Airsoft guns — air-powered replica guns 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 prohibition could apply to importing, exporting and selling unregulated replicas that look like modern firearms.
Ken Cheung, owner of 007 Airsoft in Calgary, said many of the products in his shop, which he has been running for the past 25 years, would be considered too realistic under the law if the bill is passed. Cheung’s business also supplies prop guns for the movie industry, most recently the Alberta-filmed The Last of Us.
“If the bill passes the way that it is — that would mean the end of airsoft,” he said.
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“If my business is finished, then my livelihood is finished because this is what I’ve been doing for the last many, many years. This is how I support my family. It’s a hard pill to swallow,” he said.
Cheung said it’s been a nerve-racking wait for clarity on the situation — to find out what kind of airsoft guns, if any, would be exempt under the bill.
“There are, for example, sci-fi guns from animes or manga or movies … those guns theoretically would be exempt,” he said.
“However, they still more or less look like a real firearm of some kind. So it’s really hard to draw the line. They would have to give us really clear direction of what is acceptable and what is not.”
Audrey Champoux, press secretary to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, said in an email that since introducing the bill last spring, Ottawa has been working to find a solution that works.
“Bill C-21 is Canada’s most significant action on gun violence in a generation,” Champoux wrote.
“As Bill C-21 is currently being review[ed] in committee, we are hopeful that all parties will agree that we must close the loophole in the Criminal Code regarding replica firearms.”
Champoux added that Ottawa wants to ensure the prohibition on importing, exporting and selling applies to all unregulated replicas that look like modern firearms.
Cheung said the popularity of airsoft has taken off in Canada — and some airsoft players worry the federal gun ban could signal the end for their hobby.
“Gun control is a necessary thing, but you have to kind of control when it gets too much,” said Calgary airsoft enthusiast Connor Parnham. “Something like this, this shoots harmless plastic BBs. These things don’t weigh more than .20 of a gram, so they don’t hurt for long if they hurt at all.”
Replica guns look like real thing, says police chief
Regina police Chief Evan Bray, who co-chairs the special purpose committee on firearms for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said around 20 per cent of violent firearm-related crime in Canada is committed with replica firearms. Airsoft is part of that replica group.
He added that airsoft guns can be modified to act as real guns.
“They are creating a danger, there’s no question about it,” he said.
He said the danger doesn’t stem from the velocity of the projectile being shot out of the gun, but how the guns can be presented as the real thing.
“That, in a nutshell, is the problem that we’re seeing with airsoft rifles or guns of any sort that look so real that it’s impossible to distinguish … and the consequences that’s causing in our community.”
He added that during tests at police services across the country, many officers struggle with telling the difference between an airsoft rifle and a real rifle without picking it up.
“That’s in a controlled environment. Think about what it’s like in a home where that gun is pulled on them or someone presents that gun as a real weapon. Those officers in oftentimes a dimly lit room are making a quick, split-second decision,” he said.
He said the police chief association has been lobbying the government to change the look of the replica guns so they can be distinguished from real guns, and also lobbying to include more powerful airsoft rifles as firearms.
“I think there are some things that we’ve been lobbying for that would still allow people to participate in the sport but might take away that immediate threat that’s happening in our communities.”