BB gun control: In New Jersey, kids’ rite of passage could mean felony

Not only could you "shoot your eye out, kid," you might also go to jail for owning that BB gun in certain states.

New Jersey and other jurisdictions make little or no distinction between Daisy's classic Red Ryder BB gun immortalized in the film "A Christmas Story," and real guns. They must be registered and are subject to the same laws as any firearms.

“In all honesty, kids who are charged are looking at mandatory jail time,” said New Jersey attorney William Proetta, adding that under the state’s Graves Act, a conviction could lead to prison time. “The only defense is to request a waiver but if that’s not granted, young kids can get a felony charge and their lives are basically over.”


Virginia, which treats the rite-of-passage toys as firearms if they are used during criminal conduct, and other municipalities also heavily regulate BB guns. But New Jersey goes the farthest, according to Proetta.

New Jersey's strict Graves Act gun law covers possession of a BB gun right alongside serious gun control measures outlawing sawed-off shotguns, filing serial numbers off of guns or using firearms to commit crimes. Violating the act can bring a minimum three-year prison term and steep fines.

And the law is enforced. As recently as October, a man was arrested in New Jersey for shooting an airsoft gun at a rubber duck for target practice, in his own yard. Idyriss Thomas, 22, was arrested in Glassboro, N.J., after police responded to multiple 911 calls from neighbors who reported seeing a man with a gun. Once police determined the gun was unlicensed, Thomas was taken to jail and charged with unlawful possession of a weapon. His family posted a $2,500 bond.

"I didn't realize that what I had in my hand would cause the events that happened today,” Thomas told Philadelphia's WPVI. “I had the airsoft gun in my hand, playing with it, taking shots at a rubber ducky - not harming anybody."

Proetta said that depending which county in New Jersey a hearing is held in, a judge will issue a waiver on the Graves Act, or allow charges to be downgraded. But they don't have to.

“Courts will work closely on each case,” Proetta said. “But in a few counties like you could face some serious charges.”

A spokesperson for Rogers, Ark.,-based Daisy, told that while the company disagrees with BB gun regulations like that seen in New Jersey, the company makes every effort to uphold the law.

"In our opinion and the federal government's, our products are not firearms as there is no combustion in the chamber," Daisy spokesman Joe Murfin said. "While we disagree, we respect a state's law for whatever reason they may have one."