Since airsoft guns and BB guns are not classified by federal or state gun laws as firearms, adults are able to own, carry and use them more freely than real guns. A person of any age can play with these devices. Commonwealth of Massachusetts law provides that a person over 18 does not need a permit to own or operate an airsoft gun or BB gun.
Suppliers, such as Amazon, are not prohibited from shipping ammunition for such guns to Massachusetts. Yet they may choose not to do so under their own policies.
Airsoft guns or air rifles are defined as toy guns that shoot plastic or biodegradable resin pellets through compressed air. BB guns are toy guns that shoot small metal balls, or BBs, through compressed air. An airsoft gun is usually safe for recreational purposes if participants wear protective gear. A BB gun is less safe but is not as lethal as a real firearm.
Restriction on Minors
A minor under the age of 18 under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 269 Section 12B may not have replica guns in their possession while in public areas or any place to which the public has a right of access. The exception is if the minor is accompanied by an adult or the minor holds a sporting or hunting license and has on their person a permit from the local chief of police allowing them such possession.
A minor shall not discharge an object from an air rifle or BB gun unless they are accompanied by an adult or they hold a sporting or hunting license.
No person is allowed to discharge a BB shot, pellet or other object from imitation firearms into, from or across any street, alley, public way, railroad or railway right of way. A person who violates the law will be punished by a fine up to $100. Law enforcement officers will also confiscate the device.
Definition of Dangerous Weapons
A dangerous weapon is generally defined as a weapon that could cause serious bodily injury to someone. Airsoft guns and BB guns usually are not determined to be dangerous weapons because, under normal circumstances, they do not pose serious bodily injury to a person.
Incarceration Penalties for Airsoft Guns
State laws, specifically Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 269, Section 10, forbid a person from knowingly having an air rifle or BB gun in their possession in violation of MGL Chapter 269 Section 12B.
They can be punished by incarceration in state prison for not less than two and a half years nor more than five years, or for not less than 18 months nor more than two and a half years in a jail or house of correction.
The sentence imposed on such a person must not be reduced to less than 18 months nor suspended. A person convicted under this subsection will not be eligible for probation, parole, work release or furlough or receive any deduction from their sentence for good conduct unless they have served at least 18 months of the sentence.
Municipal Regulations for Imitation Guns
Municipalities may pass their own public safety regulations regarding airsoft guns and BB guns. In 2015, Boston passed such regulations conditioning the use of such devices. The city defines a replica firearm as an air rifle, BB gun, pellet gun or other simulated weapon that, due to characteristics like color and size, could reasonably be perceived to be a real firearm.
A person may not sell, offer to sell, possess, use, display or give away a replica firearm on a public property unless:
- The entire exterior surface of the toy is colored white, bright red, bright orange, bright yellow, bright blue, bright pink or bright purple, singly or as the predominant color in combinations with other colors in any pattern.
- The imitation firearm is made out of transparent or translucent materials which allows a party to see the device’s complete contents.
- The barrel of the imitation firearm other than the barrel of a water gun is closed with a blaze orange plug or orange tip that is permanently affixed of the same material of which the imitation firearm is made, for a distance of not less than one-half inch from the front end of the barrel.
- The imitation firearm has the name of the manufacturer or some trade name, mark or brand by which the manufacturer can be readily identified stamped on it.
- The imitation firearm does not have a laser pointer attached.
Boston Replica Firearms Rules For Minors
If a person under 18 is found with a replica firearm by Boston police officers, the law enforcement officer will call the minor's parent or guardian to tell them the minor has been found with a replica firearm on public property. The parent or guardian will be told they can pick up the replica firearm at the district station after 24 hours.
The officer must confiscate the replica firearm and bring it to the district station for holding. If the person in possession of the replica firearm is over 18, the officer must confiscate the device. They should tell the person they can pick up the item at the district station after 24 hours.
Forfeiture of Weapons in Boston
A person found in violation of the regulations regarding possession of airsoft guns and BB guns must forfeit the weapon giving rise to the incident. They are subject to a fine of $50. If a person is selling a replica firearm, a Boston police department may order them to stop selling that item and also:
- Give a written citation or warning for the first violation.
- Assess a $100 fine for the second violation.
- Assess a $200 fine for the second or any subsequent violation.
Federal Laws on Toy Guns
In 1988, Congress passed the Anti Toy Gun Threat Act. This federal law, codified as 15 U.S. Code Section 5001, makes it unlawful for a person to manufacture, ship or receive an imitation firearm unless the imitation firearm has a blaze orange plug inserted into the muzzle end of the barrel.
The term imitation firearm under this Act covers airsoft guns and water guns that fire nonmetallic objects. The term does not include a traditional BB, paintball or pellet-firing air gun that fires metallic objects. The federal law applies to actors that sell devices to people in the state of Massachusetts.
- Mass.gov: Massachusetts Law About Guns and Other Weapons
- Massachusetts Legislature: General laws, Section 12B, Air Rifles, Possession by Minors, Shooting
- Massachusetts Legislature: General Laws, Chapter 269, Section 10, Carrying Dangerous Weapons
- City of Boston Municipal Code: 16-5A.1, Definitions
- City of Boston Municipal Code: 16-5B, Regulating Replica Firearms in the City of Boston
- Congress.gov: H.R.4420 - Anti Toy Gun Threat Act of 1988
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.