A gun-rights organization has launched a Freedom of Information request following a decision by federal Customs and Border Protection agents to seize a shipment of toy pellet guns and a determination by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that they could be converted into machine guns so they must be destroyed.
Government agencies have explained that the Airsoft toys, made of a soft pot metal and lacking a firing mechanism, easily could be converted into a true weapon capable of automatic fire.
"Our firearms technology branch classified this as a machine gun," BATFE Special Agent Kelvin Crenshaw said in a report assembled by Gun Owners of America. "With minimal work it could be converted to a machine gun."
Gun Owners spokesman Erich Pratt told WND today his organization has launched a Freedom of Information demand to find out on what basis the government reached that conclusion.
The case stems from the confiscation just weeks ago of the shipment of several dozen of the plastic pellet-firing Airsoft toys from Brad Martin and his son, Ben, in Cornelius, Ore.
An analysis by John Velleco, director of federal affairs for Gun Owners, noted that, "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," he said.
The toys also lacked the orange paint on the muzzle that some classes of toys are required to have, but the Martins confirmed that when that situation had arisen with previous shipments from their Taiwan supplier, they were allowed to paint the ends of the barrels.
A local television station, KOIN, interviewed a specialist in the Airsoft product at issue – which actually can be used by police agencies for training because it does resemble a real weapon although it shoots only small plastic pellets.
Jason Jonah of Andy and Dax Surplus said, "It looks like a gun, but the insides are completely different, the design is different, and the material it's made of is just not strong enough to fire real ammunition."
If somebody tried to fire real ammunition, he said, it mostly likely would blow up the toy.
"The gun would come apart and the pieces fly at you," he said. "If it weren't the ATF making these accusations, I'd laugh, but they must be taking it seriously. In all my years, I've never had anyone talk – even laughingly – about changing these into weapons," he said.
He said it would be about as easy to convert an Airsoft into a real weapon as transforming "your Cuisinart or any other electrical appliance into a real gun.
"It's made of the same plastic or low-quality aluminum as any other appliance. So maybe you turn it into a firearm, but it would be like transforming any other electrical appliance – hiding a gun inside an electrical appliance," he said.
He noted that in an Airsoft, the trigger doesn't activate a firing mechanism, it sends "an electrical signal to the battery, which sends more signal to the motor, which is spinning and sending out those pellets."
Velleco accused the federal government, through its gun regulatory agency, of becoming "an arrogant and out-of-control bureaucracy with a history of trampling on people's gun rights."
At the Everything Airsoft website, a commentary noted, "I would be first in line (behind a bulletproof screen) to witness the carnage that would ensue from somebody attempting to detonate a .223 round in the alloy upper receiver of an M4 GBB (Airsoft pellet gun), as unlikely as it would be with the absence of a firing pin and all the other essential parts of an AR-15 bolt to detonate a live round.
"The ludicrousness dissuades me from wanting to even touch on the other issues such as the barrel ... and the dimensions of the ... receiver being incompatible with real steel tooling," the commentary said.
WND has reported on the case against David Olofson, sentenced to 30 months in prison for "transferring" a machine gun, even though the weapon in question was described by weapons experts as a rifle that misfired.
The trial judge's decision was that the Wisconsin man sent to prison was guilty, no matter the reason that the semiautomatic rifle he loaned to a prospective buyer unleashed several bursts of multiple rounds and then jammed.
Olofson's defense team had explained the case was about nothing more than a malfunctioning gun. Constitutional lawyer Herb Titus, who argued at the appellate level on behalf of Olofson, said the government's case was simple: "Olofson's malfunctioning semiautomatic rifle functioned as a machine gun because it fired more than one shot at the single pull of a trigger."
He had argued under this government definition, regardless of the reason, a gun is a machine gun if more than one bullet is fired with a single pull of the trigger. That could apply to grandpa's double-barreled as well as the local police sidearm, if it malfunctions similarly, he said.
"A gun that malfunctions is not a machine gun," Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America said at the time. "What the [ATF] has done in the Olofson case has set a precedent that could make any of the millions of Americans that own semiautomatic firearms suddenly the owner [of] an unregistered machine gun at the moment the gun malfunctions."
ATF officials have declined to speak with WND on the record about the case.
"It didn't matter the rifle in question had not been intentionally modified for select fire, or that it did not have an M16 bolt carrier … that it did not show any signs of machining or drilling, or that that model had even been recalled a few years back," said a commentary in Guns Magazine on the case.
"It didn't matter the government had repeatedly failed to replicate automatic fire until they replaced the ammunition with a softer primer type. It didn't even matter that the prosecution admitted it was not important to prove the gun would do it again if the test were conducted today," the magazine said. "What mattered was the government's position that none of the above was relevant because '[T]here's no indication it makes any difference under the statute. If you pull the trigger once and it fires more than one round, no matter what the cause it's a machine gun.'
"No matter what the cause."