Agents of Incompetence: Customs, ATF Dodging All Questions About Toy Guns (Part III)

Airsoft toys are not machine guns.

Even though the replicas often strive to be as realistic as possible, most people intuitively grasp that a toy gun made to fire plastic BBs measured in tenths of grams is not remotely a lethal threat.

Unfortunately for Brad and Ben Martin of Airsoft Outlet Northwest, a contingent of surly U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have focused an inordinate amount of time and taxpayer dollars to repeatedly raid and hold their imported shipments of Airsoft toys and accessories, apparently without legal justification for doing so.

The 16 WE TTI (WE Tech) M4A1 and 14 WE TTI (WE Tech) M4 CQBR gas blowback Airsoft rifles currently being called "machine guns" and facing destruction aren't the only Airsoft rifles that Customs is withholding from their rightful owners. In addition to the toys at the center of this controversy, Customs has 10 M1911-style pistols, 15 SCAR rifles, 4 revolvers, and 20 bolt-action rifles belonging to Airsoft Outlet Northwest. This is a total of roughly $20,000 in merchandise, $12,000 of which is slated to be destroyed. In addition to the Airsoft guns, Customs officers nabbed a shipment of 500 Airsoft magazines and held them for two months without providing Airsoft Outlet NW with any sort of explanation or legal justification for the seizure.

All of these Airsoft toys and accessories are carried by other Airsoft dealers throughout the United States and overseas, without any known importation issues.

Ben Martin describes a long train of inconsistency and abuse by Customs and Border Protection at the Airsoft Outlet NW website. Martin claims that a CBP agent in Portland forcefully removed the plastic tips required on Airsoft guns in order to claim the shipment was illegal. Agents within the same office in Tacoma even made contradictory claims about the now infamous shipment of WE Tech M4s that arrived without orange tips, with one agent claiming that Airsoft Outlet NW's business practice of not selling their replicas to those under 18 without parental consent meant that the Airsoft guns would then be classified as BB guns, and therefore did not legally require orange tips.

And the CBP website seems to confirm that Airsoft guns do not have to have orange tips:

Air soft, paintball, bb guns, and other guns that use a gas or air pellet or mechanical spring action to fire a projectile are not subject to Department of Commerce regulations for toy or imitation firearms that require bright orange plugs or other markers to be affixed to the end of the barrel (15 CFR 1150).

15 CFR 1150.1 specifically exempts "traditional B-B, paint-ball, or pellet-firing air guns that expel a projectile through the force of compressed air, compressed gas or mechanical spring action, or any combination thereof," which would seem to mean the justification for Customs seizure of this shipment is based upon ignorance of the very regulations they are meant to enforce.

Of course, the laziness, ignorance, and inconsistency of the CBP is only part of the problem.