Post 4/4- Full auto HPA/GBB and the PCB

The law on airsoft power limits is changing. By carrying on as normal you could be committing a criminal act. This post turned into a bit of an essay, as I wanted everyone to have the full picture, but please do read it through.

The airsoft exception in the Policing and Crime Bill 2015-16 (PCB) will (amongst other things) set the upper power limit for fully automatic airsoft guns at 1.3 Joules (approximately 370fps with a .20g bb). To classify as an airsoft gun it must be;

‘Not capable of discharging a missile (of any kind) with kinetic energy at the muzzle of the weapon that exceeds the permitted level.’

Due to being over the new lethal threshold and exception threshold, an airsoft gun capable of firing at over 1.3J is a firearm, subject to the firearms act, and if it’s capable of full auto fire then a firearm is subject to general prohibition under section 5(1)(a) of the firearms act 1968. Possessing a section 5 firearm without permission from the secretary of state carries a mandatory 5 year prison sentence.

1.3J is the power limit recommended by ACPO that we’ve been operating under since 2011, but what’s changed is that this won’t be a recommendation any more. When it was a recommendation it was difficult for the Police to work out whether to press air gun based charges or not, and lethality of the device could still be proven or disproven in court, as the recommendation had little legal standing. So it wasn’t a problem, as it was still so much grey area that prosecuting an airsoft player wouldn’t be worth the hassle. But after the PCB becomes law it will be easy to determine what is and isn’t lethal, it will be made clear that possessing a full auto airsoft gun firing at over 1.3J is possession of a prohibited firearm. Just to reiterate, that could mean 5 years in jail.

This comparatively low lethal threshold (though, not as low as it would have been if not for all the lobbying over the last few years) raises questions surrounding imports and ‘ready convertibility’ but it’s best to cover that subject in another post if people are interested. We’re not too concerned with semi auto airsoft guns which are capable of exceeding the threshold, as the threshold is much more generous (2.5J) and above that they simply fall into the same class as air rifles. Which isn’t a problem (unless you live in Scotland like me, in which case it could be classed as an unlicensed air rifle).

The concern I wish to address in this post is that full auto gas and HPA airsoft guns are, generally speaking, easy to push over 1.3J even in off the shelf form, by loading them with black gas, or simply turning up the regulator. It doesn’t matter that you run your gun in game at less than 1.3J, what matters is that your HPA or GBB full auto is ‘capable of discharging a missile (of any kind) with kinetic energy at the muzzle of the weapon that exceeds the permitted level’. If your airsoft gun was confiscated and brought in for testing, the forensic lab would probably try and find out if your gun was ‘capable of exceeding the permitted level’. They would put in the most powerful gas available or crank the regulator up. As it stands most of the HPA and GBBR airsoft guns currently in the UK will be regarded as Section 5 firearms. Not good.

Some players who message us seem concerned that the UKAPU committee isn’t worried about this situation, that we are only protecting UKAPU members with AEGs. That’s not the case at all. 7 out of 9 people on the committee own HPA guns. Most of us have GBBRs too. UKAPU has been campaigning on this issue since 2010 when we started meeting with forensic labs and writing to ACPO on this very subject. We’ve raised the issue repeatedly with the Home Office at our scheduled meetings, and with MPs. Most people are likely only aware of this issue because we keep banging on about it. So believe me when I say that we care about this problem, we’ve done, and are doing, everything we can. For some reason, which we don’t really understand, few people in airsoft have taken an interest. Even now, mere months away from the new law coming into force, the community is, on the whole, silent on the issue. One or two people are outright denying it’s happening, which is baffling, as the draft bill has been progressing all year, easily available on the parliament website.

We, the people who are paying attention, need to work turn these attitudes around.

