Boys like to shoot guns. I like children to remain uninjured. Airsoft, which involves shooting one’s friends but also involves plastic BBs and full facemasks, sounded like it might be a way to meet halfway.
Lawrence at Airsoft Extreme in Kearny Mesa (858-554-0564) explained that the Airsoft replicas he sells fire 10 to 18 BBs a second via a battery-operated electric motor. “When you pull the trigger, it creates a full circuit. The motor spins three satellite gears that circle a piston to the rearward position. When the final drive gear loses traction on the piston, it releases the piston forward. That creates air pressure, which shoots the BB.”
Since the gun is a machine, I wanted one that wouldn’t wear out in a week, the way, say, every remote-control car I’ve ever bought did. “I’d direct your son to our Sportline series. They’re one level above the spring stuff that people can buy at [box stores]. For $130 to $150, you get the Airsoft replica, a magazine, a basic battery that will get you about 800 shots on a charge, and a basic charger. For safety gear, we have masks ranging from $40 to $140, depending on your needs. The more expensive ones have more flexibility, better field of vision, and better heat dispersion.”
Above that price point, you can leave behind Sportline’s plastic shell. “When you break the $189 plane, you’re getting an all-metal gun. Even the sights will be metal. The only plastic parts would be the butt stock and the pistol grip, which are plastic on a real gun as well.” Below that price, “you go into manual cycle guns. Somebody with an electric Sportline series gun will have a better rate of fire, better range, better accuracy, and better velocity.”
But, warned Lawrence, even quality Airsofts are “still, in fact, toys. If you use them outside of manufacturer specifications, there are numerous things that can fail. If you hold the trigger too long, you can strip the satellite gears. If it’s a lower-quality gun, you can get trigger delay due to carbon buildup on the contact. I’ve also seen people use such high-voltage batteries that they burn out the motor. And if water gets into the system, it can cause what we call a ‘runaway gun,’ with the gun firing even when you’re not pulling the trigger.”
As for safety, Lawrence told me that the facemask was only the first consideration. “The first thing we tell people is to use your Airsoft gun at a designated legal field, a place where you actually have to pay to get in, and where there is insurance available. There are people who own property and say, ‘Oh, yeah, your kids can come here and play,’ but do they have liability insurance in case of injury? The answer is usually no, and it can get really ugly, legally.”
Ruth Montoya, administrative assistant for Giant San Diego Paintball and Airsoft in Lakeside (877-442-6897), told me, “Walk-on play is Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. The fields in Lakeside have different themes, like a Western theme or a castle theme. We recommend reservations if you have a group. We can offer discounted rates for two or more with a reservation and a deposit. Cost is $20 for entry, $30 to rent a gun, $6 to rent a mask, and $5 plus tax gets you 1000 rounds, up to $13.95 for 4000.
“The mask is a full face mask,” she explained. “There are goggles with a seal around your eyes. And then it’s the full face from your forehead down to your chin, and there is solid ear protection. People wear clothes that leave no skin exposed. We go through a safety orientation video before people go out to play, and there are referees who watch to make sure everything is going smoothly.”
Other fields around town:
Mr. Paintball USA in Escondido (760-737-8870). Walk-on play Friday–Sunday, 8:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Cost is $48 for all-day play, rifle, mask, red rag, and 1000 rounds, or $25 if you bring your own equipment.
The Paintball Park at Camp Pendleton (866-985-4932). Walk-on play Friday–Sunday, 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m., also 6–10 p.m. on Saturdays. Two close-combat houses, village marketplace, real military vehicles. Cost is $50 for all-day play, gun, mask, camo jacket, and 500 rounds, or $25 if you bring your own equipment.