It used to be normal to think of BB guns as toy guns, used largely by kids and largely for fun. But the times have changed and, with them, the technology and power of BB guns. There are many different types of pellet guns available today and they often look and feel like their firearm counterpart, which means that state regulation of BB guns makes sense.
The state of New York lists a BB gun as a type of air gun for the purposes of firearm regulation. Anyone who still considers BB guns a toy should get an overview of their power and potential for damage.
What Is a BB Gun?
A BB gun is an air gun that uses compressed air to fire a projectile through a smooth-bore barrel. The projectiles – called BBs – are spherical and usually made of steel. They typically have a caliber or 0.177 inches (4.4mm), the same size as the most popular pellet. That means some airsoft guns can shoot BBs too.
Many people think that the BB refers to a bearing ball or bullet ball, but that is not the case. The term BB refers to the size of the shot, bigger than a "b" and smaller than a "bbb" type.
The BB started off as birdshot for a smooth-bore shotgun, some 4.3 to 4.4 mm in size. But when the Daisy company started making their own 4.4 mm "round shot" of steel or lead, the uniformity of BBs increased.
Powering a BB Gun
What powers the expulsion of the BB? The various methods of powering an airgun can also be used to power a BB gun. Typically, BBs are powered by carbon dioxide (CO2), but they can also be powered by a spring-piston, or pneumatic pump.
Most BB guns can expel their projectile faster than 200 feet per second (FPS), which means that a BB can travel at some 135 mph. Some can shoot faster, up to approaching 500 FPS, or 340 mph.
Is a BB Gun a Toy?
A modern-day BB gun should not be considered a toy. Given the speeds at which the projectile can travel, it can do significant damage to an animal or a human being. In order for a BB to penetrate human skin, it needs to be traveling only at 150 FPS, considerably slower than the speeds at which most BBs travel.
Risks of Injury
To ensure that a BB will not hurt someone, the shooter would have to be some 500 yards away from the individual, although there are variables that would have to be considered to be precise, including the weather and the type of power. (A sprint-powered gun delivers a BB faster than CO2.)
The areas most at risk from BB damage to the human body are the eyes, but BBs can cause bone and internal organ damage and even kill a human being.
This makes it clear that a BB gun is not a toy and should not be "played" with by children or adults. It is a weapon, and the same safety controls that apply to firearms should be adopted by anyone using a BB gun.
Federal Law Preempts State Prohibitions
Federal law (Title 15. Commerce and Trade Section 5001) prohibits the manufacture, sale, shipping or receiving of any toy, look-alike, or imitation firearm unless such firearm contains the markings described in the law. That marking is a blaze orange plug inserted in the barrel of the toy gun.
The law defines the phrase "toy, look-alike, or imitation firearm" to exclude "traditional BB, paintball, or pellet-firing air guns that expel a projectile through the force of air pressure."
Further, the federal law preempts state or local laws or ordinances inconsistent with provisions of the section. However, it forbids states from prohibiting the sale of traditional BB, paint ball or pellet-firing guns that expel a projectile through the force of air pressure.
Minimum Age to Use BB Guns in New York
New York has some common sense rules to reduce the risk of injury from BB guns. Few states regulate the sale or ownership of BB guns, and New York does not do so, nor does the state require a license to own or use a BB gun. However, it is one of several states that tries to keep the weapon out of the hands of minors.
In New York, an individual must be at least 16 years of age to buy a gun for which the propelling force is a spring or air. This minimum age is set out in Penal Code Section 265.05. It provides:
"It shall be unlawful for any person under the age of sixteen to possess any air-gun, spring-gun or other instrument or weapon in which the propelling force is a spring or air, or any gun or any instrument or weapon in or upon which any loaded or blank cartridges may be used, or any loaded or blank cartridges or ammunition."
Subject to Local Laws
Note that cities are permitted to impose stricter regulations on BB guns within their boundaries. Some justifications in New York state have local ordinances that go further than state law.
For example, New York City prohibits the sale of BB guns without an appropriate license except in limited circumstances. Those with licenses can only sell air pistols and rifles if they deliver the weapons to a location outside the city limits.
New York Law for Guns on School Grounds
BB guns, like firearms, are prohibited on school grounds. This restriction applies to public and private elementary and secondary schools, as well as public and private colleges and universities in the state. It is also illegal to shoot a BB gun in a public place or to aim a BB gun at a person or shoot another person.
