Originally Posted by MMMiles!
Sorry for the long introduction. I'd appreciate it if you read these few paragraphs first, because it will help in understanding how I answering some of the questions that are being asked. It's important to keep TWO things in mind while reading:
1) Laws and enforcement of laws are different things. You cannot ever ignore how the law is written, but you have to understand how laws are practically applied to understand why things happen the way they do. Do not ever confuse the application of a law with the actual text of the law. When in doubt, assume that the government or a law enforcement agency will fall back to actual legislation as it is written. As long as they don't, enjoy the free extension of rights you're getting, but don't get too comfy with it.
2) Answers to these questions are different for individuals and businesses. In general, as individual airsoft owners you can expect to be under WAY less scrutiny (if any) for your airsoft activities. A legitimate business has much more exposure and risk - the licenses we need, the financial incentives we get to stay in business, the money that was invested - and questions like "is it legal to sell airsoft?" have very different answers for a store as it does an invidual.
Lately I have been getting alot of questions about ASCA (the store MadMax and I ran for a year) as well as questions about the state of airsoft in general. There is alot of good information on these boards, but like any big site it has a tendency to get buried in threads, and frankly some of our FAQ's are out of date.
As you know the number of high profile airsoft retailers in Canada has dropped considerably in the last 2 years. The law hasn't actually changed, but the level of enforcement has, and this is leading to alot of confusion about the legal status of airsoft and what the future holds for this sport. I'm going to take a stab at answering every questions I've gotten recently, and every other important one I can think, to try and clear up some of the misunderstandings we have about this sport in this country. If there's something you'd like to know, or something you'd like to add, by all means ask away.
I'm going to try and keep these answers in regular speak. There are complicated legal underpinnings to anything involving guns in this country, but because we are concerned mostly with the end product of the laws, I'm not going to quote specifics here (although that should go into another thread as well, to help people doing their own research, or who aren't just satisfied with taking someone else's word for it).
Now while you sit nervously wondering about the airsoft gun on your desk...
Is airsoft legal to OWN?
Yes, mostly. As of December 1st 1998 airsoft was supposed to be grandfathered. The idea was you could keep anything you owned before that date, and it was impossible to get new ones, so problem solved. Obviously it was not impossible to get more in the country, and in fact airsoft flourished after 98 for a long time.
Practically speaking this is mostly overlooked, and not many people even know they were supposed to be grandfathered by Dec 1 98 - furthermore it would be very difficult to prove anything you own you got after Dec 1 98, even if the government cared.
Am I at risk if I own airsoft?
No, absolutely not if you are a responsible owner.
Is airsoft legal to USE?
Yes, if you use it in a responsible fashion. Any replica firearm or even imitation firearm used in a crime will be treated as a real firearm, and you would be facing charges relating to real firearms, regardless of what the situation is. There is no clear line on where you can bring airsoft or not, so it comes down to common sense: playing fields or private areas where you will not be seen by other people, and not cause a disturbance, are reasonable places that airsoft could be used. Store your guns safely, and educate your friends, family or neighbours so that there are no misunderstandings that lead to someone dialing 911. If you live in an urban area, your airsoft should only come out when it's on the playing field.
Is airsoft legal to buy or sell?
Legally, no. Airsoft are replicas which are prohibited devices, and noone (business or individual) can strictly speaking buy, sell or transfer in any way airsoft after Dec 1 98. However, for responsible people this law is mostly overlooked and not even well understood - mostly because there are very very few real incidents involving replicas. Because they are fundamentally not dangerous compared to knives or real guns, they are not headline items on law enforcement radar. Nonetheless, it is not legal to sell airsoft, so it is very important to bear in mind that we must always treat these guns with the utmost respect to ensure we maintain the status quo.
What if I'm over 18, or age-verified?
That is an AirsoftCanada board policy, it has no bearing in law. We enacted that to cut down on the number of kids (as well as cleaning up alot of scammers) that were starting to flood this site as the sport grew in leaps and bounds. It also forces prospective players to shake hands with another player, and take some time before jumping head first into the sport. However, it is nothing more than an ASC policy.
Does having my PAL help?
It has nothing to do with replicas or prohibited devices, so no. In fact, you should be careful mixing airsoft and real firearms, because your PAL could bring you under closer scrutiny. Make extra sure you play by all the rules and be especially careful with your airsoft.
What about airsoft retailers, can't they sell airsoft?
