From the feedback we’ve received, and much of the discussion we’ve seen online, it seems many people don’t understand what we are trying to achieve with getting clarification about the PCA airsoft provisions. I’ll try to explain;
UKAPU runs a hotline of sorts, members who have trouble with law enforcement can get in touch with us, and we advise them, and often interject by writing letters or sending representatives to try and sort things out. For privacy reasons we usually can’t talk about these cases, but they happen ALLOT. Across the country airsoft players who are behaving within the law are being bullied, all the time. They get dragged over the coals in a big way. Sometimes it’s simply confiscation of equipment, but we’ve seen cases of people being placed on extremist watch lists, threatened with deportation, thrown out of university and even firearms and terrorism charges. For playing airsoft! Words cannot express how much airsoft is on the back foot in this fiercely anti gun society. You may not hear about it, but we do, cases tend to come our way. It is happening, even if things seem quiet from your perspective.
So the problem with the new PCA ‘power limits’ is that they raise questions about what an airsoft gun is classed as, as the power output of airsoft guns varies so easily. A full auto airsoft gun capable of over 1.3J is a section 5(1)(a) prohibited firearm. Most full auto HPA guns, for example, are capable of over 1.3J. Are they section 5 firearms then? It seems like it. How do we stop HPA guns from being classed as section 5 firearms? You can make an AEG fire at over 1.3J with a spring change, and make a semi locked AEG fire fully automatic quite easily. Does that mean that all AEGs are readily convertible to section 5 prohibited firearms? These are only a few of the issues.
These sorts of questions have been grey area for decades. So the Police let it lie, they didn’t need the hassle of trying to pursue someone over it, as it would be a huge can of worms to open up. But now they aren’t really grey areas. In the future, when the authorities decide to pick on someone, they might not have to come up with some obscure infraction to charge an airsofter with, they may be able to hit them with possessing a prohibited weapon, which carries a 5 year prison sentence. When Police realise that airsoft guns should be power limited, I guarantee they will start sending guns off for power testing when they seize them. They already have them disassembled and tested on occasion, even though there doesn’t seem to be much purpose to it. UKBA never carried out chrono checking of imports pre PCA, but I bet they will now.
Most Police are totally comfortable with airsoft, and will not be interested in the slightest, but there’s 60,000 of us airsofters. It’s inevitable that some of us will come into contact with a bad cop having a bad day, or an administration with a point to prove.
A friend sent me an article which really shows what can happen to you on a bad day if you get caught out on a ‘technicality ‘, as many players are calling section 5(1)(a) of the 1968 firearms act. I hope you can see the paralels here. The defendant in this article said “I didn’t realise that my air rifle was technically a Section 1 firearm, officer” and ended up in prison. One day an airsoft player could find themselves saying “I didn’t realise that this airsoft gun is technically an airgun and a prohibited firearm, officer”. http://m.burtonmail.co.uk/man-bought-rifle-shoot-rats-jailed/story-21486935-detail/story.html
Another example; a friend of mine lives in a country where full auto airsoft is banned. This year he forgot to put his semi only selector plate back in after using his AEG at a game in a neighboring country. The police raided his home, found the offending AEG and now it looks like he will be going to prison. A different country but I still think it’s a very close parallel. You may not think the authorities care about airsoft. They don’t on the whole. But every once in a while the law is enforced as written, and one of us suffers very badly.
If everything was fine, we’d tell you so. We get accused of scaremongering, but if everything was fine, believe me we’d get back on with our lives and playing airsoft, instead of dealing with the stress of all this. What’s scary is the situation, not our portrayal of it. If anyone tells you this PCA stuff is nonsense, they do not understand the situation fully. The majority of the community hasn’t heard about the PCA. Many of the remainder are in denial, or haven’t properly read up on the situation. This applies to a surprisingly large number of people in the airsoft industry and media too, quite a few of them have not taken the time to read up or participate in the lobbying process, and are telling customers that nothing is going on. Players ask their advice assuming they know better, but many don’t. But this collective denial and wishful thinking doesn’t mean the PCA doesn’t exist. It is still the law. It is not a matter for debate, you can see the law on the government website. It has royal assent and commencement orders.
In summary- we are not preparing for some sort of mass police enforcement of the new ‘limits’, but it’s not possible to just ignore it all either. It’s about stopping some poor random player from facing firearms charges in the future and maybe 5 years in jail too. And it’s to prevent such a terrible threat from hanging over all of us every time we go to play airsoft, even if it’s not likely that you or I will be the person who gets caught out, it’s going to be an unpleasant situation if we can’t sort things.
Matt Furey-King, Chair UKAPU