Texas Laws About Shooting a BB Gun

Girl with pellet gun
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Texas gun laws are among the most liberal, permitting open and concealed carry without a permit or a license. The state is even more generous in defining the right of those who own BB guns. Anyone who has, or wants to get, a BB gun in Texas will want to read up on Texas laws or talk to an attorney about regulations.

To understand the reach and import of federal and state BB gun laws, it is first necessary to get a clear understanding of a BB gun and how it works.

What Is a BB Gun?

What exactly is a BB gun? A BB gun is a type of non-powder air rifle that uses compressed air to fire small, metallic balls out of a smooth bore barrel. These projectiles are about the size of a single lead shot in a shotgun shell.

The pellets are expelled by the gun at a high muzzle velocity. They are called BBs, said to be an abbreviation for either ball bearing or bullet balls.

BB guns were invented in 1886 and have generally been used for informal target practice, called plinking, and sometimes, for small game hunting. They are very popular in Texas. Many parents buy BB guns for their kids, and they are becoming increasingly popular among children and teens.

BB Guns Can Be Dangerous

But treating them as toys is not a good idea since they can be quite dangerous in some situations. BB guns have been known to cause serious personal injury, the loss of an eye and even death. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued a safety alert to let users know that BB guns, with their high-muzzle velocity, can be deadly.

The CPSC estimates that BB guns and/or pellet guns cause at least a few deaths every year. Although some are sold with disclaimers urging parental supervision, they are virtually unregulated in many states.

Difference Between BB Guns and Airsoft Guns

BB guns are often described as airsoft guns, but the terms are not synonymous. Airsoft guns are a category of nonlethal pellet guns that are popular in Texas. Like BB guns, they are replica guns, looking like "real" rifles. And also like BB guns, they fire small, round particles – but they are not the same thing.

While BBs made for use in BB guns are metallic, the BBs fired by airsoft guns are plastic. They are much less dangerous and travel slower than metal BBs that are fired from BB guns. Still, they can travel more than 750 feet per second, or 210 meters per second, which is fast enough to break the skin.

Like BB guns, airsoft guns are legal and relatively unregulated in Texas. But while BB guns are rifles, airsoft guns can be handguns, sometimes termed air pistols.

Orange Tips Are Sometimes Required

BB guns and airsoft guns do share one particular danger that has nothing to do with the BBs they fire. This risk is based on the fact that they look very much like real firearms. Part of their charm for certain uses is the fact that they resemble actual military rifles.

But this has unfortunately led to more than a few encounters between young people with replica rifles and law enforcement officers, who mistake them for real guns.

Individuals holding realistic airsoft guns have been shot by law enforcement. For that reason, federal importation laws require that replica airguns have barrels with a minimum 6mm-wide blaze orange tip to indicate to the police that the gun is nonlethal.

Most retailers notify their customers that their airsoft guns are sold with an orange tip and that it is illegal to remove it. But note that this does not apply to BB guns. While federal importation laws require that replica firearms are required to have blaze orange barrel tips, the statute specifically exempts "traditional BB or pellet-firing airguns" from that requirement.

Federal Laws and BB Guns

Neither Texas nor any other state forbids its residents from owning BB guns. But don't be too impressed by this – under federal law, states cannot forbid the use of BB guns within their borders. States can and do regulate BB gun use however, some more than others.

Federal law also puts restrictions on ownership, possession and sale of BB guns. For example, anyone who has been convicted of a crime punishable by a year or more in prison cannot own, possess or use a BB gun.

Individuals who fit into any of these categories are likewise forbidden from BB gun ownership or use under federal law:

  • Persons who are addicted to, or illegally using, any controlled substance.
  • Persons who have been ruled mentally defective by a court.
  • Persons who have been committed to a mental institution.
  • Illegal aliens living in the United States.
  • Persons who received a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • Anyone who was a citizen of this country and renounced their citizenship.
  • Persons who are the subject of a court restraining order that involves their intimate partner or children.
  • Anyone convicted of a domestic violence crime in any court.

Those who fall into one of these categories should obtain legal advice before owning, buying or using a BB gun in Texas.

State Laws on BB Guns

States do not have uniform BB gun laws. Rather, laws and regulations of BB guns and airguns vary considerably from state to state. Some forbid the ownership and use of BB guns altogether; others restrict ownership based on age or whether the guns are being used on the owner's property.