Not in strict adherence to the law, no. At ASCA and many other retailers, we tried to exercise as much caution as possible in who we sold to, because a large part of our interest was to promote the sport and grow the community.
So what exactly IS airsoft classified as?
Airsoft guns are for the most part considered replicas. They live in a fuzzy space between imitation firearms (something that looks like a gun but is not an exact copy) and airguns (which paradoxically often are replicas, more on that later). Replicas are prohibited devices under Criminal Code, which does not mean they are firearms themselves, but are subject to many of the rules regarding prohibited firearms (as in, you aren't supposed to have any except those grandfathered after dec 1 98, and you're not supposed to sell them them).
Replicas are not a standing defition: replicas are determined on a case by case basis, when there is a reason to. This means alot of the airsoft you own are not replicas YET, and this is where alot of the confusion (and hope) comes from. Realistically, you can expect any court to judge that a given airsoft gun is a replica, and thus we have to practically consider them replicas. Legally, the door is open a crack, however.
What's an imitation firearm?
Typically: Clearsoft. Cheap toy pellet guns. They can be shaped like a gun, but would be made of clear plastic, or bright orange, or significantly reduced scale (like a 50% scale model). Orange barrel tips are a US law, and do not count for anything here. Imitation firearms are handled differently in each province. In Ontario, they can be sold to people who are over 18 under the Ontario Imitation Firearms Act.
In the Criminal Code of Canada, imitation firearms are ANYTHING that looks like a firearm, and include replica firearms! The Ontario Imitation Firearms Act specifies however that the imitation firearms that can be sold to people over 18 cannot be replicas. There are some specific wording issues here that are NOT resolved however, and the provincial and federal laws are a bit at odds. The intent of both laws are fairly clear, but it creates some confusion.
Airguns look like replicas to me, what's the deal?
Airguns also occupy a legal grey zone. Crossman (a maker of pellet guns) and the pellet gun industry/lobby enjoy the implicit protection of the government. Even though many of them could easily be classified as replicas, it is overlooked because airgun ownership has a history in Canada that predates airsoft, and special rules have been carved out for them.
I heard that if a gun shoots over 407fps and under 500fps and something something something Al Pacino it could be legal. Is this true?
The problem with setting out special rules for airguns is that someone had to figure out how to classify them, and a few rules have been made to that effect. For starters, and airgun that shoots over 500fps AND 5.7joules of muzzle energy is considered a firearm, and requires a PAL. Any airgun shooting under that is an airgun and obeys whatever locals laws your province has (typically 18+). The hope was that airsoft could be classified as an airgun, but generally the fact that they are replicas trumps this. If the government's goal is to keep replicas out of people's hands, which it was in 1998, then this is logical and unfortunate. But also not carved in stone.
What about the RCMP study that says bodily harm 408 fps something something something Kevin Bacon they're airguns?
Someone can fill in the blanks about the RCMP report on airguns that cause bodily harm over 408fps. Ultimately, the replica nature of airsoft trumps their classification as airguns in this instance as well.
Can I import airsoft into Canada?
No, an individual cannot import airsoft into Canada. Not just because airsoft are considered prohibited devices, but because replicas are specifically not permitted for import by the CBSA (customs). If you try to bring airsoft across the border and it is discovered, at the very least you should expect it to be seized, and you could be faced with firearms related charges. Customs isn't perfect and some airsoft does get through by mail or being driven across the border. I personally absolutely recommend against trying this. Not only is it expensive to lose your airsoft, the potential consequences might stick with you your whole life.
Who can import airsoft into Canada?
Legal importation of replicas is possible with a Firearms Business License. These are handled by provincial Chief Firearms Officers, and are give to businesses in law enforcement training, movie props industries or even museums, among others. The license is not difficult to get if you are legitimately in business, and the conditions are not even very strenuous for replicas. However, it is a small club of licensers and licensees, and because it relates to firearms, the licensing is not a joking process. Inspections do occur and licensees will sometimes be at the whim of law enforcement or the government: if a business with an FBL is not playing by the rules, they are at risk of having it revoked.
So with an FBL, I could import airsoft into Canada?
Even with an FBL, strictly speaking, importing replicas is only meant to be for the purposes of running the business: a movie props company would import replicas for a specific movie. Retailing is not permitted and was never really considered in the FBL, because they are prohibited devices. However, because the legal status of replicas are mostly overlooked, many businesses with FBL's were importing large amounts of airsoft and retailing them directly. This was never the intention of the FBL and besides selling airsoft is not legal, so it is a tenuous situation.
