If you’re not a ‘chairsofter’ or ‘plinker’, you already know that airsoft is a sport where people shoot at other people. The rules may prohibit hand to hand combat, the projectiles may be plastic pellets, and the velocities may be lower than an airgun can achieve, but the hazard remains that could cause injury. Airsoft is also an outdoor sport, often played in the wilderness or in abandoned structures. Many dangers that you would encounter when trekking also apply here.
Airsoft can be played safely, as long as the players have a healthy respect for the momentum of their projectiles and of the environment they are playing in. Here we’ll cover the safety rules you need to keep in mind while playing the game.
The rule you should always follow is to treat airsoft guns as if they are real firearms. The four rules of gun safety also apply to airsoft guns and should be observed at all times.
1. Treat all guns as if they were loaded.
More accurately, you should personally inspect the gun to check if it is unloaded. Even when a person has inspected a gun and handed it to you, do not feel silly about inspecting it again yourself. Once in your hands, the gun is your responsibility. If you do not know how to check that the gun is unloaded, you should put it down.
You should not assume that the gun is unloaded once the mag is out of the gun. Airsoft AEGs typically feed up to four BBs the moment you slam a fully wound magazine into the magwell, with one round already chambered even after you’ve dropped the magazine. Unlike real firearms, most airsoft guns do not have to be ‘charged’ or ‘cocked’ before a round is ready to be fired. A lot of electric and gas rifles cannot be decocked, so you should unload the chambered round by firing it at a safe place, and disconnect the battery or gas source when unloading the gun.
2. Never point the muzzle at anything you do not intend to destroy.
Though airsoft muzzle velocities are considered low, they can still cause injury or blindness if it hits someone in the eye. In and out of a game you should always be aware of where the muzzle of your airsoft gun is pointing to avoid any damage if it accidentally discharges.
Even when a gun is unloaded, you should always practice proper ‘muzzle discipline’ and keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction when not firing at a target. It is also easy to get careless when unloading a weapon. You should ensure that it is not pointed at or ricochet at anything that you could damage.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
Accidental firing can harm your teammates, yourself, or an unintended target. You can trip, or get surprised and tense up on the trigger at the wrong moment and you may end up shooting your friends in the back or yourself while the gun is holstered.
When not firing, your trigger finger should be at the ready position, above the trigger guard but held straight and not wrapped around the trigger.
4. Be sure of your target and what lies beyond it.
Besides knowing that your target is indeed a foe and not a friend, you should also be sure not to shoot at an unprotected target. You should not shoot at anyone not wearing proper safety equipment. This includes noncombatants and the occassional idiot who removes his safety goggles while in the game. You should not shoot at animals. Even in a self-defense situation, the worst you can do with an airsoft gun is further agitate an already enraged animal.
You should also consider what is around your target. Even when you know what you are shooting at, you could still hit someone or something you did not intend if your shot goes astray. While BBs rarely travel to even half the distance a real bullet can achieve, or penetrate most solid structures, anytime the BB can go where you cannot see there is a danger that you could hit something you do not intend. It is not unheard of for a BB to ricochet, or in some instances penetrate thin cover.
For airsoft, this also means you should not blind-fire or shoot without deliberate aim. Spraying automatic fire with your gun extended out while hiding behind cover may be an acceptable tactic for insurgents, but it is not acceptable in airsoft games and can get you ejected from a game.
Your eyes are the most vulnerable parts of your body. Even when fully covered, they remain exposed, and even a plastic BB could render you temporarily blind. For this reason, the minimum protection you are required at most airsoft gamesites to wear eye protection in the form of ballistic goggles or glasses. These are often made of thick transparent polycarbonate material able to deflect or absorb. Wire mesh goggles are also used and permitted but there is some debate over the safety of these when some BBs can chip or fragment on impact.
The best ballistic safety eyewear carry ANSI or MIL STD specifications. Paintball masks are made to meet or exceed the minimum ANSI Z280.3, AS1067 or EN1836 specifications, and are often acceptable. So are goggles and glasses used by the military or police that are designed to stop shotgun pellets. Ballistic eyewear issued to or procured by the military and law enforcement meet and exceed ANSI Z87.1 or MIL STD 662F.
Most gamesites in the Philippines require you to wear a full face mask, which also protects from injury to the nose, teeth, mouth and ears.
Not required, often neglected, but always a good idea to have is a pair of good shoes with thick soles and sufficient ankle support to avoid sprains and foot injuries. Surplus military issued combat boots are a favorite option but may be less comfortable for long treks through rough terrain, so hiking shoes are also used and accepted. You should always wear shoes in the proper size to avoid accidents.
A full BDU is not necessarily required but most airsofters are fully protected in standard military uniform that usually has long sleeved tops and long pants. You can even go ‘Rambo’ style if you don’t mind battle scars. Padded vests and ‘armor’ are not a strict necessity, but some airsofters do wear them for playing in close quarters to lessen the impact of BBs, or for reasons not related to safety (i.e. carrying extra gear easily, looking cool).
Airsoft games are often played in areas that replicate a modern battlefield. Some sites are urban war zones, while others are dense forests or jungles. Both can be potentially dangerous if you play unaware or without respect for the hazards..
1. Rough Terrain and Failing Structures
Out in the wild, travelling on-trail is a hiking safety rule, but ‘tactical’ considerations mean that airsofters will often be off the usual paths and travelling through the rough stuff. While running and gunning, it’s also easy to forget to glance at the ground and avoid obstacles that might trip you.
In abandoned buildings that usually host MOUT or CQB games, the risk of collapsing structures is ever present.
