Why Paintball Has A Better Public Profile Than Airsoft
Abbey Supply started as a firearms company, manufacturing quality lubricants and cleaning supplies for shotguns, rifles and airguns in the UK. As we progressed, we found more and more ‘airsofters’ buying our products and (with a little bit of research into the sport and community) the business has grown to where airsoft is a major part of our business model.
Airsoft, in the past few years (and most publicly, last few months) has been under scrutiny by the government and home office. The safety of our replica firearms, the legitimacy of our sport, and the impact that it has on the public were all called into question. You can read more about how the UK airsoft laws have changed, here.
Airsoft is constantly being targeted by groups that aim for tighter firearms control and the banning of airsoft as a whole, including owning, purchasing and using airsoft replica imitation firearms.
With our beloved sport of airsoft being so closely watched, where is paintball in the whole debacle? Is paintball being judged by members of the public as dangerous and wrong? Is it even considered on the same level as airsoft?
The short answer is no.
Paintball and paintballers avoid the vast majority public scrutiny, condemnation and legislation due to the way the sport (primarily) is distanced from firearms terminology, military aesthetic and public accessibility.
Paintball very shrewdly avoids the use of most firearms terminology when discussing parts of weapons. Here are just a few examples of how this is done.
A firearm is called a gun, an airsoft RIF is called a gun, but in paintball they’re called ‘markers’.
Firearms are loaded with magazines, airsoft RIFs are loaded with magazines, but in paintball they’re called hoppers. The correct term for an airsoft gun even has the word ‘firearm’ in it (Realistic Imitation Firearm).
Firearms shoot bullets, airsoft guns fire BBs (similar to airguns or shotguns), but in paintball they’re just paintballs.
Deliberately or not, this is one of the first steps that paintball has used to protect the sport. A marker is a much less threatening word than gun, it doesn’t carry the same connotations. If an uninformed member of the public were to overhear you talking about the new ‘marker’ you just bought, they aren’t going to worry about their safety.
The next part of this is how airsoft loves to focus on the military realism of its sport. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s a huge part of why airsofters love the sport and should be embraced wholeheartedly.
However, paintball doesn’t care about realism. Players wear brightly coloured clothing, carrying markers that are obviously not firearms and play in environments that couldn’t be confused for a warzone. Parts of paintball that do focus on realism are much smaller aspects of the sport and not the first thought on the general public’s mind.
Compare this to airsoft. The primary point of airsoft is to focus on realism, military simulation and military accuracy. To an uninformed member of the public (and other airsofters!), an airsofter is indistinguishable from genuine military personnel. Parts of airsoft that focus less on realism, such as speedsoft, and small parts of our sport, just as the ‘realism’ type is a small part of paintball.
Finally, paintball has managed to make it accessible to anyone who wants to play it. Stag Nights and birthday parties paintballing are a common occurrence in the sport. If you turned to someone and said ‘I’m going paintballing on Sunday’, they wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Compare this to “I’m going airsofting this Sunday” where you’re met with blank looks and further questions.
Airsoft has a much higher perceived barrier to entry that can scare people from the sport, or cause them to question whether it’s right for them. Turn up to an airsoft game in jeans and a t-shirt and you’ll stick out like a sore thumb. It’s not that you’ll be unwelcome, just under dressed.
This is why paintball has a better public profile than airsoft
It’s not that airsoft is more focussed on realism, less accessible to one off players or the fact that we use terms like ‘gun’ and ‘magazine’. These things are what make airsoft so great.
It’s that the combined lack of these aspects within paintball make the sport so much more accessible to everyday people. These ‘buzz words’ or triggers often cause the public to have concern for their safety, cause people to worry about a player’s “mental health” or motives, or generally consider it dangerous.
Paintball managed to avoid all of this and subsequently, players, retailers and manufactures are treated better.
What do we do about this?
There's nothing that can be done about this in its entirety. Airsoft is, without doubt, a different kettle of fish to paintball. They appeal to different audiences and achieve different things. However, we should be pushing to appear as though, to the layman on the outside, make them appear as comparable to each other as possible.
Speak to those that are apprehensive about the sport, discuss their reservations and opinions. Promote the positive aspects of the sport in its entirety; airsoft helps promote teamwork, discipline, and exercise. Promote how welcoming the community is to new comers, how willing players are to lend gear and a helping hand. These are the parts of airsoft that make it standout as an outstanding community of players, self-regulating and honest.