Often, you can lump fans of combat simulation into two groups: paintballers and those who prefer airsoft. For two pastimes that seem so similar, an Airsoft gun and a paintball gun are very different, even though both sports can be terrific fun to play.
And unlike paintball guns, airsoft guns get collected by people who have no intention of shooting the guns’ plastic pellet ammo at anyone. They just love airsoft guns. Why? Well, an airsoft gun looks very much like a real firearm, while a paintball gun can look like something you might have pulled off your dad’s garage workbench.
Many airsoft guns are designed to look, and function (cycling, operating, etc.), just like the actual firearm they’re modeled after. Many of them are quite literally imitation firearms that you can use to shoot or just to practice dry-fire drills.
The one thing that makes an airsoft gun instantly distinguishable from a firearm is the orange tip on the barrel of each one of them. No one would mistake that orange tip for a piece of equipment on an actual gun. But what if you removed that orange tip?
Here’s the quick, short answer.
It is illegal to remove the orange tip, paint it or cover it up in some states in the United States. The orange tip is designed to quickly show that the airsoft weapon is not a real weapon. Some ranges may also require a blaze orange tip while playing. Check the laws & rules in your area before modifying it.
Now let’s dig into this somewhat controversial topic.
Why Do They Have the Orange Tip?
Airsoft guns have the orange tip for the same reason you wear something bright orange when you’re traipsing through the woods on a deer hunt— safety. When you’re decked out in camouflage, without an obnoxious slash of orange on you, a fellow hunter might mistake you for live game and potentially kill you. It’s happened before, and it will inevitably happen again.
The orange tip on most airsoft rifles, airsoft pistols and other airsoft replica weapons is designed to help quickly distinguish a toy from a real, and dangerous weapon. This is useful for regular people as well as any law enforcement officer who may see you with the airsoft replica.
In 1992, after several accidents and incidents, the United States Department of Commerce came up with regulations regarding the manufacture and sales of toy and imitation guns. Since then, anything that looks like a real gun has to have some markings on it, making it easily identifiable as a toy or non-firing “weapon.”
This is supposed to apply to airsoft guns, pellet guns, BB guns, imitation guns, any replica firearm used for training or practice, and any alike gun whether it’s a toy or paperweight. But, there are many exceptions and exemptions to the rule so not all of these imitation weapons will have the orange tip.
Is it required to make them with an orange tip? Not specifically, but there does have to be some indication— an easily identifiable one— on the gun to make it easy to see that it’s not a real weapon.
You’d hate to have your airsoft in your hand and end up getting shot, wouldn’t you? The orange tip exists solely to try to prevent precisely that situation. It doesn’t help the gun shoot its pellets straighter, and it doesn’t make it lighter or easier to load. It just identifies what you’re holding as not a weapon.
Keep in mind that airsoft replica guns are created to look just like real weapons. You can even put a laser scope on yours for not a lot of money if you want. While you know it’s not real, the people around you may not.
Does the tip have to be Orange & Does the marking have to be the tip?
The first question I had when I read the laws surrounding marking mechanical spring action gun replicas with an orange tip was: “does it have to be orange?”
I mean orange is a bright color and it usually stands out from the rest of the gun, but can’t bright pink or bright purple be used too? There are some safety yellows that really stand out even better than orange.
Would any of those work better and can they?
Federal importation laws in the U.S. require that all airsoft guns be shipped with blaze orange tips to prevent them from being confused for actual firearms. Most Airsoft gun retailers have disclaimers stating that their Airsoft toys & replicas are sold with an orange tip and that it is illegal to remove the orange tip.
It seems to me that the only reason why we don’t use other colors is that they’re not as noticeable and they picked blaze orange as it has long been a sign of “safety or attention”. The rule reads that the barrel should have at least 6mm of a bright color that stands out from the predominant color of the rest of the weapon.
Most have used orange and so orange has been adopted as the rule in most areas.
What about the tip, does the bright color have to be on the tip?
According to the laws that I was able to find, the tip of the barrel is required. The reason for this is more logical than what color should be used.
If someone points an airsoft pellet gun at you then one of the only parts that is visible is the front of the gun or the tip of the barrel. So, logically, this is the best place to put a color that stands out and tells the “target” that it’s not real.
This one is more common sense to me.
Altering the Orange Tip – Can you paint over the orange tip of an airsoft gun?
The temptation to take off the orange tip is strong for studied gun enthusiasts with a passion for restoring the gun’s authenticity. Here is where things can get a bit murky. Can you remove it? Physically, yes, you can remove it. Can you paint over it to make the gun look more realistic? Again, sure. It is physically possible to do so.
Depending on where you live, it may be illegal to do either of those things, which we’ll discuss in a bit. However, performing modifications on a toy gun will increase the likelihood of a dangerous mistake being made, regardless of the criminal penalty for doing so.
Always remember that engaging in irresponsible gun safety practices can lead to lives being lost or threatened, and not just your own.
Why Would It Be a Bad Idea To Cover It Up or Remove It?
Here’s the answer to that in story form: in 2015 and 2016, police officers across the country shot and killed 86 people brandishing weapons that turned out to be either toys or replicas.
There aren’t a lot of facts at hand regarding how many of those users modified their guns to look less fake but consider the most realistic scenario. In any case, it’s unlikely for a police officer to look at an airsoft gun with a loud, vibrant orange tip on the barrel and reach for their holster.
Altering the orange tip on your airsoft means you are everything short of inviting someone—not just the cops, but anyone—to mistake it for an actual weapon. By most accounts, there are more guns in America than there are Americans in America, so it’s safest to assume anyone you encounter might have one.
In a country with over 400 million real guns and nearly as many people, waving around a replica that looks shockingly real without its safety markings is a recipe for disaster.
Laws Surrounding Airsoft
Other than the regulations for manufacturing listed above, no federal laws govern whether you can take the orange tip off your airsoft. So when we ask something like, “Can the legality vary by state?”, the answer is a resounding yes.
In California, for example (it’s always Cali isn’t it!?!), Penal Code 20150 is crystal clear: “Any person who changes, alters, removes, or obliterates any coloration or markings that are required by any applicable state or federal law or regulation…is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
This applies to pellet-firing air guns that have the orange tip as well as any alike firearms that are made with exterior surfaces (usually the tip) that are of an orange color brighter than the rest of the weapon.
That’s straightforward enough: remove the orange tip, and you’re breaking the law. That sounds like you could be in hot water if you modify the orange tip of your airsoft gun. But check the laws & rules of your state before you just trust some guy on the internet.
What’s more, some cities (Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York City, and others) have gone a step further and outlawed airsoft guns altogether. Similar bans exist in Australia, Malaysia, Korea, Thailand, Singapore and several countries across Asia.
Your airsoft gun does a lot for you. It allows you to engage in realistic gun battles with your friends in a more authentic (and usually less painful) way than paintball. Or maybe, if you’re a collector, you take pleasure in just owning and admiring the craft behind the weapon.
But with careless or reckless behavior, your airsoft gun can conceivably get you hurt or worse. The manufacturer put the orange tip of your airsoft gun not only because they had to do so by law. Gunmakers also recognize how unsafe it is to brandish a weapon in this condition.
Even in places where removing the orange tip isn’t expressly forbidden by law, it’s a bad idea to take it off. There is no logical argument for removing it since doing so threatens your safety and that of others.