Hmm, recreational (real) hand-gunner here…
If it were my son, (mine is 6 right now) I would rather see him get into paintball than airsoft, ironically because paintball acts more like the real thing, but look less like the real thing. Hear me out:
Because airsoft is less “dangerous” than paintball, I’m concerned that it is more likely to encourage lax attitudes towards eye safety in particular. Less so during the matches, but especially when fooling around afterwards or in the basement. Paintballs don’t just sting, they can hurt, enough to leave a nice bruise. You don’t fool around with a paintball gun in your basement. and you always make sure to wear your face mask. I think paintball guns will also be more likely to encourage the of the four rules of firearm safety:
-Alsway treat the gun as if it’s loaded
-Never point your gun at anything you don’t want to destroy (or make a mess on with a paintball)
-No finger on the trigger until the gun is on target.
-Make sure of your target an what’s in line with it.
From his perspective, paintballs behave ballistically more like real guns (longer range, greater velocity) and will force him to learn more correct tactics, as he will be more motivated not to get hit…
There is also one more risk, of the very low probability but very high impact kind. Airsoft guns look a LOT more like real guns than paintball guns. If he’s fooling around in the neighborhood with his friends., (not something you do with paintball, which is practiced on a specific facility) he is much more likely to generate 911 calls of “kids with guns” and find himself looking at the business end of a very real gun, hopefully in the hands of a police officer. God forfend a child with an airsoft gun point it at a civilian with a concealed carry permit.
If you do get him an airsoft, you should make sure that:
-the muzzle be coloured bright orange, and stays that way for ever.
-gun & goggles go together for ever. If he ditches the goggles, he looses the gun, ALL the TIME, especially showing it to someone, or when using it to knock down plastic army men in the basement.
-he never play with it and his friends where the public could misconstrue what’s going on.
-he should never, on penalty of losing it forever on first offense, point it at anyone who is not in the game. Seriously. That silly fat guy waiting for the bus could be legally carrying a real gun.
-teach him, and rehearse with him, how he should react if police officers approach him when he is playing with it: feet freeze (no running) - drop it right away, don’t put it down, just let it fall - hands open wide and held away from his body at waist level. If he does this before the officers draw their sidearms and order him to do this, they will feel safer, be in a better mood, and will be less likely to confiscate the airsoft.
But realistic looking toy guns and teenagers is a mix that makes me nervous, much more so than going to the range and shooting real ones under close supervision.