Is an airsoft gun closer to a toy or a firearm? That's a question that can go either way depending on the person asking. These BB gun-like replica weapons are used to simulate war games like paintball guns, and they have their fans and detractors. Some states welcome them, others prohibit them. The state of Pennsylvania is somewhere in between.
What Is an Airsoft Gun?
Airsoft guns are replica weapons that expel plastic pellets about the size of BBs. Under federal law, these airguns must be imported and sold with an orange tip on the end of the barrel. This lets everyone know that they are not actual firearms, but replicas. Otherwise, an airsoft rifle looks very much like a real rifle.
Paintball guns are better known than airsoft guns, but the airsoft was invented first. It was created in Japan almost a decade before paintball guns. Both of these types of replica guns can look precisely like the real thing: replica pistols, rifles and even sniper rifles. Some are built of metal for an even more authentic look.
Pellets Used in Airsoft Pellet Guns
Airsoft guns usually shoot plastic BB-like pellets, either 8mm or 6mm. What happens if a pellet hits an individual? Nothing too serious in most cases. The pellets don't pierce skin, so they won't kill anyone or cause serious injury. But they do sting and can leave marks.
The bigger danger, however, is when an airsoft pellet hits an individual's eye. In that case, severe eye injury, even blindness, can occur.
How Are Airsoft Guns Powered?
The very first airsoft guns were powered by a compressed air cylinder attached to the gun. But as more people began using airsoft guns, other powering systems were developed. Today, most airsoft guns come with three different powering systems:
- Spring powered.
- Automatic electric.
- Gas powered with compressed air.
To operate spring powered guns, the shooter must cock the gun and set the spring in order to fire and repeat this before each fire. These airsoft guns are sturdy and fairly cheap.
The most popular variation are the automatic electric guns that can fire up to 900 rounds per minute. The gas-powered airsoft with compressed air created by CO2 or Green Gas are similar to paintball guns.
Danger of Looking Too Authentic
Since these replicas are intended to mirror the look of real firearms, it is easy for law enforcement to confuse an airsoft rifle with a lethal weapon. That creates a potential danger for those carrying or playing with these replicas. It is not difficult to imagine stories of unnecessary police action if mistakes are made.
How to tell the airsoft from the real gun? Federal law requires that any "toy" gun that resembles a real firearm must contain an orange blaze on the barrel of the toy. This is intended to indicate to anyone looking that the replica is not a real weapon.
However, it is not 100 percent clear from the language of the federal regulation whether it is illegal to paint over or remove this mark, and some airsoft advocates propose doing this to make the guns more authentic. And airgun admirers have attacked proposed legislation in Pennsylvania that would make it illegal to remove the orange mark.
Pennsylvania Laws on Airsoft Guns
Under Pennsylvania law, airsoft guns are not classified as firearms, so neither a permit nor a license is required to buy, sell, own or carry one.
In Pennsylvania, an individual must be 21 years old to acquire a real handgun, but there is no similar age requirement for an airsoft gun. In some parts of the state they are treated as firearm replicas, in others, as BB guns. Generally anyone over 18 years of age can buy an airgun; children can only get one with permission from their parents or guardians.
In fact, most of the laws about airsoft guns in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania involve minors under the age of 18. The statute provides that it is illegal for a:
- Dealer to sell an air rifle to a person under the age of 18.
- Person to give or sell an air rifle to a person under the age of 18 unless they are the parents or guardians of the child.
- Minor under the age of 18 to carry an air rifle on a public street or in a public area.
- Minor under the age of 18 to fire an air rifle on a public street or in a public area.
Definition of an Air Rifle
An air rifle is defined in the state codes as:
"Any air gun, air pistol, spring gun, spring pistol, BB gun, or any implement that is not a firearm, which impels a pellet of any kind with a force that can reasonably be expected to cause bodily harm."
Hunting With Airsoft Guns
One additional limitation in the law: It is not legal for hunters in Pennsylvania to go after animals with airsoft guns. This is allowed in more states than one might think.
Municipalities May Enact Additional Airsoft Gun Laws
The Pennsylvania regulations have a "no preemption" clause. This states that:
"The provisions of any ordinance enacted by any political subdivision which impose greater restrictions or limitations in respect to the sale and purchase, use or possession of air rifles, than is imposed by this section, shall not be invalidated or affected by this section."
Essentially this means that counties and cities in Pennsylvania can impose additional restrictions on ownership and use of air guns. Like state laws, the range of Pennsylvania city laws is broad.
Examples of Municipal Ordinances
Some cities, like Bensalem, do not permit possession of these guns. Cleona Borough makes it a crime to discharge one at any place within the Borough of Cleona. This is also the law in Hanover Township. In Johnsstown, firing or even pointing the airsoft gun at someone is illegal.
And Lower Chichester Township's law covers pretty much every aspect of airsoft gun use, providing:
"No person shall store, sell, offer for sale or expose for sale at retail or have in his or her possession with the intent to sell or with the intent to use, within the limits of the Township, any air gun, air pistol or spring gun, or any implement that is not a firearm, that impels with force a pellet of any kind."
Philadelphia imposes a minimum age limit of 21 on airsoft and similar guns like spring guns, air guns and bows and arrows. The city makes it illegal to sell or trade any implement not a firearm which forcefully impels a pellet of any kind to anyone under the age of 21 unless the seller first obtains written evidence of parental consent to the proposed purchase.
- Justia: 18 PA Cons Stat Section 6304 (2021) Sale and Use of Air Rifles
- Airsoftaculous: Airsoft Laws in Pennsylvania
- FoxAirsoft: An Airsoft Community Under Attack
- Airgun Laws.com: Canada Air Gun Laws And Regulations U.K. Air Gun Laws and Regulations Australia Airgun Laws and Regulations How Airguns Are Regulated By State and Federal Laws How Old Do You Need To Be To Purchase an Airgun? Can You Legally Dispatch Pests With An Airgun? Are Airguns Considered Firearms? Do You Have To Wear Orange When Hunting With An Airgun? Are BB Guns Illegal? Is It Illegal To Put A Silencer On An Airgun? Can A Felon Own An Airgun? Philadelphia Pennsylvania Airgun Laws and Regulations
- Airgun Laws.com: Pennsylvania Airgun Laws
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.