Rep. Engel: ATF Needs to Regulate Phone Cases Shaped Like Handguns

Rep. Engel: ATF Needs to Regulate Phone Cases Shaped Like Handguns

Will introduce additional legislation to address the issue


Washington, D.C. – Congressman Eliot Engel, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called on retailers to stop selling gun replica phone cases, and announced plans for legislative and regulatory solutions to the threat these products pose.

“Like many of my colleagues, I was deeply disturbed by reports of realistic gun replicas being used as cell phone cases,” Engel said. “It would be nearly impossible for a cop on the street to tell the difference between these cases and actual firearms. It’s only a matter of time until a police officer runs into an individual holding one of these cases in a dangerous situation, and the results could be tragic.”

“To sell these products to children – or to anybody – is reckless, and we should not hesitate to protect consumers and police from dangerous products like these whenever we can. I am drafting legislation to address this issue, and I have already reached out to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to see if we can tightly regulate these realistic gun replica cases through laws already on the books.”

The New York Police Department and several other law enforcement groups have warned the public about the dangers of carrying cases like these. ATF and the U.S. Department of Commerce are responsible for regulation and oversight of realistic gun replicas, which are already subject to strict federal laws and regulations.

Text of Congressman Engel’s letter to ATF Acting Director Thomas Brandon can be found below:


July 7, 2015

Mr. Thomas E. Brandon
Acting Director
U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
99 New York Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002

Dear Acting Director Brandon:

I am writing regarding recent reports of the increasing prevalence of cellular phone cases, that mimic the appearance of handguns. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) and other law enforcement activists and advocacy groups have highlighted these products as particularly dangerous, in large part because it is functionally impossible for an officer in the field to distinguish these replica cases from actual firearms.

Several of my colleagues and I were surprised last week when reports surfaced showing just how realistic these replica cases appear. When attached to a black phone, or when partially obscured by a pocket or the body, these replica cases are frighteningly similar in appearance to actual weapons. For an officer on patrol, or responding to a call, these replica cases would likely be viewed as a threat. It is only a matter of time until one of these replica cases surfaced in the middle of a police response, and the result of that interaction could be tragic.

I understand that, under the current law, the federal government has the authority to regulate “any toy, look-alike, or imitation firearm,” which the statute further defines as “any imitation of any original firearm … including … replica nonguns.” Current administrative rules have elaborated on this definition, noting that the prohibition “applies to toy, look-alike, and imitation firearms having the appearance, shape, and/or configuration of a firearm,” while excluding antiques, pellet guns and similar devices, and very small objects.

I urge your agency to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Commerce on administrative guidance that would clarify that these replica cases fall under existing laws and regulations barring the sale of firearm look-alikes. Failing guidance, I would urge your agencies to issue new rules clarifying the enforcement of existing law and making clear to manufacturers that these replica cases are dangerous and unacceptable.

I am drafting legislation along similar lines, which I will introduce in the House of Representatives in the coming days. If you have any questions, please contact my office. I look forward to your prompt reply.


Eliot L. Engel