzle tip, though it is frequently removable. This is so they can be used effectively at airsoft fields in competition. I have long had issues with those orange tips. One the one hand, I completely understand why the manufacturers put them on from both a safety and liability perspective. However, because of that orange tip, I’ve seen far too many parents as well as kids treat these guns as toys. As a result, kids pick up rather sloppy and potentially dangerous habits in firearm handling.
By treating them as toys, you lose the respect that a gun deserves. I feel strongly enough about this issue that I would not allow my son to have an airsoft gun until he could handle the family .22.
Remember, even airsofts are not toys. You have to be 18 or older to buy them, though under 18 can own them. My son’s airsoft rifle, at 325 feet per second can draw blood if it hits bare skin. I use his airsoft guns to teach firearms safety and technique before I take a new shooter to the range with the real firearms. And by “real,” I mean that it uses gunpowder to fire a bullet, not that the airsoft is fake. He is expected to follow the same rules with his airsoft guns as he does when shooting the family guns, except hearing protection is not required.
Want some examples of how “real” an airsoft is? Obviously, they are used by enthusiasts at airsoft fields for war games. You are required to be covered and were proper face protection. You gun has to be in good working order. Airsoft is also used in police and military training exercises. You can also shoot airsoft both indoors and outdoors safely when we cannot make it to the range. A target trap can be easily made with a box and newspaper with a blanket hung behind to protect the walls. On a more practical side, I have a personal recent example.
My son was tasked with hauling firewood in our back yard. This was near our woods. He had surprise encounter with one of the fox that ranges through our woods. He needed to finish the job, but he neither wanted to get bitten nor did he want to hurt the fox. He called me at work and got permission to carry his airsoft pistol in holster. Have no doubt, while it would not kill or injure a fox, it absolutely does hurt enough to run it off. They are entirely suitable for non-lethal small vermin/pest control. (Side note: I wouldn’t try it on a raccoon, though. They have more mass than appears and they can be nasty tempered!)
As I have said, even though I do not consider them toys, I do strongly support the idea of allowing children to have and use BB or airsoft guns. Considering what I’ve said, though, I think it would be remiss to not provide a few thoughts on buying your son or daughter this type of gun.
The most obvious question is how old should the child be? That, of course, depends on the child. If it’s a boy and he goes to camp as a Cub Scout, he will almost certainly be taught to shoot both BB gun and bow. Those are probably the two most popular activities. In this case, he may be as young as seven. Realistically, consider whether he is responsible and is one to follow the rules doing things that can get one hurt. One general guideline may be that if he is old enough to carry and use a pocket knife responsibly, then I would probably be comfortable with getting them a BB gun. Again, it’s up to the parent to judge the maturity of the child.
A second important thing is to teach them the rules of gun safety. In Scouts, there are 3 rules. These are the same rules used by the NRA These are:
- ALWAYS keep your gun pointed in a safe direction
- ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
- ALWAYS keep your gun unloaded until ready to use
If I use the Scout rules, I add one; ALWAYS treat a gun as if it is loaded. Another great alternative is Jeff Cooper’s famous four rules:
- All guns are always loaded.
- Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
- Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
I use these rules whether it is an airsoft, BB gun or firearm. By the way, did you notice there isn’t anything about using the gun’s safety in these rules? Firearms, BB guns and airsoft all commonly have safeties. However, 1) not all guns will have them and 2) safeties will fail. Never rely on the safety to make up for unsafe practice.
Next, learn to shoot the gun yourself. That’s really two instructions. First, learn to shoot, if you don’t know how. Second learn to shoot that gun. All guns shoot differently and their controls vary, as do the instructions for use. If you are going to teach your kid, you really need to know how yourself. Oh, and part of that “learning” is also learning how to maintain the gun. Even airsoft guns need periodic cleaning and lubrication.
Other reasons for learning yourself is that it shooting together is a wonderful bonding experience. It is also a lot of fun. It’s a great family activity. This falls into that forgotten art called “parenting.”
This advice really comes down to doing two things:
- Be safe.
- Have fun.
All this leads to an important point to note for something like this Ohio case about which the AG refers. An adult had to buy that poor kid the gun. He wouldn’t have been allowed to buy it himself. From what I have read of the story, it is very unlikely that the parent(s) taught him anything about proper handling or safety. If he had been taught properly, odds are he’d be alive today.
I do want to end on a lighter note. Remember I asked which of the guns in the picture above was the real gun? I hope at this point you would answer, “Both are.” The picture on the left is my son at age 7 shooting a Daisy BB gun at Scout camp. The picture on the right is him at age 11 shooting a Ruger 10/22 .22LR. And as a final “Dad has to boast,” this is him on the same day with the SR22 .22LR pistol. Yes, he is an outstanding marksman. I’m glad you asked.
Guns are a part of modern American life, our history and our culture. They should be respected and enjoyed, not feared and abused. If you give the the respect they deserve, you will find yourself with a valuable tool and a wonderful pastime for the entire family. BB guns and airsoft guns are real guns and are as much a part of that as actual firearms. Learn to use them safely and properly and you can look forward to years of enjoyment.