No response whatsoever from the agencies, who appear to have no good way out of this. (This is a three-part series. Read Parts One and Two.)
March 11, 2010 - by Bob Owens
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.
In the end it was the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) that made the determination that these toys were analogous to automatic weapons, as explained by ATF Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the Seattle Field Division Kelven Crenshaw. Crenshaw helpfully displayed his knowledge and expertise with firearms in an interview with Portland’s KOIN6 by attempting to put a magazine into one of the WE Tech CQBR backwards. This is apparently the same Special Agent Kelven Crenshaw that ATF whistleblower site Cleanup ATF says is a former assistant director demoted and moved for incompetence, reprisals against his own employees, and regulation violations.
Pajamas Media has contacted the CBP and ATF on multiple occasions in the last week, attempting to determine why these and similar Airsoft toys are just now being determined to be machine guns, after thousands have already been imported.
We asked if the ATF determination claimed in this Customs press release would reclassify any or all gas blowback (GBB) firearms with realistic external proportions as firearms, and selective-fire versions of these items as Class III weapons.
We also asked if this determination means that every retail establishment that has sold or will sell this and similar weapons is guilty of committing felonies for violating numerous federal laws including (but not limited to) the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (for those Airsoft dealers that sold handguns to persons under 21 years of age), and the Hughes Amendment of the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act, along with an unknown number of state and local laws.
Pajamas Media also asked that if this determination stands, will the ATF and Department of Justice call for the immediate suspension of imports of these Airsoft rifles, and begin attempts to confiscate those already imported. We also asked whether owners and sellers of such devices face jail time if they do not turn them in.
And finally, we asked if it could it be possible that the ATF officers who made the determination are incorrect, and suggested that if that were the case, the ATF should return these items to their rightful owner, Airsoft Outlet NW.
To date, Customs and Border Protection officials have referred all questions about the seizure to the ATF. They have refused to respond to specific claims by Airsoft Outlet NW. The Seattle Division of the ATF, which should have immediately recognized these toys as toys, has referred all inquires to ATF Headquarters in Washington, D.C., which has refused to answer any questions.
An incredible $20,000 worth of Airsoft Outlet NW Airsoft guns are presently under threat of destruction because of apparent incompetency in two federal law enforcement agencies, while the exact same toys are available for purchase online, in neighborhood retail shops around the nation, and around the world.
It would seem that the CBP and ATF have painted themselves into a corner.
They either must admit that their officers and agents made a serious mistake after a pattern of serial unprofessional behavior that verged on punitive abuse, or they must attempt to shut down the entire distribution chain of all similar Airsoft products being imported into the country and attempt to confiscate the thousands already on the market.
The latter would come at tremendous taxpayer expense and make these agencies even more of a laughingstock than they are now.
But at least we’ll be safe from toy guns.
(Also available - Part 4, follow up summary)
Bob Owens blogs at Confederate Yankee.