Sun, Oct 03, 2004 - Page 17 News List

The right to bear (fake) arms

The nation's BB gunners are on the offensive and out to prove that their pastime is less dangerous than it has been alleged

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID W. SMITH, ASIAWORKS PHOTOGRAPHY

Over the past three years BB gun war-gaming has become one of Taiwan's least publicized yet fastest growing pastimes. On any given weekend, boys and men aged between 14 and 40, don military fatigues and head out into the countryside with realistic looking assault rifles, machine guns and pistols to partake in well-organized battles.

Call them mad, call them desperate, in fact, call them what you will, but seasoned BB gun fans like Scott Sung (宋亮德) really couldn't care less. Since the 33-year-old BB buff first got involved with war-gaming he's heard it all. But come rain or shine, nothing will deter him from spending a day in the trenches with his mates.

"My wife thinks I'm like a big kid. She makes a face which says as much whenever I leave the house to take part in an event," said Sung. "But, hey, it's fun. It's not real, nobody gets hurt and, of course, you get fit running around."

There are reportedly 150,000 BB guns in the homes of 10,000 individuals throughout Taiwan. And while not all BB gun owners are regular players, many thousands are.

The fanaticism of these players and their demand for accuracy has made BB gun wargaming an expensive sport. Players spend NT$10,000 or upward on their specially imported uniforms which typically range from Gulf War gear to SWAT team garb to WWII battle dress and 1960s Vietnam War era uniforms. Extras, such as genuine period-piece insignia and regalia, come at a price.

"The accurate uniforms and attention to detail is one of the main reasons the sport is so popular," said BB gun gamer, Jeffery Chen (陳宗褘). "Sure, it's expensive, but then trying to look as close to the real thing and creating an atmosphere which resembles actual warfare, is a big part of BB gun war-gaming."

Players' wardrobes aren't the only costly overhead and wargamers are always happy to splash out heftier sums on weaponry. BB handguns, assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers or even anti-personnel mines (yes, there really are such things) cost from between NT$8,000 to NT$40,000.

Once monopolized by Japanese companies like Tokyo Marui and Maruzen, local companies like I Chih Shivan Enterprises (一芝軒企業有限公司) first began to manufacturer realistic and high quality BB gun equipment in the late 1990s. The result of Taiwan's entry into the high-end toy gun market has proved hugely successful. Within a short period of time Taiwan's manufacturers have out flanked the Japanese on a global scale.

"The quality of Taiwan's guns began to surpass that of the Japanese companies about a year ago. And the cost, well, that was slashed because production costs are a lot cheaper in Taiwan," said Harrier Wang (王蜀岳), Managing Editor of Target (天生射手雜誌).

Taiwan's military might be forced to look to foreign powers from which to procure its top-grade weaponry, but when it comes to toy guns, the world looks to Taiwan for realism and quality. For companies like I Chih Shivan Enterprises, which is the sole manufacturer of toy guns in Taiwan that has been granted a license by a genuine US arms manufacturer to replicate its product, the shift has proved hugely lucrative.

"I'll admit that the local market for guns is pretty limited, but overseas markets are huge and we are now one of the largest manufacturers and exporters in the world," said Chu Chen-tang (朱鎮堂), Manager of I Chih Shivan. "We produce an average of 35,000 units per annum and export our Olympic Arms licensed products to Europe and the US. We haven't stopped production since we began two years ago."

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