You may have heard of airguns and how they often make great alternatives to firearms for some purposes, but they are guns, so how do laws apply to them? Are airguns legal?
Airguns are legal, but are regulated at varying levels by different national and local governments. The United States handles airguns differently from state to state, and sometimes city to city, while airguns thrive in Europe, providing an alternative to firearms.
So how do you find out what is legal in your area, and what is not?
Well, this question is going to difficult for me to answer for each of you, but I will use three examples of states in the United States of America that treat airguns differently from each other and how different cities in those states treat airguns as well to give an idea of what you can expect in your area, and then give you a tool you can use to find what is legal where you live.
What is Legal in My Area, and How Do I Find Out?
The United States Federal Government does not consider airguns to be firearms (as firearms burn a powder to move the projectile) and therefore does not regulate them like firearms, but state governments might.
So while exploring this topic, I’m going to start out with my native Idaho, just because I’m biased toward Idaho, and Idaho is a great place; we have like, three cities, its great.
The state of Idaho has no laws regulating airguns, other than what is used to hunt. In Idaho, if you plan on hunting deer (pg 100), you need to use a precharged pneumatic airgun with a caliber of .35 or greater, and if you are planning on taking down an elk or a moose, you need a PCP of .45 caliber or more.
These laws are intended to allow you to humanely take down big game, killing the animal quickly and as painless as possible.
While this is the only regulation on the state level, in Boise, the most populous city in the state, airguns are effectively treated as firearms within city limits. Under the same code that prohibits firing a firearm in city limits, you are not allowed to discharge an airgun except at a range, or you face a misdemeanor charge.
Moscow, Idaho gives airguns the same treatment, even stating explicitly that BB guns are counted as weapons for the purposes of this code.
So you can reasonably see where this is going. Generally, within city limits, it will be considered not cool to shoot an airgun of any type (including BB guns), but totally fine to do so outside of city limits.
I selected California for this list because I knew that California is widely known for its more strict gun laws. As an example of what you might expect regarding airguns while living in California or a state with a similar outlook on guns, here are some of the laws that I was able to find dealing with airguns, courtesy of Giffords Law Center.
- It is illegal for a minor to be sold a BB gun
- Giving a BB gun to a minor without their parents’ consent is illegal
- Bringing your BB gun or pellet gun to school is illegal
- Brandishing a BB gun that looks like a normal firearm is illegal
You get the idea. I also found that it is illegal to hunt big game with airguns in California, though it is okay to take small game with airguns in California.
My source for this next part is a few years old, but the website was being maintained, so I really only had access to this document.
The city of Los Angeles will not allow you to have a BB gun that is not brightly colored orange or green as the predominant color, and you cannot display it publicly unless it is in one of several specific circumstances.
The small town of Gustine, California will not allow a minor to have an airgun on their person unless they have written consent on them at all times from their parent or guardian, accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, or are traveling to or from a legal shooting or hunting activity.
I’m sure that not all places in California will treat you harshly if you have a BB gun in your possession, but there are a few examples of what you can expect while living in California.
The only state regulation in place in Georgia regarding airguns will not allow you to have or bring your airgun to any park, historical site, or recreational area without written permission from a governmental authority unless you have it safely unloaded and tucked away so that you can’t quickly get to it.
In the city of Atlanta, population about 500,000, you cannot fire your airgun in city limits, and you cannot bring your airgun to a public assembly. Other than that, though, there doesn’t seem to be much regulation regarding air guns in Atlanta, Georgia.
In Stockbridge, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta, it is illegal to discharge your airgun unless a few rules are met. You can get a pest control license to shoot pest animals on your property, or a permit to hunt turkey in the city limits.
Airgun hunting is also permitted in Georgia, allowing you to use an airgun of at least .30 caliber in primitive weapons and firearms seasons, and for turkey in their seasons.
Finding Out What Laws Apply in Your Area
That was a lot of information, but I hope that it was helpful to allow you to see what kinds of things that you can expect in your area in the States. I was not going to be able to go through all fifty united states with a fine tooth comb, but I think I can help you find out how to look at your corner of the world with that comb.
For information regarding how states treat airguns, I went to this website, which I linked before as well. Giffords Law Center keeps careful tabs on laws pertaining to guns of all types, so I found their page about powderless and toy guns to be useful in my quest.
It would seem that because their primary concern is to prevent gun violence, they do not have information regarding state hunting rules, which can change from year to year. To find that information, I would search the state I was looking at and their hunting rules.
This would usually pull up a .pdf file containing the rules I needed to know, which is very often full of legal jargon and stuff, and you could use a ctrl+f search to find information about airguns and if they are allowed for certain species.
Or you can go the easy way and use this very useful tool put together by Pyramyd Air, a large online retailer of airguns. It is a map of the fifty states. Click the state you want to know about and it will pull up information regarding what species you can hunt with an airgun.
You can also call your local fish and game office for information regarding hunting with an airgun.
As far as what resources you can use to find out what your city will and will not allow inside city limits is harder to figure out online. There are resources that put together a list of city ordinances, you might be able to find a digital city code of law that will have a rule or law about airguns, but if for whatever reason you can’t find that, call your local governmental center.
If they cannot find the answer for you, then I guess just play around until an officer arrests you or something.
You should take care to abide by all of the laws you need to. Failure to comply will result in penalties that may become very severe, like getting a misdemeanor on your record for shooting a BB gun in Boise city limits.
What Kinds of Trouble Could I Expect From Misusing a BB or Pellet Gun?
Well, you know what to expect in Boise. In other places as well, though, you are likely to be charged with a misdemeanor. In Idaho, a misdemeanor is punishable by a fine of up to $1000, a jail sentence of up to 6 months, or both. Neither of those appeal to me at all.
I don’t doubt though that you could be charged with a felony in some locales, and if you hurt someone with a BB or pellet gun, there come a whole slew of new problems should someone decide to charge you.
So be careful. The other day, I went to register my car, and I had about a half dozen pellet and BB guns in my car because of work. I pulled up to city hall, went to get out of my car, and noticed that it it looked like I had powder-burning rifles sitting in my car in plain view in front of city hall.
I thought that it was unlikely that I would get in trouble with the place that I live in, but I did not want to risk anyone over reacting, so I drove home, unloaded my car, and then drove back to city hall.
You should remember that officers are human, and if they see a BB gun that looks very much like a firearm, they might very well react as if it were a firearm, and no one wants to be in that situation.
Are There Specific Laws for Higher Powered Pellet Guns?
In some locations there are a specific set of rules reserved for higher powered airguns. Generally, where airguns are a much less powerful alternative to firearms, they are regulated less than firearms are. When they get too powerful though, the lines begin to blur.
In places like the United Kingdom, any air rifle over 12 foot pounds of energy is effectively considered a firearm, and requires a special permit to own and use.
Precharged pneumatics are the most likely to encounter any special rules, as they generally sit on top of the airgun food chain– sometimes spitting out 400 or more foot pounds of energy.
Your springer might have some trouble too, though, so it would definitely be worth keeping your eyes peeled for any special rules about higher powered airguns that could cause you to some grief.