There are also some people who are arguing that the police won’t care, it will never come up. FELWG (firearms and explosives licensing working group) have been asking the government for years to set a lethal threshold in law, so CPS, the Police Chiefs, etc. were crucial in making this law happen, they do care. If airsoft players and businesses take the attitude that they’ll ignore the new law, they will be jeopardising the airsoft community’s reputation as law abiding. It’s fair to say still have an open line to the government because of how seriously we have taken our responsibilities with the VCRA over the last decade, and our good citizenship in general.

Recently something has come up which is eerily close to the situation we find ourselves in with airsoft guns and section 5. Everyone assumed that the Steyr LP50 airt pistol didn’t fall foul of section 5 prohibition, but without warning Yorkshire Police took an interest in what had been referred to as a ‘technicality’ and started confiscating them from ranges and retailers (they are £1500, so it’s quite a loss). So it’s fair to say, these ‘technicalities’ are not off the radar by any means

Obviously the Police will not be coming to an airsoft site just to chrono guns. But there are scenarios in which the Police could send your airsoft guns away for examination, real situations we’ve seen UKAPU members get into a few times over the years. For example, a nosy neighbour notices you handling a replica in your house and calls it in. Police come to your house but want to use a lab to verify that it isn’t a real firearm (kind of daft, but it has happened). Or perhaps your car is randomly stopped and searched on the way to a game, and the same thing occurs. The Police are totally cool with airsoft players most of the time, but every once in a while there’s a bad officer with a point to prove, who is under the false impression that airsoft replicas are somehow unlawful, and will go to great lengths to prove wrongdoing. Another more likely scenario is when importing an airsoft gun UKBA stop your package to examine it, and run it through a chrono or a lab as a routine check.

Clearly it’s not proportional to lock someone up for 5 years for owning a 371fps airsoft gun. The Home Office were eager to address other issues we brought to them, for which we are extremely grateful. But they didn’t appear very interested in this, the elephant in the room. Like I say, we’ve been pushing this issue hard over the last year. So have UKARA, they’ve met with CPS, NPCC, and firearms lobby groups, trying to draw attention to the problem. In November we were relieved to hear the Home Office tell us that this needs to be looked at. So UKARA and UKAPU will meet with the Home Office firearms department again, in early to mid 2017. There’s no legislation changes on the table, but we will be seeking official guidance on how to comply with the new law. More importantly we’ll be asking them to issue sensible guidance on how to enforce the new laws. Another part of the PCB actually makes it mandatory for Police chiefs to enforce Home Office guidance, so the authority of the HO guidance can’t be underestimated.

But that leaves us in a sticky situation in the meantime. The PCB will soon be enacted and HPA/GBB full auto guns will mostly be classed as section 5 firearms. Perhaps our meeting with the Home Office will not bear fruit and this will be the situation forever (I hope not, but there’s no way to know). So what I would recommend is that you find a way to comply with the law as is- mechanically limit your full auto HPA/GBB guns so that they cannot fire at more than 1.3J.

We have been discussing technical solutions on the UK airsoft lobbying group. Feel free to join in

I don’t really know what’s going to happen in the future as regards to making HPA and GBBR ‘UK compliant’ prior to import. I was hoping that the retail and manufacturing sectors would be leading this, and would be pushing compliant products already. Perhaps some are working on it, but are keeping it quiet. I’ve no idea.

The law is soon to be quite clear I think. UKAPU isn’t going to enforce the law, or force our interpretation of the new law on the community, that’s not what we do. We’re not an industry body, or a governing body, we just do what we can to protect the interests of UKAPU members. We’re not trying to justify the way the law has been written. We’re just putting the information out there.

Don’t be too despondent, I’m sure technical solutions will be available that will allow GBB and HPA to comply with the new law and carry on being used. Improvise, adapt and overcome, as we say in the Army. The Home Office still want to discuss the situation, so that door isn’t shut either.

Now for the usual reminder- if you are an airsoft player please become a part of UKAPU (if you haven’t already) and spread our message, because UKAPU is only as strong as you make it. We need a strong players association to keeping airsoft from being banned or heavily restricted in the future.

Kind Regards,

Matt Furey-King

Chair UK Airsoft Players Union