Kids will be kids, won’t they? And they’ve been finding out ways to fire stuff at each other for years.

Two such methods of launching non-lethal projectiles at your best mates include airsoft and BB guns. However, one is significantly less dangerous than the other.*

But to the untrained eye, and target/combat sport beginners, they look very much alike, so what exactly is the difference?

Let’s take a look at the airsoft vs BB gun match up – and get to the bottom of this often confusing subject.

*Disclaimer – the editors would kindly like the reader to note that we in no way condone firing BB guns at people. (And that – in a nutshell – is the difference).

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BB Gun Vs Airsoft Gun – Too Long, Didn’t Read

They can look the same, they can feel the same – but they are not the same. Before we get into the nuts and bolts of what exactly makes these two platforms different, we’ll drop the answer for those who are in a rush.

Both use gas or compressed air to project ammunition.

Airsoft guns fire 6mm lightweight plastic balls, whereas BB guns fire smaller, heavier metal or lead balls.

Aside from this, the main difference is how they are used. Airsoft guns are used in airsoft games to shoot human players, whereas BB guns are used primarily for target practice, plinking, or rodent control/small game hunting.

BB guns (also called air guns – hence the confusion) are usually more powerful than their airsoft counterparts. As such, they should never be used for airsoft-style games. However, depending on the gun, certain airsoft weapons will have a comparable FPS (Feet Per Second) velocity.

Regarding realism, airsoft guns have the advantage, and are often very hard to distinguish from real firearms.

Let’s go into a bit more detail.

airsoft military game players with assault rifles

What is a BB Gun?

A BB gun or “air gun” is a replica weapon that is designed to fire a metal or lead pellet, most commonly using compressed air or gas.

Firing “BBs,” these projectiles are usually between 0.180 inches or 4.6 mm in diameter, and spherical in shape.

Spring BB guns are also available, utilizing a single-shot action that needs to be pulled back before the next round can be fired.

Gas cartridges or filled gas canisters are the power source of choice. A good quality BB gun can achieve velocities of 500-750 fps, but many high-end BB rifles will offer well over 1000 fps.

Some guns use a pump system that you need to manually fill with air before firing – not unlike pumping a water cannon.

BB guns have been around a lot longer than airsoft, as any grandfather who has ever won a giant teddy-bear at a fairground carnival target shoot will testify.

They originated as far back as 1886 as a youth practice weapon, and everyone knows someone who has been shot with one in a field somewhere, back in the day.

What is an Airsoft Gun?

Airsoft guns have been around since the 1970s, a pastime that was developed in Japan when pioneering companies realized it was possible to fire non-lethal projectiles at people for fun.

From these early days, they have spawned a massive following around the globe, and as the technology has improved, so too the realism of the guns, and the sheer number of players enjoying the sport.

Fired by either a single-action spring, a gas cartridge/canister, or a rechargeable battery pack, the airsoft market is a vast and often confusing selection of weaponry – and it shows no signs of letting up just yet.

They shoot 6 mm plastic balls that can vary in weight, and many guns include an adjustable “hop up” so you can increase range and accuracy.

Many airsoft weapons are highly customizable, and can be pimped out with tactical accessories, as well as offering the ability to significantly improve performance.

Check out these amazing airsoft rifles to get an idea of the “caliber” of replicas on the market today.

airsoft sniper with automatic rifle and mask

Head-to-Head

Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between BB guns and airsoft guns, with the most common comparable factors.

Ammunition

At first glance, it might appear that the two guns fire the same kind of projectiles, and there is often cause for some confusion as a result.

The type of ammunition that is fired from each gun is actually their main difference.

Airsoft weapons fire 6 mm plastic balls. They’re larger than BB ammunition, and much lighter.

BB guns fire metal or lead balls. Small in comparison to plastic airsoft ammo, they’re also significantly more dense.

Switching the ammo around and using it in a gun that isn’t intended for that kind of projectile will likely damage the weapon internally. Some might be able to offer hybrid capabilities – but check with the manufacturer first.

Note that neither weapon should be confused with a “pellet gun,” which fires diablo-shaped pellets.

