Gun Trade Association chief tables House of Lords attack on airsofters

1 Sep 2016 – The Earl of Shrewsbury, president of the Gun Trade Association, has tabled a Parliamentary amendment which would delete the vital legal exemption that protects airsofters from firearms laws.

Lord Shrewsbury’s proposed amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill 2016 would delete the proposed exemption for airsofters from the Firearms Acts, meaning any automatic airsoft gun developing a muzzle energy greater than 1 joule would be treated in the same way as, say, a 20mm belt-fed anti-aircraft cannon.

Airsoft guns fire 6mm plastic BBs at low muzzle energies. They are used by airsofters to recreate military or law enforcement scenarios for fun, in the same way as paintball. While some shooters look down on airsofters as cranks or Walter Mitty types, ultimately they are harmless characters peacefully doing their own thing.

The amendment, which can be viewed on the Parliament website here (PDF), was tabled in late July. It should be read in conjunction with the full draft Bill as presented to the Lords, which is here (PDF). It deletes what should become section 57A of the Firearms Act 1968, which explicitly permits airsoft guns to have muzzle energies of up to 2.5 joules, or 1.3 joules for automatic airsoft guns without being subject to firearms laws.

These limits were set on the basis of the only controlled trials carried out into BB gun lethality, which were done by the police body formerly known as ACPO. The Policing and Crime Bill contains separate provisions which state that firearms laws will apply to all barrelled items developing a muzzle energy of greater than 1 joule, as no lower limit is currently defined by law.

Without the amendment, tens of thousands of airsofters will become criminals in possession of section 5 firearms. As every shooter knows, breaches of section 5 are almost all strict liability criminal offences which carry an automatic five year prison sentence.

UK Shooting News first spotted this perplexing development on the UK Airsoft Players Union website and has independently cross-referenced Lord Shrewsbury’s amendment to ensure it refers to the same thing as the airsofters say.

“This is a replication of the attack we faced earlier in the year from the Gun Control Network, working through Lynn Brown MP,” wrote the UKAPU’s Matt Furey-King. He later floated the idea of airsoft shops – many of which are members of the GTA – boycotting the association, though the impact of this is not immediately obvious.

There is nothing on the GTA website, or on the website of the UK Airsoft Retailers’ Association, regarding the amendment. From the very limited information available, it appears Lord Shrewsbury is acting without provocation.

The Gun Trade Association has been emailed to request a comment and UKSN will publish it if they respond.

UKSN comment

It is bad enough that the licensed firearms community spends most of its time attacking itself, but lashing out at others who got their act together to ensure the House of Commons protected them from the latest restrictions foisted on lawful shooters is utterly inexcusable behaviour. Lord Shrewsbury must withdraw his amendment and publicly explain himself.

That a former president of the BSSC, the umbrella group which monitors legislative and police developments on all our behalf, is actively trying to impose unnecessary restrictions on other people who use “guns”, however loosely described, will worry every firearm and shotgun certificate holder in the land. If he will turn on airsofters, who have already secured MPs’ consent for an exemption, who is to say what group of shooters he will lash out at next?

Note: an earlier version of this article stated Lord Shrewsbury is the president of the BSSC. This was based on his register of interests in Parliament. It appears that is out of date.

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16 thoughts on “Gun Trade Association chief tables House of Lords attack on airsofters

  1. WM

    After joining the wider shooting community in fighting the recent proposed changes to EU firearms law, The airsoft community is very much feeling stabbed in the back by this attack.

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  2. Mr.Smith

    Charles Henry John Benedict Crofton Chetwynd Chetwynd-Talbot
    That is the name of Earl of Shrewsbury, Conservative too, with friends like this we do not need an enemy.

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  3. Tim Wyborn

    This seems to be a blatant attempt to circumnavigate the provisions of the Violent Crime Reduction Act which in fact makes it more onerous and harder to Purchase a replica than it does an airgun and allow RFD’s to sell more replicas and claim they are indeed airguns. It will however backfire on the GTA as they have not canvassed their members to find out who sells what, they just hold bigoted and antiquated views.

    What Lord Shrewsbury doesn’t seem to realise is many of his members sell fully automatic airsoft guns, in either realistic or non realistic colours and pretty much every single one of them will become section firearms if the airsoft exemption is not in place. His members will be criminalised overnight, just the same as airsofters will. They won’t even be able to import replicas to downgrade them, as that would be importing section 5 firearms.

    Utter madness.

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  4. Dave Tomlinson

    When I was taught to shoot the first rule was “NEVER allow a weapon to point at a person”. That club’s second rule was to the effect that if you ever pointed a weapon at a person you would leave the club. I shoot about 5,000 rounds every year.

    I don’t think that anyone should “recreate military or law enforcement scenarios for fun”. There is no fun in those scenarios they are very serious and, mostly, sad events.

    The rules I was first given mean that I never have, nor ever will, take part in paintballing.

