Are BB Guns Safe?
BB guns are airsoft guns (or pellet guns) designed to shoot projectiles. These non-powder guns can become dangerous weapons if misused. The name "BB" refers to the ball bearing or "bullet ball." A bullet ball is a round pellet roughly the size of a single lead shot in a shotgun shell. The gun shoots these pellets at a high muzzle velocity.
Even though some may consider BB guns as toy guns, they can be very dangerous. They can cause serious injuries or even death. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a safety alert on BB guns, warning consumers that BB guns can kill because of their high muzzle velocity. According to the CPSC, BB guns cause about four deaths per year. Still, there are much fewer restrictions on BB guns than on real firearms.
When debating the need for BB gun laws, BB gun owners cite the Second Amendment, which states that "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
This article discusses federal and state BB gun laws. It also explains why BB guns are so dangerous. Finally, we'll describe what to do if someone injures you with a BB gun.
Are BB Guns Legally Toys or Guns?
There has been a lot of debate over whether people should treat BB guns like toys or actual weapons. One of the reasons the distinction is important is that BB guns often resemble real guns. Criminals sometimes use imitation firearms while robbing banks and individuals. They assume they can't get in as much trouble if the cops don't find a real gun on them.
Over the years, law enforcement officers have shot hundreds of teenagers and tweens because their BB guns and air pistols looked like real firearms. So, Congress enacted a federal law in 1989 requiring all toy guns to have an orange tip. These orange tips help distinguish them from real firearms. The rationale for this is that police officers don't want to mistake toy guns for actual weapons.
There are also state laws and local ordinances that regulate the sale and use of BB guns in public places. These laws, along with federal BB gun laws, will be discussed in more detail below.
Federal BB Gun Laws
Federal law restricts who can own, possess, or sell guns and other firearms. Some of these laws extend to BB guns. For example, if you've been convicted of certain crimes or fall under any categories listed below, you face potential criminal penalties under the Brady Act.
The Brady Act prohibits personal and business ownership, use, and possession of a BB gun under certain circumstances. These situations include when:
- The courts convict you of a crime punishable by at least one year in prison
- You're a fugitive from justice
- You illegally use a controlled substance
- The court has deemed you mentally defective or you spent time in a mental institution
- You're an illegal alien living in the United States unlawfully
- The military issued your dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Armed Forces
- You've renounced your U.S. citizenship
- There is a restraining order against you
- The judge convicts you of misdemeanor domestic violence in any jurisdiction
If you fall into any of the above situations or categories, check with a local attorney about whether you can own, buy, or use a BB gun.
The CPSC cannot create enforceable laws. But they do recommend that no one under the age of 16 years of age may buy or use a BB gun. The American Pediatric Surgical Association also recommends parents supervise their kids while playing with BB guns. The APSA also suggests that people wear eye protection while using BB guns, pellet guns, and other imitation firearms.
Can Kids and Teens Use BB Guns?
There is no federal law prohibiting children or teenagers from using BB guns. But various state laws restrict the sale, possession, and use of these toys by kids under the age of 18.
For example, under Massachusetts law, it's illegal for children under eighteen to have a BB gun or air rifle in any public place unless they meet the following conditions:
- An adult is with them
- They have a sporting or hunting license
- They have a permit from the police chief in the town where they live
If a person violates Massachusetts BB gun law, the police will charge them with a misdemeanor. This offense carries a fine of up to $100, confiscation of the BB gun or air rifle, and possible destruction of the firearm by the Massachusetts State Police.
State BB Gun Laws
While there are very few federal regulations on BB guns, there are state laws controlling their ownership, registration, licensure, and use. BB gun laws vary considerably from state to state. Some states restrict BB guns, while others have few or no restrictions. With state laws, there are penalties for violating state and local BB gun laws.
California law defines a "BB device" as "any instrument that expels a projectile, such as a BB or a pellet, through the force of air pressure, gas pressure, or spring action." It is a misdemeanor in California to sell, loan, or transfer a BB gun or BB device to a minor.
In Michigan, BB guns are subject to the exact firearm license requirements, safety inspection certificate, and concealed pistol license requirements as other firearms. You cannot buy a pellet air gun in Michigan without a permit.
