Over the years, military combat and warfare have spurred the interest and curiosity of weapons enthusiasts. The nature of using a gun to infiltrate enemies’ headquarters, rescuing VIPs or something as simple as wiping out an entire foreign regime — the thrill one can experience from it is palpable. It is the chase of this same verve which has led to the creation of the sport known as Airsoft.
In general, Airsoft is considered a sport and a recreational activity that is to be enjoyed by people of all ages from all walks of life. The sport is commonly used for the purposes of team building, military simulations (also known as ‘milsim’) and historical re-enactments. The Japanese were the first to conceptualise this sport, followed swiftly by its neighbouring countries Hong Kong and Taiwan in the 1970s. The pioneers of this sport made it a point to design the weapons and equipments as closely as possible to the real ones, which promotes a sense of realism.
One of the reasons why Airsoft is gaining popularity among the youth is because of computer games such as Counter Strike, Battlefield and Call of Duty. You can be sure that diehard fans of these games would enjoy Airsoft due to the realism involved. The abundance of varied weaponry available from many Airsoft retailers contributes further to its hype. By being able to look like their favourite soldiers, movie stars or even virtual characters, it would be exciting for a few, providing thrill and adrenaline during a skirmish. A Malaysian Airsofter who goes by the call sign Nightingale says the excitement one feels while playing the sport is akin to playing Call of Duty.
In order to play, every participant has to be equipped with an Airsoft gun, also known as ‘markers’. The markers are usually regulated in terms of the velocity they produce to ensure a safe and enjoyable skirmish. This regulation is observed by the marker’s manufacturer and is most evident in Japan, with the availability of markers firing no more than 300 feet per second (fps). Getting hit by a pellet of this velocity is as painful as a twanged rubber band and will not cause bruises as one might experience in paintball.
Players are always briefed by the marshal about the rules and regulations before the start of a game, and are frequently reminded to treat all Airsoft guns as though they are real. The fundamental rule when it comes to Airsofting is that players are only required to point at a target they intend to destroy, and only during a game.
Despite being a recreational activity, many Airsoft weaponry manufacturers such as Systema Engineering, Celcius Technology and Fight Club Custom have taken realism to the next level by producing guns which mimic every single function available on a real firearm. These guns are called Professional Training Weapons (PTW) and are used by law enforcement agencies, police forces and military units as a tool for simulations and practices. This trend, according to GunLaws.com, is increasingly popular because Airsoft guns are more cost-efficient compared to real firearms.
An Airsoft gun collector, who only wants to be identified by his nickname Falcon, says that the reason he prefers Airsoft over paintball is because of the guns’ resemblance to real firearms. “Some gun manufacturers have the rights to engrave trademarks to the markers, and this appeals to firearm enthusiasts such as myself because it looks more real,” says Falcon. He also says that Airsoft provides a more realistic approach to military combat as opposed to paintball, where strategies and tactics are less employed.
Weapons aside, the pellets fired from markers are spherical and 6mm in size making it a requirement for every player to don safety goggles, as is mandatory for any sport involving high velocity projectiles. Similarly, players are also advised to wear face masks to avoid getting hit by a pellet in the face and risk getting scarred, even with a low powered marker.
In the field of Airsoft, players are allowed to wear practically anything they want. Some people show up in track suits, some in jeans, or in the rare occasion, shorts. Basically, anyone is entitled to impersonate a military combatant of their choice unless they are part of a team that stresses uniformity. However, certain Airsoft events demand players wear specific attire, especially during historical re-enactments.
The freedom for the players to wear anything they want often allows them to show up at the battlefield wearing a full battle dress uniform (BDU), complete with replicated Kevlar vest, helmet, military boots, walkie-talkies, gloves, dummy hand grenades – all fitted to the smallest details like call sign patches, team patches, and at times even their blood type.
Local business partners Azri* and Chong* love to play Airsoft and usually participate in games over the weekends. The duo experienced their first game in England where they were both studying. “It is a great way to relieve stress and meet new people,” says Chong. “Airsoft also gives us the opportunity to act and feel like a soldier in the field, which is what a man needs after a long week of working, to really loosen up,” adds Azri.
Every Airsoft game consists of two teams, and the teams are usually differentiated by neon-coloured cellophane tape around a player’s right arm. The game is plain and simple: Once you get shot, you are out of the game. Unlike paintball, a person who has been hit by an Airsoft pellet will not leave noticeable stains, and this is where honesty plays its pivotal role in the Airsofting community — when a person gets shot at, it is expected of that person to admit that they were hit. Players who are not completely truthful are labelled as dishonest and lacking sportsmanship, and are commonly known as ‘zombies’ in the sport’s jargon. Players will usually resolve such a setback by talking it out, or having a marshal over to discuss the matter.
Despite its sportsmanship qualities, Airsoft remains a sport that is unrecognised in Malaysia. Due to the uncanny resemblance of Airsoft guns to real guns, it is impossible for a person who has little to no knowledge about the sport to distinguish one from the other. In the hands of an unsupervised minor, Airsoft guns could spell trouble for looking just like the real thing.
In the United States, it is required by law to paint the rifle’s tip in bright orange so that the public will know that it is an Airsoft gun instead of a real gun. The Malaysian Customs, according to a recent report by The Star, rules that it is illegal to possess toy guns that look like actual firearms, and whoever is found guilty for the purchase or importation of these replica guns will be charged under Section 36 of the Arms Act 1960.
It is common to see newspaper reports from time to time of people getting arrested for selling firearm replicas, air rifles and Airsoft guns. Many enthusiasts would buy the equipment and markers online without being aware of the consequences prior to the purchase. Notwithstanding the illegality of the sport, much like any other illegal activity, Airsoft indisputably exists in Malaysia.
Airsoft Malaysia Team (AMT) is a local organisation, founded and established in 2012 by Dato Zambry Nordin, which aims to legalise Airsoft in Malaysia. The organisation has since claimed to be selling legal Airsoft guns that are approved and permitted by the police and customs department. In a report by The Star which featured AMT, people who have purchased the guns from AMT were not allowed to take it home after a game. The price of each gun AMT sells easily doubles that of the current market price, which is at an average of RM1,200 to RM1,500.
However, AMT does not receive support from most existing Airsoft players. To them, this organisation appears to be a scam, and they feel that Airsoft will never be a legal sport in Malaysia. Also, to participate in any AMT games, each player is required to pay a fee ranging from RM40 to RM50, compared to the RM10 that the ‘underground’ organisers charge. Established Airsofters are also unwilling to support AMT because in order to take part in AMT’s games, all players are required to purchase their ‘legal’ guns.
In 2010, a group of passionate Airsofters got together with the goal of getting this sport recognised in Malaysia. This group of people founded the Airsoft Shooting Club (ASC) championing Airsoft as a safe, productive and enjoyable sport. To undertake the major challenge of educating the public about Airsoft, they volunteered to educate people who are interested in the sport with the emphasis on gun management, players’ wellbeing, code of conducts during game play, ethics and sportsmanship.
But for now, despite the converging efforts of Malaysian Airsofters to get this sport legalised, progress regarding the fight for recognition has been dormant as they continue to play under the radar.
* Names have been changed on request.
Edited for ISSUE Magazine by Syazwina Saw.