That's the question we seek to answer today. Why are airsoft guns as expensive as the real thing? These are just toy guns right? There is absolutely no reason why it should be so expensive if it doesn't shoot real bullets.
I hear this line all the time when I'm in an airsoft store or browsing forums on the internet. The conversation usually goes something like this: "How much is that gun over there?" As a browsing customer glances at something like a Classic Army Nemesis Dt4 or an Avalon Gearbox equipped 416A5. "Oh? This gun? About $450 dollars" As the salesman pulls the gun off the wall. "Holy cow! I can buy a real AR15 for that much money, that's too expensive!" this customer would then proclaim, touting his knowledge of good firearms prices as a way to flex his superiority over such a menial hobby as airsoft.
These conversations frustrate and annoy me, because in the same breath that this would-be airsofter acts as if he already knows better, he's proven that really and truly, he doesn't know anything. Let's dive into why these prices can be so comparable, shall we?
One of my first reactions when I get this question from airsofter parents, or friends who don't play yet when they ask about my favorite past-time is to remind them that while airsoft guns and real firearms may look the same, they aren't the same.
In this case, looks can be deceiving, as what's going on under the hood is different, and requires a whole re-tooling of the engineering inside of this gun shaped apparatus to function. Airsoft guns have been engineered from the ground up to be a safe, combustion-free projectile emitting device that you can play a game with and still go home at the end of the day. A firearm is harnessing a tiny explosion to send a lethal projectile out over great distances with the intent of causing harm to it's target.
This means that an airsoft gun, by nature, is not a "cheap" facsimile or clone, the way you might buy a .22lr copy of an MP5 rifle, because a real H&K Mp5 is both difficult to acquire and prohibitively expensive for most shooters. The airsoft version of a real world firearm may look the same but it's wildly different.
This means the curve to establish quality is also different. You see this in any hobby based activity. Everything has it's egregiously expensive outliers. If you're into tabletop wargaming, it's not unreasonable to spend a few grand on a fancy walking mecha model to flex on your local gaming group. Golf clubs can get way more expensive than you ever realized. How much money a year do people poor into giant chicken wings for their project "racecars" that spend more time in the garage than on the track?
You can't compare the prices of the two items purely because they look similar. It's literally comparing apples and oranges. They serve totally different purposes, and as such, the prices of one are independent of the prices of another.
Now that we've established that comparing airsoft gun prices to firearms prices is a fruitless endeavor for the simple minded, let's answer the real question: Why are airsoft guns so damn expensive?
Obviously this doesn't apply to every airsoft gun on the market, as more and more the market is flooded with high quality affordable blasters to get people started on the cheap. Those aren't the guns that make firearms enthusiasts balk at price tags though. We're talking about guns that surpass the mythical "real gun" price. You can build an Ar15 out of cheap parts from a company like Palmetto State Armory or Anderson Manufacturing for an average price of about $500. I've done it, and with a bit of thrifty deal hunting, I actually got out a little cheaper than the cost of an Elite Force M27 to build the rifle with some cheap Magpul furniture. That's what we'll use as a basis of "high price" the $450 my personal cheap AR build cost me just over a year ago to finish.
Now, it's important to note before we continue, that this mythical $450 AR15 is the definition of the bottom of the barrel. Not to engage in some kind of weird status flex, but it's the least expensive AR in my personal collection, and in terms of scale, aligns more with a gun like an Apex Fast Attack in terms of hobby quality, than it does an airsoft gun of comparable price. It's basic, it lacks features, it lacks performance, but it's fun to shoot, and gives you a taste of the action.
Now, what makes an airsoft gun cost $450 or more, and why does it rate higher on the spectrum than that cheap Ar15 we discussed just a second ago? The answer is a bit convoluted, but it primarily comes down to research and development and materials quality. Airsoft guns go through a totally separate R&D process, that allows them to adapt the dimensions of a pre-existing product, then cram the precision internal components that make it expel bb's instead of bullets inside of it. This takes time, man hours, and money. These things are not really cheap toys as we often jest, but highly precise feats of engineering, and discounting that is the reason why people get astounded at the price of these high end guns.
Licensing also plays a factor as well. As more and more firearms companies grow hip to the airsoft trend, or wish to protect their trademarks and get their well-deserved cut of the income stream in the airsoft industry, they've begun licensing their firearms out to manufacturers for airsoft copies. This doesn't happen for free, and it absolutely raises the cost. Now this provides benefits to the user in terms of quality control and realism, as these companies don't want their brand tarnished with a sub-par product, but it also comes with a cost. Take the 416A5 we mentioned earlier, it's base gun is an Avalon model, with a gearbox as seen in the picture above, but it costs almost $75 more, because it's inside of that licensed body. You get the realistic look, feel, and quality you expect out of something with an HK logo on it, but it does cost more. This is the price we pay as we want to get our hobby closer and closer to combat simulation and not paintball's b-list little brother in dad's old combat fatigues.
So what did we learn today?
Airsoft guns aren't arbitrarily expensive. They take time to research and develop. Doing new and innovative things like MOSFETs, Electronic Trigger switches or a double barrel setup doesn't happen out of thin air. Most importantly, we learned that these "toy" guns can't fairly be compared to real firearms, because they are two different tools, for two different purposes.
Feel free to use this article to help explain to your "normie" friends why airsoft is totally different, and why you can't compare the costs. Firearms and Airsoft guns share a ton of visual similarities, but for everything they have in common, they have something that makes them wildly different. Remember: You can shoot at your friends with airsoft guns at your local airsoft field, and you'll still be friends at the end of the day. Real firearms are definitely not for shooting at your friends. Ever. Regardless of which hobby you favor, do it in a safe manner, and utilize all the rules of firearm safety.
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