Many states do not have "right to carry" laws for BB guns. BB gun owners traveling out-of-state with their airsoft guns may not receive reciprocity. Other states don't have to honor the BB gun laws in your home state.
In criminal cases, many state courts require juries to determine whether they treat a BB gun like a deadly weapon. In many cases, the perpetrator pretended the BB gun was real. For example, if a defendant robbed someone at gunpoint with a BB gun, they wanted their victim to assume the gun was real.
BB Gun Safety Tips
If you use a BB gun, you must follow BB gun safety tips. This is the best way to avoid injuring (or killing) another person. Here are some safety tips to follow for BB gun safety:
- Always wear protective gear, primarily eye protection, since eye injuries are common with BB guns.
- Follow federal, state, and local BB gun laws and firearms laws.
- Pay attention to manufacturer warnings and safety tips when handling a BB gun.
- If you own or sell BB guns, use extreme care when handling them. BB guns are not toy guns, and they can seriously injure or kill.
- Use proper firearm safety techniques to minimize harm.
- If you want to use a BB gun outside your home state, check applicable local and state BB gun laws for that state.
- Get safety training and practical experience using a BB gun.
- Never let children use BB guns, especially if it's against the law in your state. Even if adolescents can legally use BB guns in your state or town, they must train to use them safely and under adult supervision.
- Never use a BB gun if you have been drinking alcohol or are under the influence of drugs.
If you injure someone with your BB gun, you may face both criminal and civil liability. Furthermore, if someone hurts you with their BB gun or other imitation gun, you may have a claim for damages. Contact a local personal injury attorney to see if you have a valid case.
Injuries Commonly Caused by BB Guns
Thankfully, most BB gun accidents don't cause severe injuries. But that doesn't mean they aren't dangerous. Sometimes, the victim suffers severe or life-threatening injuries. It depends on how close the shooter is at the time of the event. It also depends on the location of your injury. Someone shot in the eye with a BB is going to suffer worse injuries than someone hit in the finger.
According to the CDC, some of the more common injuries caused by BB guns and other imitation firearms include:
- Eye injuries
- Perforation of the stomach
- Damage to the pancreas
- Liver damage
These injuries often require surgery, and victims face a long road to recovery. As long as you can prove the person with the BB gun is responsible for your injuries, you should have no problem recovering damages.
How BB Gun Liability Claims Work
If someone hits you with a BB gun, you could end up with serious injuries. If this happens, the responsible party should have to pay. The courts need to hold the person who shot you civilly liable. The only way to do this is to sue them in civil court.
When your personal injury lawyer files your complaint with the court, they will also serve a copy of the complaint on the person who shot you. They will have 30 days to file a response (called an "answer"). This is usually the point at which your attorney will try to negotiate a settlement.
If this isn't possible, the two sides will exchange discovery. Discovery is a fancy word for the process whereby the plaintiff and defendant share their evidence with the other party. Again, your lawyer will continue to try to settle your claim during this process.
Worst case, if you can't settle your case, it will go to trial. A judge (or jury) will hear your case and decide if you deserve compensation. If they decide in your favor, the judge will issue a judgment for the amount agreed upon by the jury (or judge).
If you are like most plaintiffs, the next logical question is—how much will I receive in my BB gun injury claim?
What Damages Can You Recover in Your BB Gun Lawsuit?
The whole point of filing your lawsuit is to recover damages for your injuries. The amount and types of damages you'll receive depend on the facts of your case. It also depends on the strength of your evidence.
In most personal injury cases, plaintiffs demand the following types of damages:
- Medical bills
- Future medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Lost future income
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Punitive damages
Note that it's rare for the judge to award punitive damages in these cases. You have to demonstrate that the defendant acted intentionally or recklessly. Your attorney will do their best to get you as much money as possible. However, they can only help you recover damages for injuries and losses you suffered.
BB Guns: Getting Legal Help
If you are facing BB gun-related criminal charges, you should speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area. A criminal defense attorney will help review your state's laws and determine the best course of action for your defense.
If, on the other hand, you got hurt when someone shot you with a BB gun, you may have a civil claim for damages. Contact a local personal injury attorney to discuss your case.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.