I remember, at the grand old age of ten, running around the woods with a BB gun (that my parents didn't know I had) wearing heavy clothing and a football helmet playing "war" with my friends. BBs hurt. Thankfully none of us ever got shot with a penetrating BB. We did sport some good bruises though. We showed them off with pride. These days there is another option: Airsoft. Not only are these "toys" excellent for pure enjoyment of shooting, but they can also serve as training tools for teaching tactics or, more important in the recreational world, safe weapon handling.
While there is a huge concern today about toy guns looking too much like real guns - or criminals making real guns look like toy guns - with proper supervision and attention to safety, Airsoft guns can be real fun. Both of my sons own Airsoft guns. My older son owns several pistols and now (since Christmas) an AR-15 style rifle. My youngest son owns one Airsoft pistol and a rifle that closely resembles an Ak-47.
As you can see from the photos the Airsoft rifles do have the common bright orange barrel end. The "AK-47" (actually the Airsoft model is SS47) looks a little more realistic because it's not clear / see-through. These toys fire 6mm plastic BBs at approximately 400 feet per second. That's fast enough to sting if it hits you - but also fast enough to be relatively accurate - depending on the quality of the BBs - out to about thirty feet. I've set up a B27 target in my backyard and my son can keep the shots inside the 9-ring at about 20 feet. That's not a comment on his shooting skill (obviously) but an example of how straight the BBs are propelled.
Depending on the design of the toy, magazines may be needed for reloads. The SS47 shown has interchangeable magazines that hold approximately 40 BBs each which are spring fed into the toy to shoot. The magazine release control is the same as on an AK-47. The clear AR-15 style Airsoft rifle shown is different. Where you see what would be the magazine - and it can be ejected - is actually the battery. The black "scope" at the top? THAT is actually the BB reservoir. It holds about 400 BBs that are gravity fed into the firing mechanism.
As tools for training
One of the biggest issues recreational shooters can face is how to pass their shooting enjoyment - and all the responsibility it entails - on to their children. With Airsoft guns it becomes possible to begin teaching safe weapon handling skills to younger shooters. Because these toys shoot a projectile at speeds that will hurt but not kill, the risk of injury in training is reduced. By the same token, important rules such as muzzle discipline, finger off the trigger, being aware of your backstop when shooting, etc can be taught.
Additionally, weapon manipulation skills can be taught. In the picture to the right you can see the controls for this AR-style toy. (3) The charging handle, (2) safety / selector switch and (1) magazine release (actually on the other side - what is circled is the spring-loaded back side). The fact that these controls are in the same place as they are on a real weapon means that you can use these toys to teach handling skills without having to "fake it".
In the case of the SS47, the selector lever is the same size and function as on an AK-47. The magazine release is also the same. In this case, since the magazines are actually used to feed BBs, reload drills could be taught if desired. Heck, even the rear sight moves and functions like that of a real AK.
For all that, these things are just plain fun. Fully automatic weapons are fun to shoot but ammo is costly; finding a safe place to shoot isn't always easy; other issues make it complicated. With these Airsoft guns you just pay for the BBs and charge the toy's batteries. With several thousand BBs costing less than $20 you can have a lot of fun for not many dollars.
Eye protection should always be worn while shooting these toys. The BBs can ricochet and / or bounce back. If you're getting these toys for your children, child size eye protection can be found at most sports supply stores and even in places like Wal-Mart or Target.