Op-Ed Articles

Toy Gun Control

Toy Guns Seized by Government Agents

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), apparently unable to distinguish between real guns and replicas, seized a shipment of 30 toy guns in a February bust at the Port of Tacoma in Washington.

Airsoft guns, which fire little plastic balls, are used by a growing number of loyal enthusiasts (think paintball, only not as messy).  In addition, thanks to their realistic look, weight, and feel, these guns are often used for training purposes by National Guard units and law enforcement. 

It was this realism that led CBP agents to seize the shipment—which was destined for Airsoft Outlet Northwest in Cornelius, Oregon—and to call in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) for a closer look.

The BATFE was at least knowledgeable enough to discern that the guns in question were, in fact, not real guns.  The case should have ended right then and there.  After all, the agency has authority only with respect to the importation of real guns.  Toy guns fall no more under BATFE jurisdiction than teddy bears.

However, a little technicality like lack of jurisdiction was not enough to keep BATFE off the case.

“In its present state, our firearms technology branch classified this as a machine gun,” said BATFE special agent Kelvin Crenshaw.

But wait a minute.  Didn’t the BATFE previously admit that these are not real guns? 

Yes, but “With minimal work it could be converted to a machine gun,” Crenshaw said.

Astonished, the owners of the store, Brad Martin and his son, Ben, inquired with the agents as to exactly how “minimal” the work would be to “convert” these toys into real machine guns. 

The Martins were given the government version of “talk to the hand.”  File a Freedom of Information Act request, they were told.

The Martins have done just that, as has Gun Owners of America.  There must be accountability with this agency because if the Bureau can unilaterally decide to get into the business of regulating toys, its mission has grown dramatically without any congressional input or oversight. 

Of course, that would not come as a big surprise to many gun dealers who interact with the BATFE on a regular basis.  The agency has become an arrogant and out-of-control bureaucracy with a history of trampling on people’s gun rights.

Even more troubling is that this agency’s mission—at least as it relates to firearms—falls completely outside the framework of constitutional authority given to the federal government. 

As the Supreme Court reaffirmed in the 2008 Heller decision, Americans have an individual right to keep and bear arms.  But if firearms transactions have to be approved by the Washington bureaucrats, what was once a “right” has morphed into a “privilege.” 

And now they are opening the door to regulating toy guns, even though it would be extremely risky, expensive and, well, dumb, to attempt to convert an Airsoft into an actual machinegun.

In fact, GOA and the Martins separately consulted with several gunsmiths who debunked the notion that the seized Airsoft guns could be converted with “minimal work.” 

To make the transformation, the entirety of the upper receiver would have to be replaced, but the lower receiver would still be unable to endure the intense force of live ammunition because it is made of pot metal (inexpensive alloys) instead of hard steel.  And all of this work would actually cost more than buying a real—and stable—AR-15 rifle.

BATFE also tried to justify the seizure because the toys lacked the blaze orange tips now required on all imported toy guns. This again raises the question of jurisdiction and the BATFE regulating toy guns. 

The Martins noted that previous shipments from Taiwan lacked the orange paint, but that they were allowed to simply go to Tacoma and paint the ends of the barrels themselves. 

Not this time, though.  The toy guns, valued at over $10,000, remain in the hands of the BATFE and are slated to be destroyed.

Brad and Ben Martin were robbed just as surely as if they had been mugged walking down the street.  Only in this instance, the thugs operated under the color of law by an agency whose very existence is questionable. 

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John Velleco is the Director of Federal Affairs for Gun Owners of America, a grass-roots lobbying organization with over 300,000 members nationwide.