Airsoft guns are termed "soft" for a reason. While they look like real guns, they don't shoot real bullets, but rather, plastic BBs or pellets. However, if one of these hits a person, it doesn't feel at all soft. It stings a lot, but doesn't penetrate the skin. Many states regulate the use of airsoft guns, including Illinois. Anyone owning or thinking of acquiring an airsoft gun in Illinois should understand the layers of regulation involved.
What Is an Airsoft Gun?
Though paintball guns are better known than airsoft guns, the latter were invented first. Both types of guns can look exactly like the real thing: replica pistols, rifles and even sniper rifles, and they can be constructed of metal. They were invented in Japan some eight years before paintball guns became available.
Airsoft guns usually shoot 8mm or 6mm plastic BBs. A hit from one of these BBs won't kill or seriously injury anyone unless it strikes a person's eye, in which case severe eye damage can occur. But even when the projectile hits the skin, it can cause painful stinging and leave marks.
Given the fact that these guns look exactly like the real versions, they can easily be mistaken for a lethal weapon by law enforcement. That creates an extra danger for anyone carrying or playing with this type of firearm. Note that federal law requires that any toy resembling a real firearm must contain a blaze orange coloring on the barrel of the toy. This helps law enforcement identify the product as a toy so that it is not mistaken for a real weapon.
How Are Airsoft Guns Powered?
The original airsoft gun was powered by a compressed air cylinder attached to the gun. The maker's intention was that the guns be used for playing war games. Modern airsoft guns come with three different powering systems.
Some are spring powered where the shooter must cock the gun to set the spring before each fire. These are sturdy and fairly cheap. The automatic electric guns (AEG) are the most popular and the most expensive. They are automatic guns that can fire up to 900 rounds per minute. The third type of airgun is gas powered with compressed air created by CO2 or Green Gas. These are often linked with paintball guns.
Airsoft Gun Laws
Because of the risks from airsoft guns, some states have banned them entirely, including Arkansas. Many other states restrict access to minors. California, for example, makes it a criminal offense to provide or sell any type of gun that puts out projectiles to a minor without their parents' consent.
Some states, like Maine, prohibit selling such guns to a child under the age of 16. Others, like Massachusetts, make it illegal to sell them to someone under the age of 18. In North Dakota, all laws that pertain to actual firearms also apply to air guns. In Texas, anyone can fire one outside of major urban areas if the city and county allow air gun use.
Illinois Restrictions on Air Guns
For some years, Illinois law treated "air rifles" like regular guns under its codes. This changed in 2012 when the law was amended. The current Illinois law treats air guns as firearms only if they have a caliber over .18 and/or a muzzle velocity of over 700 feet per second.
Current Illinois law also restricts air rifle ownership and use. It defines the term to include:
"Any air gun, air pistol, spring gun, spring pistol, BB gun, paint ball gun, pellet gun or any implement that is not a firearm which impels a breakable paint ball containing washable marking colors or, a pellet constructed of hard plastic, steel, lead or other hard materials...expected to cause bodily harm."
Age Restriction for Air Rifle Possession
Current Illinois law makes it illegal for anyone other than a parent or guardian to provide or sell an air rifle to a minor under the age of 13. Likewise, it is illegal in the state for a minor under 13 years of age to possess a loaded air rifle on streets, parks or other public property. Minors can keep air rifles only if they are kept in the family home and used on private property or for a group or club.
Municipalities May Enact Additional Regulations
Individual cities in Illinois can and do impose additional restrictions on ownership and use of air guns. Like state laws, the range of Illinois city laws is broad. Some cities, like Deerfield, do not permit possession of these guns. Others, like Elk Grove, ban the sale of "handgun styled" BB or pellet guns. Amboy, Illinois, prohibits their use within city limits.
Many cities and counties in Illinois set higher age limits for airsoft gun ownership than state law does. For example, Illinois cities Elk Grove, Lombard, Niles and Streamwood set an age limit of 18 before anyone can legally purchase or possess an air gun. In River Forest, a potential buyer must be at least 21 years or older. Big cities, like Chicago, mandate that a permit to purchase be obtained from law enforcement before buying an air gun. And stores that offer air rifles for sale are banned from displaying them in the store windows, show cases or counters.
Examples of Additional City Regulations
In Belvidere, Illinois, the law provides:
"It shall be unlawful to discharge any firearms, air rifles, pellet guns or similar weapons within the city. However, this section shall not be construed to prevent any police officer from discharging a weapon in the performance of his duty, nor any citizen from discharging any weapon when lawfully defending his person or property. "
Similar laws are in place in Bradley, Buffalo Grove and Chillicothe, among other Illinois cities. Other cities, like Beardstown, and many counties have no ordinances posted concerning these issues.
Laws change all the time, including city and county laws. It is recommended that anyone owning an airsoft gun keep up to date about the local laws in Illinois to make sure they are doing so in a legal manner.
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.