‘A questionable basis’: B.C. airsoft and paintball players speak out against proposed gun law changes

Airsoft players panicking

The airsoft and paintball communities in B.C. and across Canada are rallying against Bill C-21, which could effectively shut down a sport played by thousands and supported by hundreds of Canadian businesses.

The part of Bill C-21 that has united two sports mostly has to do with a section that defines what makes a replica firearm and the proposed prohibitive conditions on replica firearms. The bill seeks to prohibit devices considered replica firearms which are defined as any device that is designed or intended to either exactly or mostly resemble an actual firearm.

"For the airsoft side, that's pretty much almost 99 per cent of guns," says Poi Apeles, spokesperson for Airsoft In Canada (ASIC). "There's a general panic right now in terms of everybody in the community saying that their guns are going to get taken away."

35,000 players, 260 Canadian businesses

Apeles says that ASIC’s efforts to change the bill in the form of a petition is going well, saying it has gained ground in the House of Commons. Friday’s second reading of C-21 saw conservative MP for Lakeland, Alberta Shannon Stubbs speak out against the bill at length.

Stubbs specifically referenced ASIC’s recently collected data on the airsoft and paintball industry and following in Canada. According to ASIC, there are 35,000 airsoft players in Canada, 5,000 of which are in B.C. with Ontario and Quebec having the lion’s share. Also according to ASIC, if Bill C-21 were approved it would affect 260 businesses that create an industry worth about $100 million.

One petition against the bill is on the Parliament of Canada’s website and as of this writing, it has 17,946 signatures. The petition calls upon the Canadian government to, among other things, fully and unambiguously legalize airsoft and paintball and recognize the activities as safe. Another petition on Change.org petition 35,754 signatures.

According to Public Safety Canada, Bill C-21 will serve to “limit the glorification of violence in firearms marketing and sales” but Poi Apeles says airsoft and paintball does nothing of the sort.

"In all honesty, we are playing with toy guns. We're not glorifying war or anything like that," he said. "It’s the same thing for video games, they label it as glorifying war and such but in the end, it’s just fun and games for us and we play as a community and we play as friends together."

‘A questionable basis’

Joel Whysall, from Vancouver’s Mickelson and Whysall Law Corporation, has dealt with many regulatory firearms cases and he says he’s not sure what the rationale behind the bill is.

"One thing I wonder about is what the foundation or motivation for concern about these items is," Whysall said. "I haven't seen that myself, I certainly understand the incident in the Maritimes... but I'm not seeing a lot of concerns with airsoft and paintball guns."

As for whether the buying or selling of airsoft or paintball guns adds to the “glorification of violence in firearms”, he is again not sure.

"That seems like a questionable basis to my mind. Using the criminal law power you'd want to be looking at something that concerns something that is clearly morally wrong," Whysall said.

‘The end of airsoft in Canada’

One of the many businesses that could be affected should the bill pass is Trigger Airsoft in Richmond. William Weng, an employee of the airsoft gun and gear store spoke out against the bill on Trigger Airsoft’s official YouTube channel earlier this month.

“If it passes it will basically signal the end of airsoft in Canada, Weng said. “This will affect everyone from you, the players to businesses to field owners. We’re talking about like five to ten thousand might lose their jobs from this in an already difficult economic situation from the pandemic,” Weng said.

“We as players will also lose thousands of dollars from the equipment that we’ve bought over the years as well as this hobby that we hold so dear,” Weng continued. “We need to let our MPs know that airsoft is part of our lifestyle that its a safe outdoor sporting activity that’s conducted in a safe and controlled manner.”

‘An overwhelming, impossible challenge’

During Friday’s reading of the bill, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness for the Liberal Party Bill Blair pointed to the biggest advocates for the bill: Canadian law enforcement.

“We are taking some additional measures within this legislation,” Blair said. “We have listened to law enforcement, which for over 30 years has been urging the Government of Canada to take action to prohibit what are often referred to as replica firearms."

These devices appear absolutely indistinguishable from dangerous firearms. The police have urged governments to take action because these devices are often used in crime. They have been used to hurt people. They present an overwhelming, impossible challenge for law enforcement officers when they are confronted by individuals using these devices. This has, in many circumstances, led to tragic consequences.”

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