BB guns are air guns that are designed to shoot projectiles. The name "BB" refers to the ball bearing or "bullet ball" shot out by the gun, a round pellet roughly the size of a single lead shot contained in a shotgun shell.
The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says that "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." BB gun owners often cite the Second Amendment when arguing against state or local BB gun laws.
Federal BB Gun Laws
Federal law restricts who can own, possess, or sell a gun. Some of these federal laws extend to BB guns.
If you have been convicted of certain crimes, or fall under any of the special categories or situations listed below, you face potential criminal penalty under the Brady Act. This federal law bars personal and business ownership, use, and possession of a BB gun if you:
1. Were convicted of a crime punishable by being in prison for more than one year;
2. Are a fugitive from justice;
3. Are addicted to, or illegally use, any controlled substance;
4. Have been ruled mental defective by a court, or are committed to a mental institution;
5. Are an illegal alien living in the United States unlawfully;
6. Received a dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Armed Forces;
7. Renounced your U.S. citizenship, if you are a U.S. citizen;
8. Are subject to a court restraining order that involves your "intimate partner", your partner's child, or children; or
9. Were convicted of domestic violence in any court of a misdemeanor.
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.
State BB Gun Laws
BB gun laws vary considerably from state to state. Some states restrict BB guns, while others have few or no restrictions.
California and Massachusetts have extensive BB gun laws.
California defines a "BB device" as: "any instrument that expels a projectile, such as a BB or a pellet, not exceeding 6 mm caliber, through the force of air pressure, CO2 pressure, or spring action, or any spot marker gun."
It is a misdemeanor in California to sell, loan, or transfer a BB gun, or "BB device" to a minor.
Federal law requires imitation guns (including most BB guns) to have special colors or markings. These markings allow law enforcement officers to identify them as fake firearms, and can prevent the shooting a person armed with a fake gun that looks real.
In Massachusetts, it is illegal for children under eighteen to have a BB gun or air rifle in any public area, unless: (a) an adult is with them; (b) they have a sporting or hunting license with them; or (c) they have a permit from the police chief in the town where they live.
Violating Massachusetts' BB gun law is a misdemeanor offense punishable by 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.
Michigan law requires that BB guns are subject to the same firearm license requirements, safety inspection certificate, and concealed pistol license requirements as other firearms. You cannot buy a pellet air gun in Michigan unless you have a permit.
May states prohibit people from carrying BB guns openly in public, frequently called the "right to carry." BB gun owners who travel with their air guns to other states may not be granted reciprocity and recognition for any "right to carry" law that they might have enjoyed in their home state.
BB Guns and Your Legal Rights
If you operate a BB gun and someone is hurt, or property is damaged, you could face criminal charges and also be held liable in a civil lawsuit filed by people claiming that they were injured.
Similarly, if you are charged with the illegal use, sale, transfer, or loan of a BB gun, or have been accused of a using a BB gun in a crime, or are a victim of an injury involving a BB gun, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.
Some of the legal factors that an attorney can review with you include:
- What being charged with violating a state BB gun law or federal firearms law means, including elements of the crime, potential defenses, and the length of any possible criminal sentence.
- If you or your loved ones are victims of BB gun violence, whether you can recover damages from the assailants and their employers.
BB Guns: Getting Legal Help
- To find an experienced criminal defense attorney to defend any BB gun-related charges, use the "Find a Lawyer" tool on this page or click here.
BB Gun Safety Tips
- Follow state and local BB gun laws and federal firearms laws.
- If you own or sell BB guns, you must still use extreme care when handling them. BB guns are not toys, and they have the ability to seriously injure or kill.
- If you want to use a BB gun outside your home state, check applicable local and state BB gun laws for that state.
- Make sure that you get safety training and practical experience using a BB gun.
- Never let children use BB guns if it is against the law where you live. Even if children can use BB guns in your state or town, it is important that they be trained to use them safely and under adult supervision.
- Never use a BB gun if you have been drinking alcohol or under the influence of drugs.