GEL blaster enthusiasts marched from Elizabeth Quay to WA Police headquarters in East Perth last Sunday (June 27).
They were protesting the sudden ban of the toy guns that’ve seen a burgeoning sport pop up in recent years.
Gel blasters fire a low-velocity soft bead that’s mostly water, and the sport is similar to paintball. They’re mostly harmless except for potential eye injuries, so eye protection is worn during matches.
But police are concerned by how realistic many of the guns appear, near-indistinguishable from real firearms at a distance. Last year tactical officers pounced on men playing with gel blasters in Ellenbrook, ordering them to the ground at (real) gunpoint and handcuffing them while they carries out inspections. Police say they received 147 calls about gel blaster incidents last year.
The toy’s legal status has been ambiguous: They were being sold locally and people met regularly to play. But last year some cautious hobbyists had emailed queries to police and were told gel blasters were currently considered a firearm and the matter was being reviewed by the legal services unit and the police minister.
On June 14 the ban was formally announced. Police minister Paul Papalia said “someone in possession of a gel blaster in the community could be shot by police fearing they are carrying a real weapon. “Criminals are also attracted to using gel blasters as fake weapons or to convert to useable firearms.
“The WA Police Force has requested that we ban gel blasters so we are taking that action.”
The ban comes into effect July 3, and anyone in possession afterwards faces three years’ jail or a fine of $36,000.
Local gellers are furious.
WA Airsoft and Gel Ball Club chair Laurentiu Zamfirescu said in a release: “This decision has been taken without consultation of the WA gel ball community, without providing a regulatory impact assessment, without providing an amnesty period, [and] without providing any compensation to businesses and players.
“This leaves an active sports community of about 2000 players in shock as they’ve lost their hobby almost overnight and about 5-10 businesses forced to close down.”
Former upper house MP Aaron Stonehouse, a Liberal Democrat, had been working on a bill to legalise gel blasters and the similar airsoft toys, but he was defeated in the March election.
by DAVID BELL