The United States can be confusing when it comes to our laws, mostly because states can have drastically different laws from each other designed to reflect the nature and culture of the residents of that state. In cases like with the regulation of firearms and similar weapons, the states have the most power, so in order to discuss laws regarding air rifles, you have to talk in general terms. I highly encourage anyone looking into getting into air rifle shooting to start by researching the specific laws in your state before you start firing at targets or small animals.
State Laws vs. US Laws
The first thing to understand is that air rifles are not legally considered firearms by the US government. In order for something to be a firearm and under the purview of the ATF, it must expel a projectile by means of a combustive explosion or use the frame from something that does. In other words, if you take a regular firearm and alter it so that it fires with air instead, it still counts as a firearm legally, but air rifles that were made as air rifles do not.
The next general rule of thumb is that if you live in an urban area, you will likely be unable to use your air rifle except at ranges. Most municipalities restrict the use of weapons of various types within their borders to exclude target shooting, hunting, or randomly firing in the air. Some do not, but again it’s important to check your local laws before making any purchases or firing anything off.
Finally, if you plan on hunting with your air rifle, you’re going to need to learn the local laws and how they apply to you. Check to see if there are restrictions on what types of animals you’re allowed to shoot, where and when you’re allowed to shoot them, and how many you’re allowed to shoot.
In South Carolina, for example, it’s perfectly legal to shoot small animals that are within fifty yards of your home without restriction, but the laws change outside of that. In other states, certain animals can’t be hunted at all and you have to avoid them. As of this article, there are 23 states and the District of Columbia that regulate air guns to one extent or another, so be sure to see if your state is one of them.
You can have a lot of fun with an air rifle and even bring in some good game, but make sure that you’re doing it legally or you’ll quickly find yourself with a fine or worse and that just isn’t worth it.