If you have recently purchased or are looking into purchasing an airsoft gun, the question of regulations governing their use and possession will be normal. An example of this is, do you need a license?
You do not need a license to purchase, possess, or use an airsoft gun under Federal Law in the United States. However, state, county, and municipal governments may have laws in place that stipulate how they may be used, impose limitations, or ban them entirely within their jurisdictions.
While a license is not required to use an airsoft gun, depending on where you live, there are plenty of nuances involving where you can use such guns and how you are allowed to transport them. This article will provide you with information to bring clarity to the legal use of airsoft guns.
Why Are Licenses Not Required for Airsoft Guns?
Licenses are not required for airsoft guns because, in the United States, these pistols and rifles are not classified as firearms. Therefore, laws pertaining to traditional firearms, the Gun Control Act of 1968, and most federal firearm licensing laws do not apply to them.
Additional considerations present in federal statutes when real firearms are involved, such as persons prohibited from possessing them due to a criminal conviction, registration, sale, shipping, transfer, and concealment regulations, are not inclusive of Airsoft guns.
Federal Limitations on Airsoft Guns
Even though federal laws governing real firearms are not applicable to Airsoft guns, that does not mean that there are no federal laws on the books that govern them.
For example, 15 U.S. Code § 5001 requires that airsoft guns designed to be “look-alike” models to real firearms be distinctively marked.
This mark must be present when “look-alike” airsoft guns are manufactured, transported, imported, shipped, or otherwise commercialized in the United States.
Please note that airsoft guns that, by their original design, do not qualify as look-alikes do not fall under these requirements.
This law gives the power of determining what this distinctive mark should be to the Department of Commerce. As of 2021, the mark consists of a blaze-orange colored tip with a minimum width of 6 mm (0.236 inches).
Other Restrictions on Airsoft Guns
If you live in some geographic regions of the United States, you might encounter situations where local laws limit, restrict, or prohibit airsoft guns.
While none impose a licensing process to own or use an Airsoft gun, it is essential to be aware of what your local ordinances state to avoid going afoul of the law.
Below are some areas where federal and state laws differ.
To purchase an airsoft gun in most states, you need to be 18 years of age or older.
However, there is no formal age limit for using one at the federal level. Most states require those under 18 to have parental permission—and some, adult supervision—when using an airsoft gun.
Individual airsoft ranges may also apply their age limits for safety and liability issues.
Transporting Airsoft Guns
At the federal level, the primary regulation for transporting airsoft guns involves transporting those pieces that are classified as look-alike units. They must have the orange tip.
Aside from that, the only other federal guideline that governs transporting airsoft guns involves air travel. You may transport an airsoft gun as part of your checked baggage, not carry-on, as long as you abide by the TSA guidelines.
These TSA guidelines include:
- Declaring the presence of the airsoft gun in your luggage.
- Having the unit stored in a locked hard-sided case within your luggage.
- Making sure the gun is unloaded.
- Do not carry any CO2 or other gas cartridges with the airsoft gun.
Local Transportation of Airsoft Guns
One area that can cause confusion and may even pose a personal risk to the Airsoft gun owner is transporting their piece locally. Such transportation will usually involve a car, public transit, bike, or even on foot.
Federally, airsoft guns are not classified as firearms, and while most states do not do so either, common sense should always be used when moving your airsoft guns in public.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- If your gun is considered a look-alike or replica, make sure it has the orange tip.
- Carry your piece in a case or bag and never brandish it openly in public.
- If you are pulled over by law enforcement, advise the officer immediately that you are carrying an airsoft gun and indicate where it is, but DO NOT reach for it.
- Do not carry an airsoft gun into private property, such as a store, etc.
- Do not discharge your piece in public or other locations not designated for doing so.
Consent To Fire
One area that sometimes creates confusion in the allowable use of an airsoft gun is what is known as consent or permission to fire.
Airsoft guns are designed to be used in competitive shooting/tagging games. While engaged in these games, teams and individuals shoot at each other to tag out their competition.
As such, some local laws that govern the use of airsoft guns take this into account.
That is why in some areas, such as Fairfax, Virginia, it is only legal to fire an airsoft gun in designated areas and why discharging them in public spaces is illegal.
In most jurisdictions that employ such limitations, the test of a properly designated area consists of one that is on private property and shielded from neighboring properties. Additionally, all participants consent to be fired on with airsoft pellets as part of an agreed-upon game.
By reading federal law, it is clear that in the United States, there is no requirement for obtaining a license to use an airsoft gun. Neither is there a process in place for voluntarily obtaining one at the federal level.
However, some jurisdictions do have laws limiting or prohibiting airsoft guns at the state and local levels. Also, special care needs to be taken if your airsoft gun falls under the “look-alike” provisions.