Power Source

Both guns share similar power sources – using cartridges of compressed air, Co2, or “green gas,” to fire projectiles.

Some BB guns use a pump action, and airsoft guns also can use a single-action spring – most notably in these awesome airsoft sniper rifles.

However, airsoft guns offer another alternative, with the inclusion of AEGs (Automatic Electric Guns) which use batteries to power ammo down range and at unsuspecting opponents.

As such, airsoft guns are capable of a much higher rate of fire than BB versions.

See which power source is the better option by taking a look at this article on gas vs electric airsoft guns.

Use

Airsoft guns are primarily used to play the combat sport game of airsoft – a team game in which each side has to eliminate their opponents in order to win. Tactical variations of the game add to the endless replayability factor, and MilSim games ramp up the realism.

They can be used for target practice or “plinking,” but they’re not in the same league as BB guns in this regard.

Airsoft guns can also be used for training purposes.

BB guns are most commonly used for target practice, either at paper targets or objects like bottles and drinks cans.

They, too, are known to be used for law enforcement or military training.

Rodent or pest control is another potential use of a BB gun – and they can be used to hunt small game if powerful enough.

Please note that it is considered inhuman and highly irresponsible to hunt or attempt to kill any animal with an under-powered weapon.

airsoft man with optical sight sniper rifle

Appearance/Aesthetic

It’s not always easy to tell the difference between airsoft guns, BB guns, and real firearms. But when it comes to being as close as possible to looking like lethal weaponry – airsoft wins hands down.

You just don’t get the same kind of assault rifle replicas with BB guns as you do with the likes of these amazing airsoft AEGs.

They’re designed to offer as much accuracy as possible when it comes to their aesthetic, as the sport is enjoyed by military and law enforcement enthusiasts who want to be as realistic as possible without actually killing anyone.

However, in the pistol class it’s much harder to tell them apart. Compare these airsoft pistols to BB guns for a good example.

Having said that, BB guns could quite easily hold up a bank, too – so you need to be aware of where and how you’re using them. All firearms should be treated with respect, and never taken out into public.

Even with the blaze orange tip required on airsoft rifles – people have been shot for much less.

FPS Velocity

On a commercial airsoft field (at least in the US) you’re not going to be allowed to play if your airsoft gun exceeds 350 fps.

Most unmodded airsoft guns on the market today will shoot somewhere between 200-400 fps. Airsoft guns can be adjusted and customized to shoot faster or slower as the user desires.

BB guns are much more powerful, and depending on the caliber, a standard air gun will offer between 500-750 fps. Higher-end BB guns will easily break the 1000 fps mark.

These things are NOT toys.

Accuracy

In the accuracy stakes, both versions can offer pretty impressive results – but it is the BB gun that wins this round.

Partly helped by the increased velocity, they’ve been specifically designed for target shooting, and as such will give the user a more satisfying experience down the range.

You’re far more likely to nail the bullseye with a BB gun than you are with an airsoft version.

airsoft gun with the protective glasses and bullets

Safety

Regardless of the power or the type of ammunition used, firing tiny pellets at high velocities deserves to be treated with respect.

Airsoft guns might not be lethal to us humans, but you’ll know all about it if you get hit on exposed skin, especially at close range. And you don’t even want to think about what that will do to an eye.

BB guns are more notorious, and in their long history there have been recorded fatalities with misuse – again, most commonly with a hit to the optics, although a powerful gun will pierce skin.

Mishandled, abused, or treated as toys, injuries are common with both platforms.

As such, the one similarity that both BB guns and airsoft guns 100% share – is that you should ALWAYS be wearing eye protection when using them. At the very least.

So, take a look at this article on the best airsoft goggles for when you’re firing any kind of projectile, either at your mates or down range at a terrified can of cola.

Remember, never point or use BB guns at human targets – you’ve got plenty of airsoft options for that. You’re not staring in Jackass – so leave that kind of stuff to the idiots.

Cost

Both types of gun are available at ridiculously cheap prices, and at the other end of the scale they can be ridiculously expensive.

Toe-to-toe, there’s not much in it. Some high-end guns on both platforms can reach well into thousands of dollars.

But when you’re looking at the overall cost of using them, a BB gun is next to nothing compared to that of what airsoft players can and will pay.

