What Are BB Guns Used for

When I first started learning about BB guns, I realized I needed to understand the basics of how they work. So, I looked into how conventional guns operate. They create a small explosion behind a projectile positioned in a cylinder, which pushes the projectile forward as it makes its way down the barrel. BB guns operate on a similar principle, except there’s no explosion involved. Instead, they use compressed gas, like ordinary air or carbon dioxide, to propel the BB forward at high speed.

There are various designs for BB guns, mainly differing in how they source compressed air. Pneumatic designs involve manually pumping air, while spring air designs use a “pump” lever that compresses a spring behind a piston. Some air guns don’t have a pump action at all and rely on pre-compressed gas stored in cylinders, similar to scuba tanks.

In the UK, BB guns are used for war games, but they can also cause severe injury if misused. I wanted to know more about these weapons’ availability, ease of purchase, and potential for tissue damage. To my surprise, they are widely available online, easy to purchase with no security checks, and can penetrate a cadaveric animal model at distances up to 5 meters.

BB guns are not toys, and their potential to cause injury is significant. The UK has strict legislation regarding firearm ownership, mainly in response to tragic events like the Hungerford and Dunblane massacres. However, despite these stringent laws, firearm-related crime has remained relatively unchanged.

During this same period, there has been a marked increase in recreational sports involving non-lethal weapons like paintball and airsoft. While these are considered toys by most, they have been associated with serious injuries. Over the last five years, at least two major injuries were reported due to BB shootings in regions where the authors have been working, and it is likely that many others have occurred nationally.

There is a concerning lack of regulation surrounding BB gun ownership in the UK. Although there are age restrictions, there is no licensing of air guns, and many can be purchased through mail order. This means vendors have no way of knowing who the recipient will be. The legal limits for air rifles and pistols are 12 ft.lb and 6 ft.lb, respectively, but the newer electric airsoft BB guns can fire 750+ pellets per minute, with each pellet reaching velocities of 90 m/s. This high rate of fire can deliver a much greater total energy load than a single-shot air rifle or pistol.

Curious about the potential damage, I conducted tests using an electric air piston powered replica of the Heckler & Koch MP5K. Upon fully charging its battery, I tested the gun’s ability to penetrate the skin and muscle of a supermarket-purchased chicken at distances of 1, 3, and 5 meters. The results showed that these weapons can indeed cause significant injury.

In conclusion, BB guns have a genuine potential to cause harm and should not be treated as toys. The ease of purchase and lack of regulation make it even more important to raise awareness about their potential dangers.

As I continued to explore the world of BB guns, I became increasingly aware of the need for greater education and awareness about their responsible use. While these weapons may be fun for recreational activities like war games and airsoft, they must be treated with the same respect and caution as any other firearm.

It’s essential that users understand the potential dangers and risks associated with BB guns. To help promote safe usage, I have compiled a few essential guidelines:

  1. Always treat a BB gun as if it’s loaded, even if you know it isn’t. This will help you develop good habits and reduce the risk of accidents.
  2. Never point a BB gun at anything you don’t intend to shoot, including people, animals, or personal property.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. Accidental discharges can cause severe injuries or even fatalities.
  4. Use proper eye and face protection when using BB guns. BBs can ricochet, potentially causing serious eye injuries.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings and make sure you have a clear line of sight to your target. You should also be aware of what’s behind your target in case you miss or the BB passes through.
  6. Store your BB gun and ammunition separately and out of reach of children or unauthorized users. Locking them up when not in use is a good practice.
  7. Familiarize yourself with local laws and regulations surrounding BB gun ownership and usage. Some areas may have restrictions on where you can use these weapons or may require permits.

By following these guidelines and treating BB guns with the respect they deserve, we can help minimize the risk of accidents and injuries. Remember, BB guns are not toys, and their potential to cause harm should never be underestimated. It’s our responsibility as users to ensure that we handle these weapons safely and responsibly.


