||This article needs additional citations for verification. (April 2012)|
BB guns are a type of air gun designed to shoot projectiles named BBs after the birdshot pellet of approximately the same size. These projectiles are usually spherical but can also be pointed/or triangular; those are usually used for bird hunting. Modern day BB guns usually have a barrel with a bore and caliber of 0.177 inches (4.5 mm). BB shot for modern BB guns are usually steel, plated either with zinc or copper to resist corrosion, and measure 0.171 to 0.173 inches (4.34 mm to 4.39 mm) in diameter. Some manufacturers also still make lead balls of slightly larger diameter and which are generally intended for use in rifled BB gun barrels, as were formerly used in BB guns.
One of the most famous BB guns is the Red Ryder BB Gun by Daisy Outdoor Products, modeled after the western Winchester rifle. First introduced in 1938, the BB gun became an iconic American toy, and is still in production today. The cultural significance of the BB gun is restricted to North America, and the term BB gun is generally unknown outside North America.
The term "BB" originated from the size of steel ball used in a Shot Shell of the same size. BB shot was nominally 0.180 inches (4.57 mm), but tended to vary considerably in size due to the high allowable tolerances for shotgun shell use. Around 1900, Daisy, one of the earliest makers of BB guns, changed their BB gun bore diameter to .175 inches (4.45 mm), and began to market precision-made lead shot specifically for their BB guns. They called this "air rifle shot", but the "BB" name was already well established, and everyone continued calling the guns "BB guns" and the shot "BB shot" or just "BBs".
Subsequently, the term "BB" became more generic, referring to round shot (and sometimes non-round shot) of various calibers and materials. This included (and still includes) bearing balls, plastic round shot (such as used in airsoft), 0.177 caliber lead and steel shot, marbles and many others. It should also be noted that the ubiquitous usage of the term bearing for any steel ball is technically incorrect. A ball bearing is a mechanical bearing constructed with a multitude of bearing balls.
BB guns can use any of the operating mechanisms used for air guns; see the power source section of the air gun article. However, due to the limited accuracy and range inherent in the BB gun, only the simpler and less expensive mechanisms are generally used.
Since nearly all BBs used today are made out of zinc or copper coated steel, it is common to find BB guns that use Spring or magnets in their loading mechanisms. Since the BB is too hard to be swaged to the bore size, magnets are often used to hold the BB at the rear of the barrel—otherwise, the BB would simply roll out of the barrel if it were held at a downward angle.
The traditional, and still most common powerplant for BB guns is the spring piston type, usually patterned after a lever action rifle or a pump action shotgun. The lever action rifle was the first type of BB gun, and still dominates the inexpensive youth BB gun market. The Daisy Model 25 BB gun, modeled after a pump action shotgun with a trombone pump action mechanism, dominated the low price, higher performance market for over 50 years. Lever action models generally have very low velocities, around 275 ft/s (84 m/s), a result of the weak springs used to keep cocking efforts low for use by youths. The Daisy Model 25 BB gun typically achieved the highest velocities of its day, ranging from 375 ft/s (114 m/s) to 450 ft/s (140 m/s). Lever action guns often have huge ammunition capacities; one of Daisy's early lever action models held 1000 BBs, in contrast to the Daisy Model 25 which held only 50 BBs. The ammunition in the lever action BB guns is gravity fed, such that the gun must be held at the proper angle when cocked to load the ammunition. The ammunition in the Daisy Model 25, on the other hand, is spring-loaded, and no shift in gun angle is required to reload another BB.
Multi-pump pneumatic guns are also common—many youth oriented pneumatic pellet guns provide the ability to use BBs as a cheaper alternative to lead shot. Some of these guns have rifled barrels, but the hard, slightly undersized BBs don't swage or obturate to fit the barrel, so the rifling may not impart a significant spin. These are the type of guns that will benefit most from using precision lead BB shot. The pneumatic BB gun attains much higher velocities than the traditional spring piston types. One interesting use of a pneumatic BB gun is in the calibration of ballistic gelatin, which is done by measuring the penetration of a steel BB at a velocity of about 600 ft/s (180 m/s).
The last common type of power for BB guns is pre-compressed gas, most commonly the 12 gram CO2 powerlet. The powerlet, invented by Crosman, is a disposable bottle containing 12 grams of liquid carbon dioxide, which evaporates to form a gas to propel the BB. These are primarily used in pistol BB guns, and unlike spring-piston or pneumatic types, these are capable of rapid fire. A typical CO2 BB pistol uses a spring-loaded magazine to feed BBs, and a double action trigger mechanism to chamber a BB and cock the hammer. The hammer strikes a valve hooked to the CO2 source, which releases a measured amount of CO2 gas to fire the BB. Velocities of CO2 powered BB pistols are moderate, and drop off as the temperature in the CO2 source drops, due to changes in the vapor pressure. Many CO2 BB guns are patterned after popular firearms, and can be used for training as well as recreation.
