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Airsoft Vs. BB Gun: How to Tell Them Apart and Choose the Right Air Gun for You

Air soft gun with protective glasses and lot of bullets For the uninitiated, BB guns and airsoft guns are the same thing. However, this cannot be further from the truth as these two air guns are very different from each other.

With the confusion comes the competition as well, as the airsoft vs. BB gun debate has been raging for decades now. These make it very interesting to take a closer look at these two toy replica guns as there’s so much to talk about.

If you’re curious about these non-firearms and want to get to know them better, read on.

We’ll take a close look at what makes them similar and what sets them apart from each other to help you decide which one to get.

Why Do People Confuse Airsoft Guns with BB Guns?

Weapons and military equipment for armyThe first point that we want to talk about is the confusion between airsoft and BB guns. These two replica toy guns aren’t necessarily similar where it counts, so it’s quite surprising that lots of people can’t tell them apart. The interchanging of terms between the two is also something that needs to be addressed as it fuels the confusion and makes more people think that BB guns and airsoft guns are the same.

So why are people mistaking BB guns for airsoft guns and vice versa? One of the biggest similarities they have is that they seem to be the most serious kinds of ‘toy guns’ in the market. They may be classified as non-firearms but they are both powerful enough to cause injuries when not handled properly.

Another major similarity of the two is their use of pressurized air to propel their ammunition forward. This makes them pretty much the same thing for lots of people even if there’s a lot more to their mechanisms and overall design. Looking at these items as air-powered guns are over simplification of their engineering so it’s easy to see where some folks get the idea that they’re not two separate things.

Then there’s also the fact that both are made to look like actual firearms. They’re fashioned after real guns which is why they’re classified as ‘replica toy guns’. It really doesn’t matter that airsoft guns are often designed to look like the real deal, as those who are not very familiar with guns might not be able to distinguish a BB gun at a glance.

Unlike airsoft guns that are often with orange muzzle tips to make it easier to tell them apart from actual firearms, BB guns are not required to sport this additional detail. As a result, they can still be mistaken for actual guns the same way as airsoft guns without the orange tip.

The wrong use of the names can also be blamed in confusing people between airsoft and BB guns. Some people refer to airsoft guns as BB guns and their projectiles as BBs. The latter is actually very widely done that some breakdowns of the sport’s jargon refers to airsoft ammo as ‘BBs’.

This is incorrect as they are better referred to as ‘pellets’ since they’re not made for BB guns and have a completely different composition and construction. Both are rounded in shape, however, so it’s understandable why people tend to mistake them for each other.

What Sets Airsoft and BB Guns Apart?

Now that we have pointed out some of the most confusing things about airsoft and BB guns, let’s take a closer look at what sets these two items apart. They’re distinctly different from each other but their core similarities can obscure those facts. So to make it easier to differentiate the two, allow us to enumerate the things that distinguish BB and airsoft guns from each other.

What are BB Guns and Airsoft Guns?

Modern soldier with rifleTo start things off, let’s first try to understand what airsoft guns and BB guns are.

Airsoft guns are classified as low-powered smoothbore air guns that are designed to shoot plastic or biodegradable pellets. They have low muzzle energy with low penetrative and stopping powers so they’re a lot less dangerous than other kinds of air guns. Mechanical and pneumatic mechanisms are available options.

One of the most notable things about airsoft guns is their design. They’re often made to look like actual guns which is both a good and bad thing.

It’s good because it’s perfect for real-life simulation games. They really make war games seem more realistic. However, due to their design, it can be very difficult to distinguish them from real firearms.

Just how realistic-looking are airsoft guns, you might be wondering?

Well, for starters, many airsoft gun manufacturers are acquiring licenses from firearm manufacturers so they can make exact copies of their firearms without getting into trademarking troubles.

Others don’t bother with paying a lot of money for the design but do it anyway. As a result, many airsoft guns tend to look like real firearms that even law enforcement professionals have a hard time telling them apart.

How accurate is a BB replica vs an airsoft replica? Airsoft replicas are definitely more realistic looking than BB guns since most of them are designed to look like actual gun models. So much so that police have mistaken them for real guns numerous times.

