Pneumatic weapon

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A pneumatic weapon is a weapon that fires a projectile by means of air pressure, similar in principle to the operation of pneumatic tube delivery systems. The term comes from a Greek word for "wind" or "breath" (πνεῦμα).

Comparison with firearms[edit]

In theory, pneumatic weapons have certain advantages over traditional firearms:

  • The ammunition can be much simpler (and thus more compact and lighter for the same payload), because there is no need for a propellant or casing; the entire round becomes the projectile.
  • Since no propellant is fired, there is no chemical residue to accumulate in the barrel or chamber.
  • Because there is no casing to eject, it is theoretically possible to have a higher rate of repeat fire.
  • The barrel is not heated to nearly the same extent as with a firearm.

In practice, pneumatic weapons are not as well-developed as traditional firearms and have a number of practical deficiencies:

  • The weapon has to supply or be supplied with a source of very high pressure air, such as a reservoir or compressor, which adds substantial complexity and weight to the weapon.
  • The action, or the mechanism by which subsequent rounds are automatically reloaded, must also be powered by the air pressure; many modern firearms re-use the energy from the propellant to accomplish this (see gas-operated reloading), further reducing the amount of work the weapon itself has to do.

Pneumatic weapons in the toy industry[edit]

The low projectile speed requirement of a toy weapon greatly reduces the amount of air pressure needed; combined with the importance of safety in the toy industry, this has led to widespread adoption of pneumatic firing mechanisms in toy weapons, where a propellant reaction is not appropriate (although other technologies, such as rubber bands, can be used).

The toy industry has produced a number of pneumatic toy weapons, which fire small, lightweight (often plastic and frequently hollow) projectiles at relatively low speeds. Airsoft and paintball guns are a popular toy that operates this way; when used with adequate safety equipment (eye protection at a minimum) these may be used in games involving shooting at other players.

BB guns and other low powered air guns, while often marketed towards the youth market, are not toys; the steel and lead projectiles they fire can readily penetrate the skin, and are capable of producing lethal wounds. While a lethal wound is unlikely due to their low power, air guns and BB guns should be used with the same precautions as firearms; eye protection for the shooter, a safe range, and an adequate backstop.

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