Save Airsoft! no to CBP and DOC Targeting Airsoft Importers!

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Many of us are proud citizens of our country because we are fortunate enough to be living the American Dream. In the words of James Truslow Adams in 1931, living the American Dream implies that "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement." While we are certainly in better living situations than most of the world, this isn't to say that we don't have our share of troubles. Many Americans are becoming more concerned with the insensitive approach that the government has been taking while trying to serve and protect our country. The general public is frustrated that they have not been reaping the outcome of all the efforts the government claims they have done for us. Negative opinions towards the government have been gaining more momentum in recent years. We are starting to witness larger amounts of individuals collaborating together to voice their opinions on behalf of countless others who are not satisfied with their second-rate standard of living.

Occupy Wall Street is a current event that proves just that. On November 17, 2011, more than 30,000 individuals, from students to ordinary members of the workforce, took to the streets of New York City to rally for a revolution. Using the slogan "We Are The 99%," they all came together to express their resistance to the greed and corruption of the top 1% of our economical population. Ralliers could no longer tolerate the inequality that exists between different social and economical tiers. While the bottom 99% is suffering from financial instability and high unemployment rates, the top 1% is rising in wealth and power, manipulating the government with their viewpoints. In addition to rallies, American citizens have also been expressing an apathetic view towards representatives in office rising in power. They believe the government has been abusing their power and operating in favor of themselves over the general public. Finger pointing among the administration shows no one owning up to our nation's troubles, causing aggravation among American citizens. Dissatisfaction of our administration has dropped congress' approval ratings to a record low of only 9%.
A business industry that has been affected by the jurisdiction of the government is the market of airsoft sporting goods. Airsoft is a sport in which players collect and shoot small plastic pellets, known as airsoft BBs, using realistic, non-lethal shooting replicas of actual firearms. The sport came about in Japan during the early 1980s. During that time, It was illegal to own firearms in Japan, but there was a significant interest in the public for them. A company started producing spring-powered replicas of firearms that fired 6mm, plastic BBs instead of bullets to fill the demand from the Japanese population. During the latter part of the 1980s,  the airsoft sport migrated to neighboring countries in Asia such as Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Airsoft started appearing in North America and Europe during the middle of the 1990's.
Airsoft is very similar to paintball. While airsoft is a sport where players shoot plastic airsoft BB pellets to hit their targets, paintball is a sport in which players use paintball guns (also known as a paintball markers) to shoot gelatin shells filled with water soluble dye to hit their targets. The similarities between the two sports rest in the fact that non-lethal replicas of firearms are used to simulate the shooting of a gun. The difference lies in the styles of the gun and the ammunition.
Airsoft suppliers have a long history of supplying airsoft equipment to government agencies. Whether it be through direct sales or the US General Services Administration (GSA), airsoft guns are utilized by the government for training implementations and exercises. Airsoft guns have been used for training purposes for all levels of government -- ranging from local municipal levels such as local police departments and law enforcement officers, to state and federal levels such as the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, National Guard, US Probations Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Currently, a predicament has been striking the airsoft sporting goods industry. The department of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been seizing countless shipments of airsoft guns and equipment at the border. When we conducted an interview with AirSplat and a few other various airsoft companies and retailers  (The Wuster, Prima, Tac City, Team SD, Dong Ying, and Spartan Imports), we came upon some startling information about the seizures. These companies have a respectable standing of being established businesses in the airsoft sporting goods market. They have a history of importing their airsoft guns and equipment from overseas for many years without much trouble. Airsplat has been importing their shipments for 10 years, Prima for 15 years, Tac City for 7 years, Team SD for 15 years, Dong Ying for 5 years, and Spartan Imports for 8 years. However, shipment seizures from the CBP has been occurring more frequently in the past few years due to the ambiguous policies placed towards regulating the importation of airsoft guns into the country..
