Airsoft Guns: Parents on the Front Line of a Risky Hobby

By Robin Schoettler Fox

The sight startled me. Dressed in fatigues and carrying a gun, the teen-ager looked like he could be a picture in the newspaper, a fresh-faced soldier too young to go to war. But it was a high school kid, walking along the wooded path of our neighborhood park. I would have called 9-1-1, but my 12-year-old, who recognized the teen, whispered, “I think it’s an Airsoft gun.”

Airsoft guns shoot lightweight plastic BBs that rarely cause serious injury if the recommended face protection is worn, but can put out an eye or chip a tooth if it isn’t. Increasingly popular among minors who use them for friend-to-friend combat games, Airsoft guns are on my sons’ wish lists. Under California law, though, adults have to buy Airsoft guns; minors can use them only with parental permission. That makes my husband and me part of a growing market segment – parents of kids who want Airsoft guns.

Airsoft games began as an adult sport with controllable safety issues. But in the hands of unsupervised minors, Airsoft guns can spell trouble because they look like real guns. Already police report that incidents of unsupervised minors with Airsoft guns are up. It’s just a matter of time, police say, before a police officer, mistaking an Airsoft gun for a real one, shoots a child.

That makes Airsoft guns a community issue with parents like me on the front lines, de facto regulators in an otherwise loosely governed market.

Parents decide which kids get Airsoft guns. Parents decide when and where and how they are used. We are the one group who can immediately reduce the impact of the look-alike risk. But when I sought advice from other parents, I realized that many of us are starting at the bottom of the learning curve, unfamiliar with Airsoft guns and unschooled in firearm safety. So I went in search of more information.

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