Some of these incidents have led to fatal consequences like in the case of the 12-year-old Tamir Rice who was shot to death after law enforcement thought that the airsoft gun he was holding was a real firearm. It was a replica of a Colt 1911 semi-automatic.

Black pneumatic pistol PremiumAirsoft replicas look very real so a Federal law was enforced to require the inclusion of orange tips on replica guns. This is meant to help distinguish them from real firearms at a glance. Unfortunately, some folks tamper with this design which then leads to serious consequences.

BB guns, on the other hand, are defined as air guns that are meant to shoot metallic ball projectiles known as BBs. Some often mistake the definition of BB for ‘ball bearing’ but that’s not true. It’s believed that it refers to the size of the lead shotgun shot that was used in the early models of BB guns which are BB, between B and BBB sizes.

Unsurprisingly, BB guns use the same operating mechanisms as other kinds of air guns. However, due to their limited accuracy and short range, simpler mechanisms are more popularly used for the varieties that are made to only shoot BBs.

Appearance-wise, BB guns don’t look exactly like real firearms like airsoft guns. Their manufacturers are not focused on making their products look like the real deal as they are more performance-oriented. They are still modeled after real guns but they’re not exact replicas. Because of this they do not fall under the “look-alike firearm” category so they are not required to have orange tips like airsoft guns.

What are Airsoft and BB Guns For?

Due to their differences, airsoft and BB guns are meant for different purposes.

Airsoft guns are designed for recreational use since they are not as powerful as traditional firearms or most other kinds of air guns. They’re most popularly used for military simulation war games which also explains why they’re often made to look like real guns. In 2018, however, airsoft guns are adopted by the US Coast Guard for training.

BB guns, on the other hand, are not meant for shooting others. They are more powerful than airsoft guns so they can cause more serious injuries. They are only ideally used for target practice, training, and competitive shooting. The National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Marksmanship Qualification Program has events for BB guns and other types of air guns.

Can BB or airsoft guns be used for hunting?

Experts do not recommend the use of airsoft and BB guns for hunting. However, if you really need a weapon for such or for getting rid of small destructive critters in your property, it’s better to go with BB guns instead.

It’s best to use the highest caliber options legally available to you, however, to ensure the best results. This will ensure a more efficient and humane way for pest control.

Airsoft guns are definitely not recommended for this purpose as they’re not powerful enough for the job.

Kinds of Ammunition and Fire Power

Airsoft gun with protective glasseThe kind of ammunition used by BB guns and airsoft guns are often confused by lots of people but there are details that easily distinguish one from the other. While they’re both rounded in shape, they’re very different in terms of composition. Once you know the difference between the two, you’ll see that they’re practically worlds apart.

An important point to raise about airsoft and BB gun ammunition is the name they’re both often referred to. Lots of people incorrectly refer to both guns’ ammos as BBs so it’s important to set the record straight. Only BB guns use actual BBs for ammunition, hence the name. Airsoft guns use pellets and should be called such.

BB guns’ BBs are often made of steel or lead and are around 4.3-4.4 mm in diameter and 0.33 to 0.50 g in weight. They can shoot somewhere around 200 fps to 1000 fps but it is said that very few BB-firing guns go as fast. Some of the top-rated BB guns only go as fast as 700 fps.

Airsoft guns, on the other hand, primarily use plastic pellets for ammunition but others also opt to use biodegradable alternatives. Most low-end guns only shoot at 98 fps but heavily upgraded ones can go as fast as 660 fps.

As it only takes 163 fps to penetrate skin and 213 fps to break bones, it can be easily established that BB guns pose significant dangers to people. This is why unlike airsoft guns, they’re not meant for shooting other people. It also explains why it can be powerful enough for hunting small animals and can be used for pest control in some instances.

Some airsoft guns are also powerful enough to cause injuries so the use of protective gear is recommended when engaged in airsoft battles.

Most airsoft fields and game organizers also enforce speed limits on the guns that can be used in their games. They usually do not allow anything that can go faster than 400 fps for adult games and 250 fps for below 18 games.

Many fields do muzzle velocity checks to ensure that everyone follows the safety protocol. Check this detail in advance so you can comply accordingly.