Advertisements appeared in only 3 out of 7 men’s magazines, which may reflect the high cost of advertising in these publications. A Google search produced 18,300 results for “BB gun sales” and 12,100 for “replica gun sales.” All sellers accepted credit cards to verify the buyer’s age, but no additional checks were performed to assess the suitability of the purchaser. Airsoft Dynamics was chosen as the supplier due to its user-friendly website and wide variety of weapons for sale. The MP5K and accessories were purchased using a credit card without any further security screening.

The MP5K is similar in size and shape to its real-life counterpart but is slightly lighter (1.5 kg vs. 2 kg), fires 6 mm pellets instead of 9 mm bullets, has a somewhat lower firing rate (750 pellets/min vs. 900 rounds/min), and has a muzzle velocity of 90 m/s rather than 400 m/s.

Mean and maximum penetration decreased with increasing distance in both single shot and automatic firing modes (Table 2). Single shot mode was more accurate up to 3 meters (17/20 vs. 16/56 at 1 m and 12/20 vs. 13/56 at 3 m), with no penetration at 5 meters. Automatic fire achieved deeper penetration at all distances (max penetration 25 mm vs. 18 mm at 1 m, 20 mm vs. 15 mm at 3 m, and 15 mm vs. no penetration at 5 m).


Replica weapons are initially bought for children, typically boys, in Western countries by their parents. Early versions of these toy guns are low-quality and easily distinguishable from real firearms. However, modern replicas are high-quality, expensive, and closely resemble actual weapons in size, shape, and weight. They can even have additional features like silencers and laser sights for added realism. The primary differences between the purchased MP5K and the real weapon are the fire selection switch symbols and the visible battery pack near the barrel. These differences could be easily disguised, making them hard to distinguish at a distance or in poor visibility.

The decline in accuracy for fully automatic fire is expected, as single aimed shots allow for better precision and target acquisition. The increased tissue penetration with automatic fire compared to single aimed shots was surprising but can be attributed to the rapid concentration of energy transfer in a small area, causing tissue disruption and penetration.

The kinetic energy (KE) of each BB can be calculated as follows:

Mass = 0.2 g; Velocity = 90 m/s KE = (0.2 × 90²)/2000 = 0.81 J (approx. 0.6 ft.lb) Total KE of 28 BB magazine = 28 × 0.81 = 22.68 J (≈ 16.8 ft.lb)

The reduction in penetration with distance is expected due to decreased velocity as the BB travels farther from its source. The ability of automatic fire to penetrate at 5 meters when aimed shots failed is likely due to multiple energy transfers in a small area, causing tissue disruption.

We used a small 28 pellet magazine for this study, but larger 200 and 1,300 pellet magazines are also available, which could potentially inflict more penetrating injuries due to the higher number of projectiles fired in a short time.

Once a BB breaches the surface of the tissue, further penetration is likely to be deeper, as underlying fat and fascia offer less resistance to the pellet’s kinetic energy compared to elastic skin. The likelihood of a BB entering a body cavity depends on the individual’s size, the number of pellets fired, and the distance between the weapon and the victim.

The US, with looser gun

control than the UK, has experienced numerous injuries and surprising fatalities from such weapons. Fatalities in the UK are less likely due to the lower power of legally available guns compared to those sold in the US, which can have muzzle velocities exceeding those of police-issued 0.38 caliber handguns. However, the risk of eye injuries from UK specification BB guns is real, with manufacturers recommending the use of protective face masks.

Our model has significant limitations, as a supermarket-bought fresh chicken is far from an accurate representation of a human. However, considering the potential harm, we felt it was not ethical to test the weapon on a living person. Alternatives such as cadavers or anesthetized live animals, like those used in Danish military studies, would likely not receive approval from the Home Office. Despite its flaws, our model is simple, reproducible, and provides an indication of the potential for tissue penetration.


Replica weapons are easily accessible without any age or security checks on the buyer. Modern, electric-powered BB guns closely resemble their real-life counterparts and can fire pellets at high rates, penetrating tissue. The widespread availability of these devices raises concerns.

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