Respect the boundaries of a gamesite. Some areas may be off limits because they present a hazard to you, or it may expose bystanders. If the boundaries are not explained to you, ask the gamesite marshalls. When possible, know from the gamesite organizers or those familiar with the area what possible hazards to be mindful of. When entering an unfamiliar area, be cautious and mind your footing.
Durable shoes, again, are good insurance from injury. Gloves, knee and shoulder pads can also save you from some cuts that could get infected. But besides these protections, you should prepare for possibly injury by bringing at least a basic personal medical kit with antiseptic cleanser and a bandage for wounds.
Mosquitoes can carry disease and rabid animals such as rats and snakes can poison or even kill. Poisoned plants and insects also abound that could give you a bad day or trigger an allergy.
If the information is not already volunteered, ask a local or the gamesite organizers what to prepare for and what to bring. Know the plant and animal life in your ‘area of operation’ so you can prepare (i.e. bring repellent, antidote) and avoid the places they frequent or live in.
3. Getting Lost
Of course, you can avoid getting lost by carrying a compass and learning how to use it. Some sprawling sites have huge areas, or are unbounded from the rest of the wilderness, and gamesite marshalls and organizers will often be vigilant about ensuring you are safe inside the game area. But even if you stay inside the bounds of a gamesite, it is possible for you to lose your bearings and get disoriented.
Bring a mobile phone and/or radio to contact your teammates or marshalls in case you are lost or injured and unable to move. You can also bring survival whistles or other signalling equipment in case these forms of communication are unavailable. It is also best to travel with a buddy or a larger group, in case your or someone else is injured and someone needs to find help.
Also, whether in-game, before playing, or even before going to an airsoft gamesite, give someone you know information on where you are going and when you plan to return, so that someone will be know to inform the authorities if you do not return as expected.
4. Heat Exhaustion
Typical battle gear is made of high density nylon, and when geared up in full battle dress, you may be wearing layers of this non-breathable equipment. You may even be wearing a mask that restricts breathing. Bundled in this way, you will likely sweat much more than usual after some running or other physical exertion. This puts you under the very real threat of dehydration and heat exhaustion.
Be sure to have drinking water on hand, in a canteen or a hydration bladder, and make it a point resupply when you run out. Drink small sips when possible, and don’t wait to feel thirsty. You should consider water as your most basic survival supply, even more important than ammunition.
Know your own limits and the signs of heat exhaustion. These are:
- Heavy sweating
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
Your pulse may be fast and weak, and breathing may be fast and shallow. If you feel any of these symptoms, take yourself out of the game and find treatment such as:
- Cool off with cold, non-alcoholic beverages.
- Find a comfortable spot to rest, or even an airconditioned environment.
- Remove vests, load bearing gear and heavy clothing and strip down to lightweight clothing only.
- If possible have a cool shower or bath.
Airsoft and the Authorities
Realism is both the attraction and the problem with airsoft replicas. Authorities have dealty with the problematic aspect of realistic airsoft guns in different ways. The safety concerns have been debated, the possibility for criminal use, however absurd, has also been considered. But the fact remains that airsoft guns do a good job of looking like real firearms. The details may not be faithfully reproduced, but at a quick glance, the 1:1 scale and profile of an airsoft rifle makes them hard to distinguish.
The uncommon common sense that needs to be applied here is that you should always treat airsoft guns as if they were real firearms. It follows that you should not do anything with an airsoft gun that you would not do with a real firearm. Brandishing it in public or threatening someone with it, even as a prank, is a sure way to land yourself in jail, or worse, shot by the police or in self defense by someone carrying a real firearm.
Regulation of airsoft guns varies from country to country. Some have no regulations, and treat airsoft guns like any toy gun. Others have specific rules for replica firearms that are also applied to airsoft guns, or special rules specific to airsoft guns, such as a maximum allowed muzzle velocity (i.e. 1J is the maximum in Japan) or restrictions on the materials and markings of the gun (i.e. Portugal and most US states require an orange painted tip). Be aware of the local laws and know what is permitted in an area before travelling there with an airsoft gun.
In the Philippines, under the new Implementing Rules and Regulations (PNP Circular No. 11), airsoft guns are regulated by the Philippine National Police Firearms and Explosives Division. The important points of the amended IRR are:
- Airsoft guns are considered a ’special type of airgun’, and, while not considered real firearms, they must be registered with the PNP-FED.
- Only individuals aged 18 or older can be registered as owner of an airsoft gun.
- After the amnesty period*, the airsoft guns must be purchased from registered dealers with an official receipt serving as proof.
- The airsoft guns must have an orange painted muzzle or tip, and muzzle velocity cannot exceed 550FPS when used with 0.20g BBs. The registered serial number must be affixed to a conspicuous part of the gun.
- When transporting a registered airsoft gun to and from the owner’s registered residence, a Permit To Transport must be secured, and the gun must be kept in a case.
- Import and export of airsoft guns require a permit and must be coordinated with the PNP-FED.
*The amnesty period ends on July 8, 2008.
When faced with a lawful search or checkpoint in the Philippines, do not attempt to hide your airsoft gun or evade the authorities. Instead, be prepared to present a Certificate of Registration (CR), and when travelling, a Permit To Transport (PTT), should the authorities question you on it. As long as you fulfill the requirements of the IRR, there should be no reason for the authorities to confiscate your guns or take you into custody.
Safety Is Everyone’s Responsibility
Like any sport, we take risks playing airsoft. It’s all part of the game, but unnecessary risks leading to mishaps only spoil the game. We can avoid the unnecessary ones by respecting our guns, our environment, and other airsofters.