One policy that the CBP regulates is that all airsoft guns imported into the country must have permanent, blaze orange tips (marking) attached to the front barrel of the gun to clarify that it is not a real firearm (15 CFR 1150). With this stated, all the airsoft companies have been compliant with the policy and have been strictly importing airsoft guns with these permanent, blaze orange tips. However, the CBP has still been adamant on seizing shipments of airsoft guns on the account that the items were incompliant with their policy, stating that the blaze orange tips were not permanently affixed to the gun. Upon further inspection by the owners and members of the CBP (including superiors), shipments have been verified to be compliant with the policy.
If it ended there, then no harm for the worse, but more astonishing information was uncovered. Turns out, the CBP would then fall back on their original declaration, stating that the shipment has another defect that is not compliant with their policies. For example, the CBP has seized shipments of airsoft guns on the account that the blaze, orange tips were not permanent and was painted on. Blaze orange tips of airsoft guns are made with solid pieces of orange plastic that is attached to the gun, therefore their accusations in this case are false. Also, the CBP has seized shipments of airsoft guns on the basis that the blaze orange tips were not permanently affixed to the guns. When buyers went in to inspect their shipment, they came to realize that many of their airsoft guns were blatantly distressed and damaged. Traces of damage left by utensils were clearly distinguished. The blaze orange tips of the airsoft guns were being examined for permanence by the CBP with utensils other than a firm grip of a hand. Some blaze orange tips were even completely broken off the gun due to excessive force.
Though the law (15 CFR 1150) clearly states the policies for all necessary markings needed for toy, look-alike, and imitation firearms, they have not mandated a standard of testing for their policies. There is no law stating how the blaze orange tips should be examined for permanence, thus resulting in the CBP exerting force onto the airsoft guns with utensils during examinations. With the help of the Freedom of Information Act(FOIA), a request was then filed both to the CBP and the Department of Commerce (DOC) to devise a clear methodology of examination for the blaze orange tips on the airsoft guns. However, the CBP's response to the request was that it was up to the DOC to come up with proper regulations. The DOC's response was that all inspections were up to CBP's interpretation. With both parties equally deferring responsibility upon the other, no resolution was ever reached.
An estimated $250 million dollars in pending shipment seizures have been pilfered from small businesses this year alone. Many of these shipments were paid for in full by small businesses who were banking on their shipment to assist them out of any present financial pitfalls. Not only are they not allowed to retrieve their shipments, they are also dropping countless dollars for storage fees of these shipments for the years it can take it sort out the issue.
According to the companies interviewed, seized shipments can take an average of 18 to 36 months to sort out. We learned that this startling period of delay stems from the lack of timely responses from the CBP, taking anywhere up to 90 days to surface with a deliberation that is oftentimes unaccommodating to the small businesses. While the CBP dawdles on a respond, small businesses are losing out on critical profits, seasonal revenue during large consumer driven holidays such as Christmas, lost wages, and, most importantly, customers. In addition, it also costs an average of $50,000 in storage fees, $15,000 in penalties, and $70,000 in lawyer fees. Small businesses do not have the flexibility of large corporations to expend all their time and money into resolving these situations. Though small companies can and have sued (and won their case), at the end of the day, who is really at an advantage? No individual working at the CBP or DOC is held accountable for the losses nor any repercussions have been established. Around $150,000 is spent by these small businesses on a lawsuit only to gain back $100,000 of merchandise.
We received updated reports in late November of 2011 from custom brokers who represent these small businesses. Custom brokers work directly with the CBP and act as the middle man to facilitate communication and help businesses retrieve shipments from the border. From their reports, we discovered that the CBP is ramping up to prepare for more airsoft shipment seizures in the near future. Their unrelenting nature is going to put an even larger setback upon the airsoft sporting goods industry than it already has.
This is a faultless example of our government playing the big brother role and oppressing specific small businesses, hoping no one has the recourse and capital to fight back. The US Customs hides behind the guise and facade of protecting the country, while essentially overstepping boundaries beyond reason, and targeting small businesses in the airsoft sporting goods industry simply because they are seemingly easy targets. In the times and spirit of the Occupy Wall-street movement, people cant forget that not all businesses are evil. Many small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and their rights and privelages should be fought for as well. The Airsoft Industry and players are not taking this sitting down, they are fighting back, you can see their Facebook movement here: