I have been playing airsoft since around 2004. When I started, the safety standards in the industry were… low. The first thing I saw die out in the Northeast United States was shooting glasses, which were already working their way out in 2004 on account of someone nearly losing an eye due the lack of full seal.
After that, not much changed in the industry until the rise of the “clone” market which suddenly drove the price of entry from $300 for a starting gun with brands such as TM or CA, and into the $100 bracket with copies of said guns. With that sudden price drop came a massive influx of players (at least in our region), and a massive increase in accessories including things like mesh goggles. Many players of that time frame wore mesh because not many fog resistant options existed short of expensive and bulky paintball masks. The problem is the quality of mesh went down in a price war, and safety went down along with it. Concerning damage started showing up on mesh goggles, and tests showed that when hit with guns that were pretty tame by FPS standards (300 with .2) many of these cheap goggles would fail in 2-3 strikes in the same area at close range. Luckily, no one in our region that I am aware of sustained any permanent damage, but those too started working their way out. To this day, a handful of fields accept mesh but those that do only allow certain types or brands. Even those are a dying breed though, since insurance companies are getting more concerned about BB fragmentation.
The most recent evolution in my area is the barrel cover, AKA that little sock looking thing you put over the muzzle of your gun. The barrel cover push came about not because of a local event or series of events which pushed them, the reason was actually insurance. Going back, airsoft was sort of the Wild West for insurance as insurers didn’t really know how to rate fields, or really understand what airsoft was. Over the years, they have learned what it is, and I suspect some learned in the hard way. The number of companies doing airsoft insurance has halved in my state over the last 7 or so years, leaving just a handful of options. Those remaining insurers increasingly pushed the requirements to meld with an industry they had written for years and they did understand, paintball. The barrel cover has been a staple for paintball for many, many years, and most of the current airsoft ones are just rebranded paintball ones.
For the longest time, I was never a big fan of the barrel covers because I do a lot of real firearms shooting and to me, it was simply annoying overkill because I certainly know better than to point my at someone in a safe area, let alone have my finger on the trigger. Although I was never personally a fan of using them, I understood why they were required beyond the insurance reason because, let’s be honest, many airsofters have horrific safety discipline as a collective, especially when it comes to new players which is the bulk of what our hobby is in some places. So I complied out of understanding.
Recently though, I had a shocking reminder of why airsoft guns are not real firearms, and why barrel covers are actually a really good idea. Recently, I was at a field and for the day I was running a used PKM I picked up not too long beforehand. I was setting up the batteries, which run in the box mag, so essentially you have to mount the box mag and connect it up to your gun so it was ready for field play. No problem, because I had the gun pointed in a safe direction, my booger hook was away from the bang switch, safety was on, and barrel cover was on. So box mag was mounted, and then it was time to connect the batteries for the gun (I run it with two batteries in parallel). The moment I plugged in the batteries, the gun snapped to life and started firing! I ripped the batteries back out as soon as I heard the gun winding up, but not before it had turned over 3 times. I looked at the trigger guard to see if something had somehow jammed in it, but there was nothing. Then I remembered the safety should have been on and I rolled the gun over to check it. It was on.
What did I do wrong? I assumed it would behave like a firearm, and wouldn’t go off without the trigger being depressed. Turns out the connector plug had been nearly torn out by the prior owner, and when I plugged in the battery, the voltage arced over the shredded wires making a complete circuit, causing the gun to fire. Despite the box mag being in the off position, the gun still pushed 2 rounds out of its barrel which the barrel cover caught. Were any piece of my safe handling not on point, and/or was the barrel cover not on, those two BBs could have damaged someone’s property in the safe area, or worse yet hit someone in the face without their protective equipment on, possibly causing permanent damage to eyes or teeth. Needless to say, I’m glad my barrel cover was on.
My box mag was destroyed from the voltage arc because it was not protected by the fuse which popped too, but I would rather blow out a box mag than have to explain to someone how an accident might have cost someone their vision. Airsoft guns, especially electrically driven ones, are strange beasts, sometimes prone to violent outbursts. They may be fun “toys” when we’re on the field shooting each other while wearing proper safety equipment, but in safe areas or non-play areas, we still need to be careful to prevent accidents. So I guess my takeaway from this experience now is that a barrel cover is an extremely effective tool for preventing accidents. So always treat your airsoft guns like real firearms for safe handling, but don’t forget to throw on a barrel cover as you do it.