Criminal Law

By Charlene Harris

20.12.19

Be careful what Santa brings down your chimney, because it may just land you behind bars over Christmas.

Gel blasters, also known as gel blaster guns, are becoming increasingly popular and the numbers of them appearing in the ACT have been on the rise throughout 2019.  Around 80 gel blasters were seized in the last year, with six or seven incidents occurring in November alone.  Gel blasters are often purchased as a toy to muck around with mates in the backyard, or to be used in the gel blasting sport which is a skirmish style game similar to paintball.

However, in the ACT, possession of a gel blaster carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.  So if you were considering buying someone a gel blaster as a Christmas present, you might want to read on.

Although gel blasters shoot non-harmful water-filled gel pellets rather than live ammunition, they are classified as prohibited firearms in the ACT because of the manner in which they operate (some operate mechanically in the same way as an air gun), and because they closely resemble other military style firearms.

While gel blasters are not lethal by any means, and may not look real close up, the risk is that they can be mistaken for real firearms by members of the public and police.  For example, a person could wield a gel blaster to hold up a service station, and the person having the firearm pointed at them would experience the same fear as they would have had the firearm been real.  When responding to incidents police are forced to expend significant resources in anticipation of a worst-case scenario; that is, they must respond as though it were a real firearm, sending large numbers of police to attend and sealing off entire areas for the public’s safety.

In an incident earlier in the year, police were called after a neighbour saw a man standing on his balcony pointing an 80cm long firearm in different directions while looking down the scope.  The neighbour heard a ‘click’ each time the man changed the direction he was pointing it, causing significant concern.  The Canberra Times reported “Police arrived and cordoned off the property, yelling for [the man] to come out with his hands raised.”  The man was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and the carrying or use of a firearm in an improper manner, and spent the night in the Watch House before being granted bail the following morning.

In another incident, a man who pulled out a gel blaster in public was shot with bean-bag rounds by police to subdue him, as officers were unable to distinguish whether the weapon was real or fake.  Given the realistic appearance, police could not be sure it was not a real firearm in the circumstances, and it is easy to see how this incident could have ended in tragedy.  Detective Sergeant Swain commented “If police get called to an incident that relates to person with a firearm, it takes significant police resources to respond because we’re responding to potentially a worst-case scenario”.

Much of the confusion about the legality of gel blasters arises from the fact that they are not specifically referred to in legislation in the same way paintball weapons are.  In addition, they remain legal in South Australia and Queensland, and are easy to purchase online from websites set up in Queensland, South Australia and overseas where they are readily available.  However, it is an offence to possess gel blasters or to import them into the ACT, and you may face penalties up to 10 years’ imprisonment simply for possession.

In a press release dated 3 December 2019, the AFP acknowledged that there is ambiguity within the ACT community about the legality of gel blasters.  Members of the public were encouraged to hand their gel blasters in to the AFP, however many have not done so due to fears that they may be charged with an offence.  However, on 4 December 2019 ACT delegate to the Registrar of Firearms, Detective Sergeant Rodney Swain, made clear that there is amnesty in relation to the surrender of gel blasters.   He stated “We’ll accept the surrender of the firearm there without seeking to prosecute.”

So, after much confusion, we now have confirmation that if you are in possession of a gel blaster you can safely surrender it to the AFP without being charged with possession of a firearm.  The appropriate place to surrender a gel blaster is to the ACT Policing Exhibit Management Centre located at 86 Vicars St, Mitchell (Ph: 02 5126 9076).

If you have been charged with an offence relating to a gel blaster you will be facing severe penalties including imprisonment.  Our criminal solicitors will be able to provide you with advice and support in navigating this confusing area of law and will ensure you get the best representation possible.