Agents of Incompetence: ATF Seizes 'Toys,' Then Touts Their Danger (Part II)

It is quite a stretch for U.S. Customs inspectors at the Port of Tacoma to declare that they recently intercepted machine guns, especially when the devices they confiscated were two models of a well-known brand of high-end Airsoft toys. To make such a claim, Customs relied upon a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) determination that these toys could have parts replaced or modified to turn it into a weapon capable of firing real bullets in automatic mode.

For such a claim to be true, the modified toy would have to:

  • accept M4/M16-type military magazines
  • strip a cartridge from the magazine and push it up the feed ramp into the toy's chamber
  • have a functional fire control group action, barrel, and gas system to cycle the weapon
  • withstand (structurally) the high heat and pressures of a firearm cycling at hundreds of rounds per minute

Both Airsoft Outlet Northwest (the retailer/importer the Airsoft guns were seized from) and AirSplat (the nation's largest Airsoft retailer) stock and have experience with the various configurations of the WE Tech Airsoft gas blowback systems, and both claim to have had experts attempt see how these toys could possibly be converted into functioning firearms. Airsoft Outlet Northwest took a previously delivered (without incident) WE Tech to a gunsmith that specializes in the AR platform. The gunsmith determined the following:

  • The WE TTI M4s lack any sort of functional gas tube which is integral to an AR15's operation
  • The upper receiver of an AR15 fits onto the lower of the WE TTI M4
  • The stock trigger pack in the WE TTI cannot strike the firing pin of a AR15 bolt
  • The body of the WE TTI lower is several mils thinner than an AR15 lower, and shims would be needed for any AR trigger pack to work
  • The trigger pack of an AR15 appears to be able to fit onto the lower receiver of a WE TTI M4, one of the AR15 trigger pack retaining pins is impossible to insert without major modification, and the hammer isn't operable with the WE TTI lower.

In short, the gunsmith determined that the entire upper receiver would have to be replaced by an upper from a real M4/M6 type rifle to have a hope of functioning, and a trigger pack from a real M4 would have to undergo extensive modification to even fit. And even when modified to fit, it wouldn't fire. If this gunsmith is correct, then all the effort to take a $400 toy and $600-plus of real gun parts -- plus significant labor from a proficient gunsmith -- would result in a thousand-dollar club less functional than the original toy, unable to fire real bullets or Airsoft pellets.

AirSplat, which has had samples of the exact same firearms in the past and which carries WE Tech products, had a slightly different experience in their attempts to see if these toys could be converted into weapons. They also had a tester who seemed supremely qualified to be in a position of being able to tell a toy gun from a fake one. Jon Dibblee was an Army infantryman for six years before being honorably discharged as a sergeant last year. He currently works for AirSplat, and he conducted tests with other employees on several models of gas blowback M4 replicas, trying to see if they would work with real M4 parts.

In the models they reviewed, Jon and his team determined the same fundamental conversion problem that dogged every attempt to turn an Airsoft gun into a real one, and that was the quality of the materials used in Airsoft construction. While quite acceptable for use in compressed-gas powered toys, the metals and plastic used in Airsoft would melt under the temperatures generated by real firearms, if they didn't blow apart from the high pressures first. The all-important component (from a legal perspective) that determines whether or not a product is a gun or a toy is the lower receiver, which all Airsoft distributors contacted have confirmed are made of inexpensive pot metals that can not withstand the heat or pressures generated by authentic firearms.