The laws surrounding airsoft guns can be confusing.
With airsoft rifles looking incredibly like the real thing, it’s no wonder that many people have attempted to restrict their use and availability.
In the United States, things are complicated due to the fact that each individual state has its own laws and regulations.
In this article, we delve into the issue of airsoft legality in the United States.
First, we’ll go over some general information regarding airsoft legality. Then we’ll take a look at the situation in the most popular airsoft playing states in America.
Airsoft Law 101
Even though they are generally considered to be toys, airsoft guns are projectile weapons that can cause serious damage.
A study conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the US in 2015 estimated that there were 19,675 non-powder gun injuries that were treated in the United States emergency rooms in 2014.
Airsoft guns discharge BB pellets at rates of hundreds of feet per second. This can be potentially hazardous to a person if they are hit on the flesh, especially in the face. With the explosion in popularity of airsoft, there has been a huge increase in airsoft related admittances to emergency room hospital wards in recent years.
Of even greater concern is the issue of airsoft guns being mistaken for real guns.
The uncanny resemblance, especially when it comes to replica guns, has led to an alarming number of cases where the police have shot people who were holding airsoft guns mistaken for the real thing. Many of these people have been youths.
Many young people are blissfully unaware of the real dangers posed by carrying airsoft guns around in public. In 2003, a US government report was released on the issues relating to airsoft and other toy gun safety.
The report stated that . . .
scant data exist on the incidence of crimes, injuries, or deaths involving toy guns and on the long-term effects that childhood play with toy guns may have.
Airsoft is played all over the world. However, there are some countries in which it is banned. These include Australia, Singapore, Honduras, and North Korea. In countries where airsoft is legal, apart from Canada, airsoft guns and materials can be imported into the country.
In the United States, all airsoft guns that are imported into the country must comply with two requirements:
- the quarter-inch tip of the barrel must be permanently colored blaze orange to indicate that it is a fake weapon.
- All trademarks that may infringe upon copyright must be removed.
The first of these requirements highlights the major concern with airsoft guns, which is that they may be mistaken for real weapons.
Although they will not do anywhere near the damage of the authentic weapon, it is easy to conceive of a situation where a bystander could see a person with an airsoft rifle in public, think it is a real gun and pull out their weapon to protect themselves.
This very situation has resulted in an alarming number of deaths. There are some states which will allow you to remove the orange blaze tip from your airsoft gun.
The second requirement mostly relates to replica weapons that attempt to look and feel exactly like the original. It is a little tricky because the airsoft manufacturer may have obtained a license to use the trademark of the original manufacturer.
Removing the orange blaze tip from the end of the barrel could end up with the person getting themselves in trouble with the authorities and may lead to the gun being taken away.
Customs will automatically confiscate a gun that does not have an orange blaze on the tip.
While we’re talking about Customs, there have been reported cases where officials have confiscated guns simply because they were ‘freaked out’ by the authenticity of the item.
These officials were uninformed about the subject matter and the rifles were released when the law was consulted.
Airsoft Legality FAQ
Here are some frequently asked questions:
WHERE ARE AIRSOFT GUNS ILLEGAL IN THE UNITED STATES?
The only places in the United States where airsoft guns are illegal are:
- New York City Metro (5 Boroughs)
- Parts of Michigan
- San Francisco
- Washington DC
ARE AIRSOFT GUNS CONSIDERED TO BE FIREARMS?
In the United States, Federal Law states that airsoft guns are not firearms.
They are legal for all ages. However, in some states, their definition of ‘firearm’ does allow for the inclusion of airsoft guns. In these states, the firearm definition includes propulsion by spring or compressed air. This makes airsoft guns applicable to regular gun laws.
WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU ROB A BANK WITH AN AIRSOFT GUN?
Even though local laws may differ, the similarity in appearance between airsoft guns and real guns will probably see you being charged with armed robbery.
We do not advise testing this out, however!
CAN AIRSOFT GUNS BE CARRIED OR USED WITHIN CITY LIMITS?
Most cities will not allow you to either carry or discharge an airsoft gun within city limits.
ARE THERE AGE RESTRICTIONS ON BUYING AIRSOFT GUNS?
In that state, it is also illegal for a person under the age of 18 to purchase an airsoft gun without the permission of a parent or guardian. Again this depends on what state you are in. In some states, such as Minnesota, it is illegal for a child to operate an airsoft gun unless they are under the supervision of a parent or adult.
Airsoft Gun Laws By State
So what about laws per state?
All realistic or imitation firearms must be made clear with brightly coated plastics or colors.
The regulations state the following with regard to the coating of the barrel:
- Permanent (Non-Removable)
- Running through the entire barrel of the airsoft gun
- Be at least 1 inch thick
New York City imposes the following restrictions with regard to airsoft guns:
- You should not use your airsoft gun in public places like parks or public places
- You should not expose your airsoft gun in public
- Never bring an airsoft gun to a school
- Never act irresponsibly with your airsoft gun whether in public or private.
Brandishing airsoft guns, or any unlawful motions are considered illegal.
In 1987, the New York City Police Department confiscated more than 140,00 imitation guns which were used by people in the committing of armed robbery offenses.
This led to a strengthening of regulations regarding toy weapons. These included restrictions on the manufacture, importation, sale, and distribution of imitation weapons.
New York City requires that toy or imitation firearms be made from clear or brightly colored plastic. This would clearly differentiate them from real weapons.