Some gas-powered BB guns use a larger source of gas, and provide machine gun-like fire. These types, most notably the Shooting Star Tommy Gun (originally known as the Feltman) are commonly found at carnivals. The MacGlashan BB Gun, was used to train antiaircraft gunners in the United States Army Air Corps and United States Navy during World War II. A popular commercial model was the Larc M-19, which ran off 1 pound (454 g) canisters of Freon-12 refrigerant. These types have very simple operating mechanisms, based on a venturi pump. The gas is released in a constant stream, and this is used to suck the BBs up into the barrel at rates as high as 3600 rounds per minute.
Competition use 
It is possible to shoot competitively with a BB gun. The National Rifle Association youth shooting program has classifications for smoothbore BB guns, open to ages 14 - 18, and these classes are popular with youth groups such as Boy Scouts of America (only using the Red Ryder) and 4H.
Most commercial BB firing airguns guns can shoot beyond 200 ft/s (61 m/s). The Daisy Red Ryder was sold in the USA as a toy in the mid 20th century. A storyline of the film A Christmas Story is that Ralphie wants one of the BB guns for Christmas, but he is told "You'll shoot your eye out, kid!"  The toy gun fires about 280 ft/s (85 m/s); typical "adult" airguns are generally in the range of 300-450 fps.
Some commercial airguns (including BB and/or pellet guns) have the ability to fire considerably faster, even beyond 550 ft/s (170 m/s). Although claims are often exaggerated, a few airguns can actually fire a standard 0.177 caliber lead pellet faster than 1000 fps, but these are generally not BB firing guns.
Airsoft guns are a subclass of BB guns, which are usually considerably lower energy and possess far less damage potential to humans and property (though they are subject to similar safety issues). Airsoft guns were developed for several reasons, one of which was to create a safer method of indoor target shooting. Most early Airsoft guns were single action (single pull of the slide, single shot) type that came with "sticky targets" where the plastic BB stuck to the target long enough to determine the accuracy of the shot, then slid down into a catch tray as later shots hit the target. This also facilitated easy reuse of the plastic BBs as they were originally not as easy to find. Airsoft guns were then quickly adopted into paintball type sports as they hurt less than a paintball, and don't make a mess. Airsoft guns are also available in far more shapes, sizes, and models than paintball. Proper safety gear (such as full-face masks) are usually required when participating in Airsoft shooting sports.
A pellet with a velocity of 150 ft/s (46 m/s) has skin piercing capability, and a velocity reaching 200 ft/s (61 m/s) can fracture bone. The potential can exist for delivering a fatal injury; this potential increases with velocity, but also rapidly decreases with distance. The effective penetrating range of a BB gun with a muzzle velocity of 400-600 fps is approximately 60 ft (30 m) . A person wearing jeans at this distance would not sustain any serious injury. However, even at this distance a BB still might penetrate bare skin, and even if not, could leave a severe and painful bruise. The maximum range of a BB gun in the 400-600fps range is 240-350 yards, provided the muzzle is elevated to the optimum angle.
Steel BBs are also notably prone to ricochet off hard surfaces such as brick, concrete or trees. Eye protection is essential when shooting BBs, more so than when shooting lead pellets, since a BB bouncing off a hard surface can retain a very large portion of its initial energy (pellets usually flatten and absorb energy), and could easily cause serious eye damage up to and including blindness. Vandals have sometimes misused BB guns for the damaging property. The pellets can break windows, or leave distinctive round damage.
Quick kill training 
The U.S. Army trained recruits in Quick Kill techniques using Daisy Model 99 BB guns to improve soldiers using their weapons in the Vietnam War from 1967-1973. The technique was developed for the Army by Bobby Lamar "Lucky" McDaniel and Mike Jennings. The sights were removed from the BB guns for this training.
Skirmish fighting 
BB and pellet guns have long been used in a way similar to airsoft or paintball guns, particularly in rural areas. This seems to have become less prevalent with the introduction of newer options.
Legal issues 
BB guns are regulated in the same manner as air guns. In countries where there is a maximum velocity or muzzle energy at which point an air gun is treated like a firearm (such as in Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Australia, Netherlands and the United Kingdom), BB guns are often not powerful enough to be classed as such. See air gun laws for more information.
See also 
- Peter Hathaway Capstick (1990). Death in a Lonely Land: More Hunting, Fishing, and Shooting on Five Continents. Macmillan. pp. 11–19. ISBN 978-0-312-03810-6.
- Red Ryder BB Gun
- C. L. Tsui, K. L. Tsui, Y. H. Tang (2010). Ball bearing (BB) gun injuries
- Omaha World-Herald 2009-01-14 BB-gun spree damages vehicles
- "Armed Forces: Quick Kill". Time. July 14, 1967. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
- BB gun fights - everything2.com (warning: potentially offensive content)
- The Daisy Museum, with an in-depth history of the Daisy BB gun
- History of BB guns
- How do BB guns work
- US Patent 4,083,349 Rapid-fire, fluid actuated B.B. gun, the patent for the Larc M-19 BB machine gun
- How to Get Started, Airgun Competition page from NRA site, covering air gun and BB gun competitions
- US Army Quick Kill training http://www.i-kirk.info/misc/quickkill/qwikill.htm