    I have only experienced airsoft in one club. Whilst I see that some people enjoy the activity, I wonder why they need to dress in camouflage clothing in a target range. Why do all the weapons seem to be replicas of assault weapons? The discipline, if you can call it that, seems to me to extend the view of television, films and video games that human targets can be fired at with impunity. I think that is not helpful to the image of target shooting sports. I would treat an airsoft shooter coming to shoot target rifle, even air rifle, as a beginner with potentially dangerous previous experience and would watch their behaviour very closely.

    I think your statement “automatic airsoft gun developing a muzzle energy greater than 1 joule would be treated in the same way as, say, a 20mm belt-fed anti-aircraft cannon” is pure hyperbolic nonsense. This kind of exaggeration does not help your case.

    Lord Shrewsbury presumably has reasons for his action. Did you ask him why? Are you sure you understand his intentions?

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    1. WM

      Dave Tomlinson: Many airsoft players are current or former FAC and SGC holders, as well as serving or ex-forces, police etc. and know very well the difference. If that’s difficult for you to understand, perhaps firearms are not something you should be handling.

      As for the “hyperbole”: It really isn’t. As far as the law is concerned, there are no half-measures when dealing with Section 5 firearms.

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      1. Dave Tomlinson

        WM: Tell me where I can buy ” a 20mm belt-fed anti-aircraft cannon.” and how I justify that being on my certificate? What would I use it for?

        Instead of being rude to me perhaps you can answer the 2 questions I asked – Why airsoft shooters need to dress in camouflage clothing in a target range? Why do all the weapons seem to be replicas of assault weapons?

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      2. John Smith

        I have held an SGC since 18 and an FAC since 23 and currently shoot PSG (also hold a lvl3 competition licence), clays, mini rifle and full bore at ranges all over the country. Also have been playing airsoft since I was 13.

        As generally it is military simulation, which includes dressing in the same attire, they are replicas for the same reason. Some people like to collect too. Not to mention after the pistol ban a lot of IPSC shooters went to buy Airsoft replicas to use in their place to carry on their discipline in a slightly different form.

        Have you ever thought it is fun? Tens of thousands of people enjoy paintball, Airsoft is a better evolution of that with an ever growing community that provides friendship, promotes team work and strategic/logic based thinking.

        Section 5 offences are all the same. Tasers and pepper spray are Section 5 as would be an M249, however pepper spray is hardly in the same area as an automatic support weapon. So it is not nonsense, comparing airsoft to a real firearm is ridiculous.

        Just because you do not enjoy it or understand it does not give you a right to demean it as you are.

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    2. David Weston

      I agree with WM.

      I don’t particularly see anyone being *personally* affected by this law – but, the fact that this exists is a chilling effect in itself.

      The reason why the author of the article is correct is because any weapon that is capable of fully automatic fire is a forbidden weapon under Section 5. Thus, there wouldn’t any legislative difference between autocannon and a 1.01 joule Airsoft replica, surprisingly enough.

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    3. Blobface

      Your questions are somewhat perplexing, why the whys? Airsoft’s inception came from the strict firearm laws in Japan, and since they could not access firearm of any type, the toy industry of Japan started designing and creating realistic replica of firearms for enthusiasts who for legal reasons will never be able to access them, whether it’s a bolt action rifle, to Olympic style .22 target pistols, to WWII weapons, to modern tactical assault weapons, and back to flintlocks and lever actions. As they became more successful, enthusiasts from around the world with similar restricted gun laws turned to Airsoft, while realising it’s a great replacement for paintball markers.

      Airsoft isn’t part of the “target shooting sport” community, it’s a game played like paintball, as you pointed out, like video game, it’s meant to simulate combat without the obvious darker side of it, just as boxing, fencing, mixed martial arts, are activities that simulates activities which in another context would be considered violence meant to cause harm, yet nobody is trying to ban fencing due to some far fetch association to stabbing in UK cities or how it reflects all the lives lost back when wars were fought with swords. Why wear a tactical vest? Because it’s easier to reach for magazines and pyrotechnics, why use reflex and holographic optics? Because it’s quicker to acquire targets, why wear camouflage? Because sticking out like a sore thumb is not beneficial to your gameplay. Your argument that it promotes the idea “human targets can be fired at with impunity” or how you can’t stomach the recreation of scenarios is equivalent to saying people that practice boxing while sparring with partners promotes the idea that “faces are there to be punched with impunity” and “grievous bodily harm caused by fists are very serious and mostly sad events”.

      Ultimately, it’s a game / sport practiced by consenting adults and supervised teenagers, it’s a harmless activity enjoyed by thousands, friendships are made, businesses are based on it, and for some, it’s an important hobby and pastime. Your casual disapproval of it because you don’t “understand” it isn’t far off as gun grabbers casually dismissing your need to “target shoot” because guns are ultimately weapons with the ability to cause great harm at great distance, “So why do you need it?” You or Lord Shrewsbury would lose nothing over decimating a harmless hobby enjoyed by many, just as a the majority of the population would lose nothing over taking away your target rifle and banning gun ownership outright, they might even have more holier-than-thou reasons to justify their actions compared to banning toy guns.

      One would think someone in the gun community might have the empathy to not casually dismiss another groups’ hobby out of ignorance and lack of interest.

