June 29, 2011:
A wanted al Qaeda leader (Fazul Abdullah Mohammed) was recently killed in Somalia. Among the weapons found with him was a BB gun. Well, not just any BB gun, it was a Umarex Steel Storm. This weapon looks like a compact 9mm submachinegun, but is actually an automatic BB gun. Weighing 1.25 kg (2.75 pounds), it is 38 cm (15 inches) long, with smooth bore barrel. The Steel Storm can fire single shots, or six BB bursts. The 4.5mm BB's come out barrel at 135 meters a second. That's about a third the velocity of the 9mm pistol round commonly found in submachineguns. Only a lucky shot in the eye would be fatal, but these steel BBs cause a lot of pain, which makes it sort of a non-lethal weapon.
The Steel Storm carries 300 BBs (which must be shaken, 30 at a time, into the "magazine"). When you reload the BB container, you have to replace the two CO2 gas cartridges in the pistol grip. Effective only a close range (under 30 meters). The Steel Storm costs about a hundred dollars. Ammo is cheap (per round cost of gas and BB is a few cents). But this is not a combat weapon. What was the al Qaeda big shot doing with it? Well, it could be used to terrorize, and he was a professional terrorist. Security guards have sometimes been seen armed with this (usually) non-lethal weapon (with a 9mm pistol as a backup). The Steel Storm looks intimidating, and being able to fire dozens of those small steel balls quickly would, at the very least, prove distracting to those on the receiving end.
Air guns, like BB guns, have been around for over a century. Some of those available today fire bullet-like projectiles at velocities near those achieved by some 9mm pistols. But the size of these projectiles remains small (rarely more than 6mm), and these high powered air guns are meant for hunting small animals, not humans.