At the same time, it was made unlawful to own a pistol or rifle that was powered by spring or air propulsion without a license.
Airsoft guns are considered to be imitation firearms rather than actual firearms.
Between 2006 and 2012 legislative efforts were made to classify airsoft guns under the definition of actual guns. These were unsuccessful and there are now few New Jersey cities which regulate the sale and use of airsoft guns.
All replica guns are considered illegal under Washington DC airsoft gun law.
Airsoft guns may be purchased by people over the age of 18. However, some cities in Illinois have made it illegal to ship or distribute airsoft guns.
In most Illinois cities you can legally remove the orange blaze tip from the barrel of an airsoft gun once purchased.
In the city of Chicago, things are different. It is illegal to have airsoft guns, BB guns and paintball guns in the city of Chicago.
Curiously you may own an airsoft gun but not have it within the city of Chicago. It should be noted that this law pertains to the city of Chicago only and not to the outlying suburbs of Chicagoland.
All replica guns are considered illegal under San Francisco airsoft gun laws
The purchase of airsoft guns is legal, but all replicas must contain an orange tip on the barrel.
Texas allows airsoft guns to be purchased, but most cities permit discharge only outside city limits.
Airsoft gun laws state that it is illegal for any child under the age of 14 to use an airsoft gun.
In Minneapolis, it is illegal to carry an airsoft gun unless the replica is brightly colored or has an orange tip.
It is also illegal to fire an airsoft gun within city limits. Any airsoft gun with a laser attachment is considered unlawful to carry.
Transporting airsoft guns must be done in a concealed and unloaded manner.
Arkansas recently outlawed use and possession of all airsoft guns.
A 2016 ordinance also stipulated that all airsoft guns must have fluorescent coloring over the trigger guard and grip.
The State of Pennsylvania allows for the sale and use of airsoft guns that have a blaze orange topped barrel. However, the following restrictions are placed on the sale of airsoft guns:
- Never give an airsoft rifle, shotgun or pistol to a minor unless you are their parent, guardian or instructor.
- Never sell an airsoft gun to a person below the age of 18
- Never allow a minor to carry an airsoft gun on a public road, highway or public land unless they are accompanied by an adult.
It is also illegal to discharge an airsoft gun from any public building or highway. The exception to this is if you are in an official airsoft facility.
The state of Wisconsin considers airsoft guns to be a dangerous weapon. It is illegal for anyone to knowingly carry an airsoft gun to a school or anywhere near its premises. This includes recreation areas, playing fields, etc. School zones are generally defined as:
- A school building
- School grounds
- areas 1,000 feet within the school grounds.
It has been illegal in Hawaii since 2003 to carry an airsoft gun outside of a case, or to brandish one in front of a police officer.
In 2009, airsoft guns were recovered in eight robberies and seven terrorist threat situations in Honolulu alone. In a press conference, the police chief challenged reporters to distinguish between a Glock 26 and an airsoft replica.
None of the reporters were able to do so. A law has been passed making the penalties identical for using real and airsoft guns in robberies and terroristic threatening cases.
Airsoft guns, however, are not banned in Hawaii. So long as you do not carry them outside of a carry case and only use them at an airsoft facility, you will be within the law.
The state of Tennessee appears not to have imposed any further restriction on the use of airsoft guns over and above the Federal requirement that the tip of the barrel is emblazoned in orange.
It is legal to carry, own and use an airsoft gun in most parts of Kansas, so long as they have an orange blaze top on the barrel. However, there are a few cities that have enacted ordinances making it illegal to discharge an airsoft gun within the city limits. Two such cities are Overland Park and Leawood.
What About Canada?
In Canada, a firearm is defined as follows:
A barrelled weapon from which any shot, bullet or another projectile can be discharged and that is capable of causing serious bodily injury or death to a person and includes any frame or receiver or such a barrelled weapon, as well as anything that can be adapted for use as a firearm.
Canadian law has three different gun classifications under this definition:
A weapon is categorized into one of these three groupings according to its feet per second (fps) velocity as well as the look of the gun.
Strangely, guns that have an FPS of lower than 366 fps which shoot a pellet that is .2 grams and 6 mm in diameter are considered to be replicas and are illegal in Canada.
Guns with an fps of between 366 and 500 fps are classified as uncontrolled and are perfectly legal in Canada.
No special permits are required and no licenses required to import these guns.
Guns with an FPS of more than 500 are considered to be firearms in Canada. You will require a special license to own one.
If you are purchasing an airsoft gun from another country, the fps will need to be clearly stated on the packaging and in accompanying documentation.
If this is not done, Canadian customs may either confiscate the gun outright or test its velocity themselves to ascertain what category it falls into.
It is important to be aware of the specific airsoft gun laws pertaining to your state and city.
If you are unaware of what those laws are, ask a reputable dealer to fill you in.
Do not try to purchase or sell an airsoft gun that has had its blaze orange barrel tip markings removed.
Also, avoid the temptation to scratch off the orange tip once you have bought the gun in order to make it look more realistic. In short, you should consider your airsoft gun to be a weapon regardless of how it is viewed in your particular area.
When you carry your airsoft guns in public, be sure to put it in a carry case. Never discharge your airgun in a confined public place. And, if you are the parent of a child with an airsoft gun, make sure that his or her use of it is monitored at all times.