Ottawa’s proposed gun law could extend to airsoft guns

The Calgary-based 007 Airsoft owner says he's been waiting for clarity on what Bill C-21 means for his business.  (Colin Hall/CBC - photo credit)

The Calgary-based 007 Airsoft owner says he’s been waiting for clarity on what Bill C-21 means for his business. (Colin Hall/CBC – photo credit)

Airsoft guns — air-powered replicas that shoot plastic pellets — are a hobby for some and a business for others, but Canada’s proposed gun law could put an end to both.

Bill C-21 as originally drafted was designed to ban handguns. Now Ottawa says the ban could apply to the import, export and sale of unregulated replicas that look like modern firearms.

Ken Cheung, owner of 007 Airsoft in Calgary, said many of the products in his business, which he has run for 25 years, would be considered too realistic under the law if the law were passed. Cheung’s business also supplies prop guns for the film industry, most recently the one shot in Alberta The last of us.

“If the law is passed as it is, it would mean the end of airsoft,” he said.

“When my business ends, my livelihood ends too, because that’s what I’ve been doing for many, many years. This is how I feed my family. It’s a hard pill to swallow,” he said.

Cheung said it had been a nerve-racking wait for clarity on the situation – to find out what kind of airsoft guns, if any, would be exempt from the bill.

“For example, there are sci-fi guns from anime or manga or movies … those guns would theoretically be exempt,” he said.

“Nevertheless, they still look more or less like some kind of real firearm. So it’s really difficult to draw the line. They would have to give us really clear instructions on what is acceptable and what is not.”

Colin Hall/CBC

Colin Hall/CBC

Audrey Champoux, press secretary for Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, said in an email that Ottawa has been working to find a workable solution since the bill was introduced last spring.

“Bill C-21 is Canada’s most significant action against gun violence in a generation,” wrote Champoux.

“Since Bill C-21 is currently under review[ed] In committee, we hope that all parties agree that we need to fill the loophole in the Criminal Code regarding replica guns.”

Champoux added Ottawa wants to ensure the import, export and sale ban applies to all unregulated replicas that look like modern firearms.

Cheung said airsoft’s popularity has increased in Canada — and some airsoft players fear the federal gun ban could spell the end of their hobby.

“Gun control is a necessary thing, but you have to control it somehow when it gets too much,” said Calgary-based airsoft enthusiast Connor Parnham. “Something like that shoots harmless plastic BBs. These things don’t weigh more than 0.20 grams, so if they hurt at all, they don’t hurt for long.”

Colin Hall/CBC

Colin Hall/CBC

Replica guns look real, police chief says

Regina Police Chief Evan Bray, co-chair of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police’s Special Committee on Firearms, said about 20 percent of violent firearm-related crimes in Canada are committed with replica firearms. Airsoft is part of this replica set.

He added that airsoft guns can be modified to work like real guns.

“You’re creating a threat, there’s no question about that,” he said.

He said the danger does not stem from the speed of the projectile being fired from the gun, but from how the guns can be portrayed as real.

Colin Hall/CBC

Colin Hall/CBC

“In short, this is the problem we see with any type of airsoft gun or weapon that looks so real that it’s impossible to tell them apart… and the consequences this is causing in our community.”

He added that when tested at police departments across the country, many officers struggle to tell the difference between an airsoft gun and a real gun without actually touching it.

“It’s in a controlled environment. Think about what it’s like in a house where that gun is being drawn or someone is presenting that gun as a real gun. These officers, often in a dimly lit room, make a quick split-second decision,” he said.

He said the Police Chiefs Association had lobbied the government to change the look of the replica guns so they could be distinguished from real guns, and also lobbied to include more powerful airsoft rifles as firearms.

“I think there are some things that we’ve championed that would still allow people to participate in sport but could eliminate this immediate threat that’s happening in our communities.”


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