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Agents of Incompetence: ATF Seizes Gun Shipment Labeled 'Toys' — But They Really Were Toys

Stephen Pringle of Airsoft World Ltd. in Great Britain sells the exact same WE Tech Airsoft products, with the handicap of selling them in a country where real firearms have been regulated almost out of existence, and where even Airsoft toys require permits from the government. Asked about the possibility of converting WE M4 gas blowback systems into functional firearms, Pringle was unconvinced:

It is certainly our understanding that any attempt to install real AR-15 parts would fail, either at the installation stage or at the point that the firer pulls the trigger, probably with disastrous consequences for the shooter. Although they feature a higher proportion of steel parts than many other Airsoft guns, they are still a long way from the build quality required of a real firearm, especially as regards the receiver.

The receiver on the M4/M16 family of weapons can be broken down into two main component groups commonly referred to as the "upper" and the "lower." The lower receiver contains the serial-numbered lower frame of the firearm that is legally recognized as the part that is the firearm under U.S. law, along with the trigger pack, the grip, the stock, and other components in the lower half of the gun. The upper receiver is comprised of the barrel, bolt, handguards, and sights. Pringle notes that these Airsoft guns have suffered catastrophic failures even at their much lower operating pressures, and that it simply wouldn't make sense to try to convert a toy into a real firearm that would more than likely explode in the user's hands with the first shot.

We have seen an AWSS rifle break at the junction between the upper receiver and the barrel, an area subjected to some of the greatest stresses in a real AR-15 as that is where the chamber would be located. The machining required to create a gas-operated rifle from one of these rifles would be extensive and expensive, requiring the replacement or fabrication of several key components -- barrel, gas block, gas tube, receiver, bolt carrier, bolt, firing pin, associated springs, etc. Anything less would pose as real a danger to the shooter as to any potential victims. There is also the long-running argument that if someone with criminal intentions has the skills to actually convert an Airsoft gun, they probably have the ability to fabricate a basic firearm from scratch.

In other words, it would be difficult if not impossible to convert an Airsoft rifle into a real firearm without replacing the upper receiver entirely.

Pringle concludes:

I struggle to see why anyone would spend the time and money to convert a toy when it is so much easier to obtain a genuine firearm in the U.S. and if required do the work to convert it from semi auto only to full auto.

Indeed, a full upper receiver can be bought online and delivered to your door in the United States without the background check required of the lower receiver (the serialized part recognized under the law in the U.S. as the gun). So can the upper receiver of a real U.S. rifle be mated to the lower receiver of an Airsoft gun as the BATF is trying to claim, turning the Frankentoy into a a real and untraceable machine gun? Or are U.S. Customs inspectors and their allies at the BATF way in over their heads, and perhaps trying to cover up serial incompetency?

We'll address these questions and hear from other professionals in "Agents of Incompetence, Part II."