What's the rule of 3 for importing?
Even though the FBL was supposed to allow you to import replicas only for specific needs, it DOES allow importers to bring in replicas at any time, but never more than 3 of a particular model. This was really meant to allow a business to fill the gaps in between big special imports, but effectively it limits the potential to abuse the FBL or to retail replicas. Not surprisingly, it is very difficult to make a profitable business when you can only legally import 3 of each model per order, and this partially explains some of the supply shortage or strange ordering practices you may see at some retailers.
Why do so many retailers keep closing?
ASCA closed because of legal pressure on businesses that sold airsoft in Ontario, although not on ourselves explicitly. Local law enforcement reacted to several incidents involving airsoft and aggressively shut down a store that sold airsoft, and we did not feel comfortable selling airsoft, even to responsible individuals (and many law enforcement personnel). Other retailers have closed for similar reasons, or because of direct legal pressure, or because importation - even legally - can be tricky and there is a risk of losing alot of money.
How come prices are high in Canada?
2 reasons: poor supply prices, and supply and demand. Most importers do not import directly from the manufacturer, but instead purchase through distributors in Asia. Some companies will do business directly (such as Classic Army) but others work almost exclusively through distributors (such as Tokyo Marui). More middlemen means more fingers in the pie, and canadian importers do not have the luxury of purchasing for ideal prices. Often they will buy for prices not much better than you yourself can get online. Furthermore, overwhelming demand in Canada can lead to inflated prices when they are sold here. *Warning: self serving comments ahead* At ASCA we made an effort to keep prices reasonable and fixed, regardless of demand. Retailers are airsofters too, and we all share the same playing fields, so we did not find the idea of jacking up prices to make a buck off our fellow men appetizing. Nonetheless, a business must be profitable, and there is very little basis for figuring out what reasonable prices are: many retailers just make them up, and you can't really fault them for it in such a small and confusing market.
What's with the cheap Chinasoft guns, and how come Classic Army and Tokyo Marui are so much more expensive?
The first and move obvious answer is that chinese knockoffs are always cheaper because they are just copying existing designs without spending the money on R&D. They are not, however, perfect copies. There are many subtleties in manufacturing that simply copying the design will no produce: techniques for making materials stronger, or precision assembly to ensure quality. Putting Porsche parts in a Civic is not the same as buying a Porsche, although it can come close in some respects. I would always recommend you spend your money a quality built product, rather than a cheap knockoff that you may end up having to replace entirely when it chokes. Sometimes the price different can be so great it makes the decision to buy higher class gear questionable - just don't forget that you get what you pay for.
However, there is a serious problem we cannot overlook, which is that access to more and cheaper guns means the likelihood of them ending up in the wrong hands is higher and higher, and the status quo re: enforcement we have "enjoyed" so far may change in the face of an ugly incident. It's up to us to educate other people in the safe handling and use of airsoft and replicas, otherwise one idiot could ruin the show very quickly.
Has the law changed?
Not since 1998. Enforcement of the laws, and the real and perceived pressure on retailers has definitely increased. Several high profile seizures and raids on airsoft businesses in the last 2 years, for instance, were not something we were used to dealing with 5+ years ago. However, the law in 1998 effectively made airsoft illegal, but it did it in a very incomplete and confusing way. You can still own the guns you have, but you're not SUPPOSED to be able to buy more. Since you're on this site, you know that reality does not reflect the letter of the law. And thousands of responsible airsofters in this country are proof that the thread of replicas is not what many might make it out to be.
So is the sky falling?
I hate this comment, and I hate it just as much when people deny it because it misses the point: airsoft will not die a short and sudden death. It will either gradually decline to oblivion or grow into acceptance. The law is not on our side, but enforcement has not been strongly against us at all. However, the community has suffered from the recent increase in enforcement. There are few if any high profile retailers left, and the incentives for sticking your neck out to import or retail are not so great. Most importantly, the number of importers who are actively helping the airsoft community has diminished in the last 2 years. This could be cyclic and we may see new importers and retailers filling the void, but currently the situation is somewhat poor for airsofters.
Games will continue, and the airsoft population is exponentially bigger than it was 10 years ago (4 man games at the old Wasaga field anyone?). Airsoft is a very long way from disappearing in Canada, but we do tread a fine line enjoying this sport, so make sure you educate people properly and we can continue to enjoy it!