Not only is the ammo more expensive (admittedly not by much) but the cost of all the extra gear and equipment can soon add up – particularly for MilSim (Military Simulation players) who want their combat experience as realistic as possible.

But for firing a few metal balls at a paper target – that’s pocket change. Especially when compared to real firearms and ammunition.

Overall Winner

The short answer is – there isn’t one.

In truth, this article was never designed to pit the two platforms against each other – more to give an indication of their differences.

Airsoft guns are best used for airsoft, and BB guns are best used for target practice (and rodent control).

However, as well as the safety aspect, you’d do well to pick up a pair of awesome tactical shooting gloves if you’re taking either gun out for a spin.

For a full video exploring this very topic – including some visual examples of BB and airsoft guns, check out the link below.

FAQ

What hurts more a BB gun or airsoft?

Given that they’re more powerful and fire metal or lead balls, a BB gun will hurt significantly more than an airsoft counterpart. In fact – it’s not even close.

As such, you should never use a BB gun for airsoft games, or fire one at your mates for a laugh. BB guns can be lethal and fatalities have occurred from their misuse.

Can an airsoft gun kill?

To date, there have been no known fatalities as a result of airsoft gun use. As such, they are a much safer alternative to BB guns for firing at your mates (relevant safety gear withstanding).

They’re not recommended as home defense weapons for this reason – although in a pinch and in the dark – they’d be a lot better than nothing.

Airsoft injuries tend to mostly fall into the sprained ankle category.

Can a BB gun kill?

It depends on the gun and fps, but yes, BB guns can kill. There have been several fatalities related to BB gun hits both accidental and otherwise. It’s fair to say that extra care should be taken when using a BB gun (like all firearms), and you should never point them at another person.

What is a BB gun used for?

BB guns are mostly used for target practice, and more powerful versions can be used for rodent/pest control and small game hunting.

Law enforcement and military personnel have been known to use them for training purposes.

And you’ll find them at the fairground shooting gallery – so practice at home first and you might win big.

Is a BB gun a real gun?

No. It doesn’t fire the same kind of rounds as a real firearm. You cannot fire bullets from a BB gun – just small metal or lead balls.

Aesthetically, they can look and feel like a lethal weapon, and as such care must be taken whenever and wherever they are being used.

Is an airsoft gun the same as a BB gun?

Airsoft guns are often incorrectly referred to as BB guns – but the two are not the same. Airsoft guns fire small plastic balls, whereas BB guns are generally more powerful and fire metal or lead balls.

Anyone not in the know, or who hasn’t read this article, will get the two mixed up – hence the regular confusion.

Don’t call an airsoft gun a BB gun – and vice versa.

Do airsoft bullets hurt?

They can hurt if fired against exposed skin or from close range – particularly with a powerful airsoft gun with a high muzzle velocity and heavier-weight ammunition.

That’s why it’s important to wear the right protective gear when you’re engaged in a combat sport, so check out this article for a full list on what to wear for airsoft.

And never fire them at anyone who isn’t wearing the right kind of protective clothing.

Can I use airsoft pellets in a BB gun?

No. It’s not advised, anyway. The guns shoot different types of ammunition, not to mention the variations in weight, size and caliber.

If you attempt to do this, you run the risk of seriously damaging the gun, ruining the ammunition, and maybe even injuring yourself.

It’s not that hard to shoot the right ammo out of a compatible weapon – so keep things simple and all will be well.

Are airsoft guns legal?

It depends on the country, but in the US and Canada you can own as many of the things as you like.

However, laws may differ from state to state on use and age limits – so check in your location if you’re in any doubt.

Are BB guns legal?

Again, yes. They’re not classed as a firearm and fall under the “air guns” category. However, this too can vary from state to state – so double-check with local regulations before adding anything to cart.

Summary

There you have it, an in-depth look at airsoft vs BB guns. They’re used for two different sports, firing different ammunition, at different velocities. So, make sure you’re not bringing the wrong one to your next meet.

Let me know your thoughts or experiences in the comments below. Feel free to sound off, or just tell us which type of gun you prefer.

Stay safe out there – and good hunting!