New York State Air Gun Hunting Laws
BB guns and other air guns may be used to hunt some small game species. Note that most species in New York are protected and cannot be hunted without a license, including waterfowl, pheasant, wild turkey and big game.
New York allows air gun hunting for certain species. These species include:
- Ruffed Grouse.
Anyone hunting with a BB gun must obey the same hunting regulations as hunters using other firearms. For example, there is a prohibition on discharging a weapon within 500 feet of a school, playground, occupied factory or church. Likewise, it is illegal to discharge a weapon within 500 feet of an occupied home, unless it is owned and occupied by anyone but the shooter.
Local Municipal Ordinances
The cities of Buffalo and Rochester ban BB guns and other air guns in public places, whether loaded or unloaded. They also require BB guns and other air guns to be stored in a locked case at all times. The city of Yonkers requires a license to sell or possess a BB gun or other air gun. These licenses are issued by the city's police commissioner and are good for one year.
New York City also requires a license to sell or possess a BB gun or other air gun. Generally, you must be outside the city or in a licensed gun range to shoot a BB gun.
New York Gun Control Laws Ruled Unconstitutional
On June 23, 2022, the United States Supreme Court struck down a New York gun law. In this decision, they declared for the first time that the U.S. Constitution "right to bear arms" protects an individual's right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense.
This 6-3 ruling, authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, struck down New York state's law limiting the carrying of concealed handguns outside the home. Under the New York law at issue, applicants who wished to get an unrestricted concealed carry permit had to show an actual need for self-defense, not a speculative one.
Although most applicants in the end did receive unrestricted licenses, this happened more frequently in rural areas and less frequently in densely populated urban areas like New York City.
Second Amendment Rights
The court found that this 1913 law violated a person's right to "keep and bear arms" under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The ruling also applies to similar laws in California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and the District of Columbia.
Justice Thomas wrote: "We know of no other constitutional right that an individual may exercise only after demonstrating to government officers some special need."
New Gun Laws in New York
The New York legislature met quickly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in order to rewrite the gun laws. The bill was pretty extensive and included these key provisions:
The Supreme Court ruling stated that it was unconstitutional for the state to give government officials the discretion to condition the granting of a permit to carry a concealed handgun in self-defense on a showing of "proper cause" or some other special reason. The new legislation takes out the "proper cause" requirement and retains the requirement that the applicant show they are of "good moral character."
Proving Good Moral Character
In fact, the bill sets out a requirement for proving character that includes submitting social media accounts. The legislation requires applicants for concealed-carry permits to submit both their current social media accounts, plus social media accounts from the last three years for the licensing officer to review. The licensing officer is usually a judge or a police official.
In addition, the permit applicant is required to do an in-person interview with the licensing officer. In the course of the interview, they must provide:
- Names and contact information of their spouse or domestic partner.
- Names and contact information for any other adults they live with.
- Information about whether children are in their home.
- Names and contact information for four character references.
Restrictions in Public Places
The Supreme Court ruling stated that while lawmakers could restrict guns from "sensitive places," they should not paint with too broad a brush. The Court cited courthouses, schools and government buildings as appropriate targets of such a law. The newly passed New York legislation includes restricting guns from these public places:
- Government buildings.
- Medical facilities.
- Places of worship.
- Summer camps.
- Addiction-support centers.
- Homeless shelters.
- Nursing homes.
- Public transit including the New York City subway.
- Places where alcohol or marijuana is consumed.
- Polling places.
- New York City's Times Square.
The New York law notes that any and all private businesses must be presumed to be gun-free zones. This would change only if the owners make a public statement to the contrary.
The legislation also imposes an increased training requirement on applicants for permits. They must complete at least 16 hours of in-person firearms safety training to apply for a permit. They must also participate in two hours or more of firing range training and prove their shooting proficiency by meeting standards developed by New York state police.
- Airgunhouse: How Dangerous Are BB Guns?
- AirgunDepot: BB Guns
- AirGunLaws: New York City Airgun Laws
- NYSenate: Penal Code 254.05 Unlawful Possession of Weapons by Persons Under Sixteen
- U.S. Code - Unannotated Title 15 Commerce and Trade Section 5001
- Reuters: U.S. Supreme Court Expands Gun Rights
- Syracuse: New York New Gun Laws
- AirGunLaws: New York Air Gun Laws
- Reuters: Factbox: What's in New York's new gun laws after Supreme Court ruling?
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. 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 MA and an MFA in English/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.