Still other states require a license to open carry or conceal carry. Then there are a few, like Texas, that have very limited restrictions. Various states even define the term differently, for example:

California BB Gun Laws

A BB "device" is "any instrument that expels a projectile, such as a BB or a pellet, through the force of air pressure, gas pressure or spring action." Minors cannot have BB guns in California.

In fact, it is a crime to sell, loan or transfer a BB gun to someone younger than 18 years old. California also makes it a crime to brandish a replica gun in public and charges anyone who commits a crime using a replica gun as if they had used an actual firearm.

Massachusetts BB Gun Laws

Deems it illegal for minors under the age of 18 to have or use BB guns, airsoft guns or air rifles, but this applies only in public areas; they can do so on their own property.

Massachusetts law makes it legal in some circumstances if the child is accompanied by an adult, if the minor has a hunting license, or if the police chief in the town where they live has issued a license. Those found to be violating the BB gun law can be charged with a misdemeanor and are subject to a fine, as well as confiscation or destruction of the BB gun or air rifle.

Michigan BB Gun Laws

BB guns are treated like firearms or real guns. That means that BB guns have exactly the same licensing requirements, safety inspection certificate requirements and concealed pistol license requirements as any other guns.

To make it clear, it is not possible for an individual to buy a BB gun or pellet air gun in Michigan without getting a permit to do so. Note that New York City also requires a license to possess or sell a BB gun.

Firearms Laws Do Not Necessarily Apply to BB Guns

However, most states' laws that apply to firearms do not necessarily apply to BB guns. But enough states do regulate airguns and BB guns that an owner should inquire about neighboring state laws before taking the gun on a road trip.

It is possible that Texas BB gun owners who travel with their airsoft guns to other states may not be granted reciprocity and recognition for any "right to carry" law that they might have enjoyed in their home state.

This is even truer in foreign countries. Airsoft replica guns are, for example, illegal in a variety of countries including Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. Even Canada prohibits the importation of "replica" guns.

Texas BB Gun Laws

In the Texas Penal Code, the state defines the term "firearm" as:

"A device designed, made or adapted to expel a projectile through a barrel by using the energy generated by an explosion or burning substance or any device readily convertible to that use."

Under this definition, a BB gun is not a firearm, since the BBs are shot out of the barrel using condensed air, not an explosion. That means that BBs and other airguns are not regulated as firearms in Texas under state law, nor are they treated as “real guns.”

BB Guns Legal in Texas

BB guns are legal in Texas in almost every setting, and there is no legal age requirement for ownership or possession of a BB gun in the state of Texas. Note that if the owner is a minor and harms the property of another person, their parents can be held responsible.

This is less likely to happen when the owner of the gun is on their own property. It is more likely to happen when the person takes or shoots the BB gun across the property line of a neighbor or in a public place.

City Council Ordinances Forbidden

In addition, Texas state law also forbids a municipality from regulating BB guns or air guns. They are forbidden from imposing ordinances that limit or regulate:

  • Transfer, possession, wearing, carrying, ownership, storage, transportation, licensing or registration of firearms, air guns, airsoft guns, knives, ammunition or firearm or air gun supplies or accessories.
  • Commerce in firearms, air guns, airsoft guns, knives, ammunition, or firearm and air gun supplies or accessories.
  • Discharge of a firearm or air gun at a sport shooting range.

However, cities in Texas can forbid a BB gun or airsoft owner from discharging their firearms or airsoft guns within city limits, with certain restrictions. And many cities do this, including Houston and Dallas.

However state law limits municipal restrictions by not allowing cities to forbid the discharge of shotguns, air rifles, air pistols or BB guns in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality or in an area annexed by the municipality after September 1, 1981.

To fit within that restriction, the weapon must be discharged either on a tract of land of 10 acres or more and more than 150 feet from a residence or occupied building located on another property in a manner not reasonably expected to cause a projectile to cross the boundary of the tract.

Texas State Park Gun Laws

Texas State Parks have a variety of rules and recommendations regarding firearms. Generally, Texas Parks permit adults at least 21 years old to carry a handgun in a holster with or without a license in compliance with Texas' Constitutional Carry law.

However, these guns are not permitted in those Texas parks that are leased from the federal government, except by written authorization of the governing federal facility.

It is worth noting that arms and firearms are defined in the Texas Administrative Code as including "any device from which shot, a projectile, arrow or bolt is fired by the force of an explosion, compressed air, gas or mechanical device." The Code specifies that these types of arms are included in that definition: rifle, shotgun, handgun, air rifle, pellet gun, longbow, cross bow, slingshot, blow gun or dart gun.

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