Looking at the speed and ammos of the two, it can be said that BB guns have a leg up in terms of power. With the heavier weight of the BBs and the faster velocity of BB guns, they tend to produce more power in the process. This makes it more easily capable of penetrating surfaces, especially the skin.

In terms of accuracy, BB guns offer long-range accuracy as metal BBs are less likely to drift off course due to the wind and other elements. High-quality airsoft guns can still be pretty accurate as well, especially once their hop up systems get tuned. This allows them to shoot straight for long distances and to perform well in close range.


A doller bills in a walletBB guns and airsoft guns aren’t too different when it comes to prices, however. Both are available in a very wide price range which might also be a reason why they’re very often lumped together.

Both can be purchased at below $20 and can already give you a significant amount of non-fire power to make some damage. Of course, these are low-quality options so you can’t expect them to be high-performance picks but they’re still airsoft and BB guns. If you want higher end options, you can definitely spend more. Some specialty products can cost up to thousands of dollars and are made of more sophisticated materials and mechanisms.

Both are also cost-effective for shooting activities. Thousands of pellets and BBs can be bought at less than $20 so you can shoot to your heart’s content without breaking the bank. This is one of the biggest reasons why many opt to get BB guns instead of actual firearms for target shooting.

Safety Concerns

What to Wear for AirsoftAs mentioned above, both BB and airsoft guns come with their own safety issues. They may be classified as replica toy guns but lots of them are powerful enough to cause bodily harm and other kinds of damage. Both can injure people, especially under the right circumstances.

While airsoft guns are lower-powered and considered safer to use for shooting at each other, safety gear is still required when handling them. BB guns are absolutely not recommended to be used to shoot at other people, on the other hand.

Aside from their shooting performance, their appearances can also pose dangers to those who are carrying them. As mentioned briefly above, airsoft gun’s tendency to look very realistic has already led to several fatal consequences. Carrying them out in the open can be very dangerous, even for young people who are more likely to lug playthings around instead of actual firearms.

Legal Concerns

Due to the safety concerns that come with BB and airsoft guns, there are legislations connected to their use and ownership that you should know about. While both are not classified as firearms, there are still a number of regulations when it comes to acquiring, carrying, and using them. These laws vary from state to state but the general idea remains that there are laws you should be aware of if you plan to own one.

Airsoft guns have relatively looser restrictions as most states allow anyone to own one. Some states restrict the purchase to individuals over 18 years old, however. There are also some places that require replica toys to have orange muzzle tips to differentiate them from actual firearms.

On the flip side, under the Brady Act, people with previous convictions of crimes, felonies, and misdemeanors, as well as those with likelihood to commit crimes and other individuals are prohibited from owning BB guns for personal and business purposes. In addition to these, there are also state laws regarding BB gun ownership and possession, so you should also take a look at such details.

Airsoft vs. BB Guns: Quick Comparison Guide

AreaAirsoft GunsBB Guns
DesignTypically made to as exact replicas of real firearmsNot as detailed as airsoft guns
Ammunition size6-8 mm4.3-4.4 mm
Ammunition materialPlastic or biodegradable resinMetal or lead
Ammunition weight0.12–0.40 g0.33 to 0.50 g
AccuracyAccuracy on short distancesAccuracy on long distances
Fire power98 fps to 660 fps200 fps to 1000 fps
PurposeRecreational activities, trainingTarget shooting
LethalCan cause serious injuriesCan cause fatal injuries

Airsoft vs. BB Guns: Choosing the Right One for You

After taking a closer look at the airsoft vs. BB guns debate, we hope you got to know both items a little better. They may seem very similar at first glance but they’re very different in the areas that matter. So if you’re trying to choose between them, knowing what you need would easily help you take a pick.

If you still can’t make up your mind, it’s best to decide on what you want to do with the non-firearm that you intend to get. As these items have different functionalities, this criterion will help point you in the right direction.

As you might know by now, these two items are very different to declare that one is better than the other. One will suit your needs better than the other for sure but they have their own charms so you can’t say  that one’s more superior than the other. For this, choose according to your requirements and preferences to make sure that you’ll get the most out of your purchase.

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