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    4. rory

      Dave Tomlinson, I both airsoft and shoot at ranges. And the rule you have been told is the same worldwide, its obvious not to point a gun at someone so I am by no means telling people to break rules. But airsoft is harmless, in fact it encourages young adults to get active and outdoors, it baffles me how in a world with an obesity crisis people want to shut down sports because its “too dangerous” when in the UK as I am sure you are aware there is very little accidents at ranges and airsoft sites compared to many other sports.

      I think your point about incorrect practices is complete rubbish as much as you might hate it. Although I understand British soldiers are being trained to kill when they train they use blanks although the gun is still a “real steel” weapon would you say that is incorrect practice because they are aiming at each other? You are entitled to your own opinion and I understand airsoft is not to everyone’s liking but people need to see (you included) that there is a clear difference between shooting at a range and shooting a harmless airsoft gun. Not to mention the safety precautions are taken really seriously by players and staff. Most sites including mine have a “safe word” which we can use in case of a real emergency for example someones eye protection has come off or someone has tripped and broken an ankle. But for my local range I cannot say that there is a safe word like this, or not that I know of, where if someone blunders onto the range (I know its unlikely) then I would struggle to alert people as to what is happening.

      If you cant see the difference between reality and fiction then you need to rethink. Airsoft is a GAME although we take care when playing it is not the same as shooting a real steal weapon and if you cannot understand that enough then I would argue you are not fit to be handling a real steel weapon.

      I have never ever experience or even heard of airsoft events that are based upon real ones there are “milsim” events set in fictional wars with either fictional factions or something stupid like “america vs Australia” which we all understand is not going to happen although the people in these games are doing it specifically to simulate military operations most of the people who partake in these are ex personnel or currently are serving. When you say “why do the guns have to be realistic and why do people dress in camouflage?” Well its a simple answer either because we need to be hidden to gain an advantage over the opponent. Like someone who was hunting wouldn’t wear a neon vest and walk around hitting symbols together, the rifles are realistic looking because you cant recreate fictional military simulations without a gun. Try and think of something in your head that could replace airsoft rifles and without resembling a real gun. Its really hard, and if people wanted to do it without the realistic feel then they would simply play paintball or laser tag.

      Also your point on us exaggerating about the 20mm AA Cannon its automatic 5 years. Meaning if you break that law, its 5 years.

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    5. Dave

      Airsofting isn’t for everyone, but speaking as a club shooter, holding firearms and shotgun certificate (while having more than a few friends in the same position), I find you’re view quite narrow minded. The discipline of never pointing a firearm in anyones direction is a given, and respected everywhere i have ever been (rifle clubs or airsoft sites), but in-game the premise is the same as paintballing, and is recognized as fun, exhillerating, and entertaining. Just because you do not share the same sense of fun as those who enjoy airsoft as a hobby, does not make it any more dangerous, or an unreasonable past time.

      There are so many reasons why people take up airsoft… Cheaper alternative to paintball, interest in the military when they’re older, cadets learning drills and fire manouvers, ex and current service for many various reasons (i know several who struggle to settle upon leaving the forces, and find airsoft a huge help), and in my particular case, joining the military was a dream of mine but was unable to do so.

      I think unless you have tried it, met some of the great people within the community, and really try to understand why people do it, then passing judgement on those who do is a little shamefull. I personally don’t understand why anyone would take up golf, but lots of people love it, they’re not hurting anyone, and who am i to judge or demean anyone who partakes.

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    6. Luke

      Well if you think its a sad event(airsofting)are you also against video games? They don’t affect you and frankly you are making an un-educated say that it isn’t a fun and healthy hobby/sport, which it is. Try the sport then come back to me.

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  5. James Lewis

    Just because you were taught those doctrines does not mean that a sport which tens of thousands of men and women in the UK enjoy should be legislated into extinction. There is no comparison between airsoft and range shooting, I have done both regularly and at no point have my experiences of either crossed disciplines in any other format than making firearms or replica imitation firearms safe.
    The reason for camouflage is twofold, firstly it’s competitive, and like all sports any minor advantage gained is positive for the player. Secondly it is an immersive sport, it involves elements of role play and escapism, this is why many of the R.I.Fs are based on real steel weapons.
    Many ex-servicemen participate in airsoft, there is no offence implied by imitating real scenarios and none taken by any participants.

    I have given up target shooting now, largely due to the fact that airsoft is more physical, fun and competitive for me. One thing that I always had faith in was the support of the wider shooting community, just because you don’t understand an element of it does not mean it should suffer, if we don’t all stick together then all of our sports will be dismantled one by one.

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  6. Dan

    I can’t believe some people agree with this. The rules are already firm to the point that having a firearm or shotgun certificate doesn’t allow you the right to buy a realistic airsoft gun. The argument that “why would you want to reenact war” is absurd. Why do you need to shoot at a piece of paper with something that was designed to kill? Why do you feel the need to hunt for meat when there’s a supermarket? Airsoft gets people active and adds to your community of support. What happens when the government has some daft idea about banning .22lr semi auto or something and you lot are all begging to sign petitions? Should the airsoft community say “not my problem, I don’t shoot .22lr”? Or do we stand together and support each other? Guns are stigmatised as it is by uneducated people, why turn on ourselves?

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