Before we all start debating this issue again, let us start first by saying that many airsoft players in the United States are scratching their heads in wonder, but still with great relief that all is not lost. Thumpy and Tim are working hard to clarify this matter as things are getting a little bit confused.
According to the information we received from Thumpy and Tim, the Bureau of of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) sof the Department of Justice, issued a ruling that that air guns or airsoft guns whose receivers can be converted into a firearm are considered as firearms. There was one issued in May 2010, the aftermath of Airsoft Outlet Northwest's problems with their import of WE M4 Gas Blowback rifles being seized by the US Customs and the ATF. Then there was an update issued last 05 November but then was yanked from the World Wide. Tim of No Airsoft for Old Men was kind enough to give us a link to cached copy he found via Google, and indeed that M4 gas blowback rifles are considered firearms and here are the relevant parts:
"The first sample ATF examined was an air gun replica of an M-16 rifle that has the physical features of an M-16 firearm. It has all M-16 fire-control assembly pin holes formed or indexed for fire-control components (i.e., hammer, trigger, disconnector, selector lever, and machinegun sear). It utilizes fire-control components that differ only slightly in design from M-16 fire-control components. The receiver of this air gun is identical to an M-16 receiver, except for two features. The slot for the bolt-stop has been altered to make room for a proprietary bolt-stop by reducing the height of the wall separating the fire control cavity from the magazine well. Also, the ledge has been removed from the fire-control cavity upon which an M-16 machinegun sear would normally sit.
In conducting the evaluation of sample #1, the upper assembly was removed, the existing bolt-stop was removed to allow movement of the hammer, and an M-16 upper assembly was installed. A test fire was then performed with the original automatic fire sear, and the test demonstrated that the sample was capable of firing a conventional .223 caliber cartridge semi-automatically, expelling a projectile by the action of an explosive. The original automatic fire sear was then replaced with an M-16 machinegun sear. A second test firing was performed, and the test demonstrated that the sample was capable of firing semi-automatically, expelling a projectile by the action of an explosive. Sample #1 did not expel more than one projectile by a single function of the trigger and is not a machinegun as defined in 26 U.S.C. 5845(b).
The second sample ATF examined was an air gun replica of an M-16 rifle that has the physical features of an M-16 firearm. It has all M-16 fire-control assembly pin holes formed or indexed, and utilizes a proprietary drop-in fire-control mechanism that did not include an automatic-fire sear. The receiver of this air gun is identical to an M-16 receiver, except for two dimensions. The length between the takedown pins is approximately 1/8 longer than on an M-16 receiver, and the width of the fire-control cavity is approximately 0.31 greater than an M-16 receiver.
ATF conducted a test of this air gun. In conducting the evaluation of this sample, the upper assembly was removed, the proprietary drop-in fire-control mechanism was removed, the proprietary bolt-stop was removed, the indexed pin holes were drilled to allow installation of M-16 fire-control components, and an M-16 upper assembly was installed. A test fire was then performed, and the test demonstrated that the sample was capable of firing semi-automatically, expelling a projectile by the action of an explosive.
The Gun Control Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. 921(a)(3), and its implementing regulation, 27 CFR 478.11, define the term firearm, in part, as any weapon…including a starter gun…which will or is designed to or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of an explosive; (B) the frame or receiver of any such weapon… Under 27 CFR 478.11, the term firearm frame or receiver is defined as [t]hat part of a firearm which provides housing for the hammer, bolt or breechblock, and firing mechanism, and which is usually threaded at its forward portion to receive the barrel."
Since the document was pulled from the web, and federal agencies are mandated to put their official documents online for citizens to access, does this mean that the ATF are rescinding their ruling? We cannot say and Examiner.com, again courtesy of Tim, has also written questions about this ruling since their is such an official document and it is just not appearing on the web, then it may not necessarily mean that it is not in effect. This is to the consternation of those who intend to buy airsoft gas blowback M4 rifles or import them. Thumpy notes that there is a short supply of M4 gas blowback rifles in the US. However, there is importation of the WE M14 gas blowback rifles, but for the WE G39 (G36 replicas) rifles, there is none yet arriving in the US ever since they have been officially released.
Tim is trying to get for more information so please watch his blog to see updates from him. But the best thing right now is for the airsoft community in the US to have a single voice, or in cooperation with the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has more resources and political clout, to really get a final document from the ATF regarding this.
Should US airsoft players start destroying their M4 gas blowback rifles since these are "unregistered firearms"? We cannot say, but it is more of "watch and see" given that the bureaucracy has not been totally clear if they do really define such M4 gas blowback rifles as firearms, given the disappearing document online.
You can download the full screengrab of the ruling by clicking here just in case the google cache expires. Thanks to Tim and Thumpy for all the information we have provided here.