Airsoft guns were first invented in Japan sometime around 1980 and were originally intended for target shooting. The guns spread internationally in the following decade and were often sold as kits that had to be assembled out of the box. The vast majority of guns were designed to closely resemble real weapons and the attention to detail was often very exact. Modern guns are manufactured largely in Asia and exported all over the world.
The guns fire small spherical pellets that are usually either 6 or 8mm in diameter and most commonly made of plastic. Despite the ammunition being relatively light, some gas-powered guns are capable of surprisingly high levels of muzzle velocity in the more expensive and well-engineered models.
Owing to the fact that the guns cause little injury to humans airsoft shooting has developed into a recreational war-game style sport that is often compared to paintball gaming. Numerous law enforcement agencies and military organisations around the globe have also incorporated airsoft weaponry into their tactical training programmes for force-on-force scenarios.
Modern airsoft guns are typically available as replicas of real firearms and are either powered by springs, electric motors or compressed gas. Most are made of plastic but newer models have more metal used in the manufacture of both internal and external parts. As the guns are often lighter than their real counterparts metal weights are often added to the internals of the gun to give them a more realistic weight when handling them.
Some countries have placed legal restrictions on the sale and ownership of airsoft guns often requiring them to be below certain muzzle velocity limits. Due to their appearance and close resemblance to real weapons some countries also require the guns to be marked in some way to make it clear they are imitations. This is usually achieved by putting orange markers on the muzzle of the gun.
When approached safely, airsoft shooting is a very enjoyable sport with a burgeoning and enthusiastic community. There is a wide variety of guns available and many different disciplines that can be pursued.