Proof of Non-Lethality of Airsoft Guns

By: Lior Nedivi[1] - AFSS, Jerusalem, Israel


Key Words: Airsoft Gun, Lethality, Muzzle Velocity, Non-lethality, Pellet, Penetration


                     Energy, Replica.




   The potential lethality of Airsoft guns, of various types and models, was tested, in order to prove their non-lethality according to Israeli laws and definitions. 10 different Airsoft guns, including replicas of pistols, machine guns, assault rifles and bolt action rifles, were tested, each with two types of 6mm (0.236in.) plastic pellet: a light one, weighing 0.2 gr (3.09 grain) and a heavy one, weighing 0.43 gr (6.63 grain). The muzzle velocity for each shot was measured and the penetration energy[2] of each pellet was calculated. Not one shot reached a level of life threatening penetration energy, which is 42 J/cm2 in Israel, or even a risk of superficial injury to the skin, with value of 33 J/cm2. It was determined that shooting Airsoft guns with plastic pellets is not lethal in any way, once again according to Israeli laws and definitions.




   Airsoft guns [1]


   Replica firearms that shoot plastic pellets (also known as BBs), by way of compressed gas or electric and/or spring-driven pistons. Depending on the mechanism propelling the pellet, an airsoft gun can be operated manually or cycled by either compressed gas such as Green Gas (propane and silicone mix) or CO2, or by compressed air, via a spring or an electric motor pulling a piston. All these products are designed to be non-lethal and to provide realistic replicas.


   Firearm [2]


   A tool featured with the ability to discharge bullet, projectile, shell, bomb etc., who have the capability of killing a human being, including parts, appliances and ammunition for such a tool.





    In Israel, Airsoft guns are not considered as firearms or weapons, but are defined as “dangerous toys”. As such, they fall into the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Industry, Trade & Labor. When the use of Airsoft guns started to spread, from shooting clubs to private users, the ministry started to raise questions about the applications of citizens possessing large amounts of such “toys”, which bear remarkable resemblance to real firearms.


   One of their main lines of concern was the safety of these guns and the implications for innocent bystanders who might get shot mistakenly by them. In order to prove they are completely safe, and comply with the Israeli laws and restrictions, a test was initiated to measure muzzle velocities and to calculate penetration energies.




   Ten different types[3] of Airsoft guns were selected, as listed below:


Three semiautomatic pistols.


One submachine gun.


Three assault rifles.


Two sniper rifles.


One carbine.


   Six shots were fired from each gun, three with light pellets, weighing 0.2 gr, and three more with heavy ones, weighing 0.43 gr. The velocity of each shot was measured at the muzzle. Maximum velocity from each batch of shots was taken and the mean velocity was then calculated. Maximum kinetic energy, mean kinetic energy, maximum penetration energy and mean penetration energy were then calculated respectively[4].


Results and Conclusions




   Maximum velocities varied from 52.1 m/s (170.93 ft/s) to 173 m/s (567.58 ft/s). Maximum penetration energies varied from 2.07 J/cmto 14.92 J/cm2.


   For example, the maximum velocity for the 0.2 gr pellet was 173 m/s (567.58 ft/s) and for the 0.43 gr pellet it was 140 m/s (459.32 ft/s). The maximum penetration energy for the 0.2 gr pellet was 10.59 J/cm2 and for the 0.43 gr pellet it was 14.91 J/cm2.


   Since the minimal penetration energy level commonly accepted in Israel, as being necessary to perforate the skin, is approximately 33 J/cm2, it was quite easy to determine there is no hazard to human life if someone is accidentally shot.




   As mentioned above, the minimal value of penetrating energy commonly accepted in Israel is 33 J/cm2. This value was adopted from a study conducted by the Metropolitan Police of London, England [3]. In this study, a value of 42 J/cm2 was determined as lethal, if the bullet damaged vital organs in its pass through the body.


   However, a literature review reveals other tests with different results. For example, DiMaio et al [4] conducted a test with .177 & .22 caliber lead air gun pellets and with a 113-grain, 0.38 caliber round-nose bullet. They reported conclusive skin penetration at values of 22.3 J/cm2, for the .177 caliber pellet, 17.25 J/cm2, for the .22 caliber pellet and 19.0 J/cm2 for the 0.38 caliber bullet. In this test, all projectiles were metallic and the fact they are much harder then plastic should be taken in consideration when comparing the results to those of plastic pellets.


   In another study, Marshall et al [5] describe a test, conducted with accordance to the Canadian Criminal Code, which proves that Airsoft guns do fulfill the definition of a firearm, being “capable of causing serious bodily injury or death to a person".


   They report that Canadian courts accepted the criteria of “penetration or rupture of an eye” as a “serious bodily injury” and they claim that 6mm plastic pellets can penetrate an eye.


   They fired plastic pellets, at various velocities, at pig's eyes, and according to their study, a pellet achieving an impact velocity of 99 m/s, or greater, would cause “serious bodily injury”. The penetration energy for an impact velocity of 99 m/s and a mass of 0.25gr was calculated to be 4.3 J/cm2!


   It should be borne in mind that in Israel, the law [2] defines an object as a firearm, or as a weapon, only if its projectile is “capable of killing a human being”, where a person could be even a newborn infant. Thus, according to Israeli law, our test proved that Airsoft guns cannot be considered as firearms in Israel!


   Even though the results were conclusive, some precautions were advised while using Airsoft guns:

  • To mark Airsoft guns clearly with a bright color on the frame, muzzle brake, etc.
  • When the gun is stored, to separate the magazine and the driving mechanism (gas or electric battery) from it.
  • Never to use the guns with metallic pellets.
  • Never to shoot at a person, especially not in the direction of the eyes.
  • To wear a protective mask and clothing while practicing on a club’s grounds.

   Bering in mind the differences between the laws and technical definitions in various countries, one should relate to the results of this study with caution. While the measurements of muzzle velocities might remain the same, if conducted elsewhere, the  interpretation of the results might be different, as indeed they are different, for example, between Israel and Canada.




   The author would like to thank Mr. Lior Bar-On for reviewing the paper and for correcting any misspelling.




[1] Wikipedia. (2011, 10 4). Airsoft gun. Retrieved 12 11, 2011, from Wikipedia:

[2] Israeli Penal Code (1977), clause 144, sub-paragraph (C), sub-sub-paragraph (1).

[3] "Firearms Report" 1981-83, Metropolitan Police, Forensic Science Laboratory, London, England, pp. 7-8.

[4] DiMaio, V. J. M., M.D., Copeland, A. R., M.D., Besant-Matthews, P. E.  , M.D., Fletcher, L. A. and Jones,  A., "Minimal Velocities Necessary for Perforation of Skin by Air Gun Pellets and Bullets", Journal of Forensic Science, Vol. 27, No. 4, Oct. 1982, pp. 894-898.

[5] Marshal, J. W., Dahlstrom, D. B. and Powley, K. D., "Minimum Velocity Necessary for Nonconventional Projectiles to Penetrate the Eye: an  Experimental  Study  Using Pig Eyes", American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology, June 2011, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp. 100-103.

[1]Independent firearms examiner, AFSS – Advanced Forensic Science Services, Jerusalem, Israel.  


[2] Penetration energy = kinetic energy divided by the pellet's cross section area 


[3] See Appendix A 


 See Appendix B [4]