Gel ball blasters or gel ball guns are an ongoing source of controversy in Australia, with supporters arguing that the realistic looking toy guns that are used in tactical gameplay should be regarded as a harmless sport rather than a dangerous menace.
The “blasters” or “guns” are generally made of plastic or a metal alloy, and can look like realistic replicas of pistols, assault rifles, sub-machine guns, or sniper rifles.
The “guns” work with ball-shaped gel projectiles being launched at anywhere between 100-350 feet per second.
As is the case for other projectile firing sports, such as paintball and airsoft, gel ball blasters are used to play games in which players will fire these projectiles at each other in dedicated fields and arenas.
Before any activity can commence, all players are required to wear protective eyewear or masks to prevent injury to the players’ eyes.
These participants can then safely engage in game modes such as ‘capture the flag’ or other objective based battles.
The sport is increasing in popularity in Queensland, with fans of the sport getting together and forming teams to play the sport at these dedicated locations.
A popular dedicated location in the South-East Queensland region is Guerrilla Blasters in Loganholme.
Guerrilla Blasters owner Morgan Peters said the field had been open for about seven months, with more than 100 players coming to use the field every weekend.
Mr Peters said he was given a gel ball blaster by a friend and became obsessed with the toys and their game-playing potential, which ultimately led him to open Guerrilla Blasters.
He said he encouraged families to get involved in the game, and said it was a great way to get the whole family outside together.
“So, my kids play here on the field,” Mr Peters said.
“They help me on the field, they work for video game time,” he said.
“They get to play [here] all day, chilling out playing with their friends… having a bit of competitive sportsmanship.”
A regular team at the Guerrilla Blasters field, The Junkyard Dogs, play in a competitive gel ball league.
Junkyard Dogs team member Lazare Kazandjian said he not only came to Guerrilla Blasters because it was cheaper than playing paintball, but also because it was a great form of physical exercise.
Not everyone is so focussed on the positive fitness aspects of the game.
There is ongoing discussion about whether these blasters should be illegal due to their very realistic appearance.
Licensing and regulation is being considered in multiple states around Australia, although they are currently only legal in Queensland and South Australia.
However, the NSW Police Force Firearms Registry issued advice in December 2018, which said that in NSW an expert determination had been made that a gel blaster had been classified an air gun, which is defined as “a firearm”.
The gel ball has been similarly classified in NSW as “ammunition”.
“Gel blasters that substantially duplicate in appearance a military style firearm are classified as a prohibited firearm,” the registry advised.
“Please be advised that it is an offence to possess or use a firearm, pistol or prohibited firearm unless the person holds the relevant licence or permit.”
“Further, it is an offence to supply, acquire, possess or use a firearm that is not registered,” the registry said.
As a result, gel ball blasters are currently prohibited in NSW.
Some gel ball players use gel ball blasters as an alternative to airsoft guns, which is a popular sport played across the world that is currently illegal in Australia.
Like gel ball blaster, airlift guns are realistic looking replica toy weapons that are used in airlift sports for tactical gameplay.
However, unlike gel ball blasters, which fire water-filled gel balls, these toy guns shoot spherical projectiles, usually made of plastic or resin materials.
The pellets have significantly less penetrative and stopping powers than conventional airguns and are considered safe for sporting and recreational use if the proper protective gear is worn.
Many Australian gel ball players would swap to airsoft given the chance.
Junkyard Dogs player Lazare Kazandjian said the team would swap to airsoft if the sport were to be legalised in Australia and the guns were licenced.
But Mr Kazandjian said it was important to use gel ball blasters responsibly.
“These weapons here should… never be taken out onto the street,” he said.
“The people that come here [to Guerilla Blasters] treat it like a real weapon.”
“Anything that fires a projectile is usually considered a weapon,” Mr Kazandjian said
“It should be treated with respect,” he said.
Another player at the Guerrilla Blasters field, James Hockley, said he had come to play gel ball for the fun of it, and considered the sport to be a clean alternative to paintball.
“It’s a cheap, nice way to keep fit and have fun,” Mr Hockley said.
He said he felt that licencing for a toy was not necessary.
“If I had to get a licence I would… at the same time, I don’t see the necessity,” he said.
University of Queensland criminologist Dr Suzanna Fay said she was of the opinion that bans on these blasters, to the same degree as airsoft, could create further issues down the line.
“My concern with bans is that banning something almost never changes people’s behaviour, it almost always pushes the behaviour underground, where it can’t be monitored,” Dr Fay said.
“So, at the moment, we actually have a really good system where people can purchase these things legally,” she said.
“And in the process of doing so, they’re actually being socialised by retailers, because this is legal, and it’s an okay sport… [and they’re] being socialised with appropriate advice and safe behaviour.”
Dr Fay said if a ban was placed on these blasters, people would miss out on the process of socialisation, and therefore responsible use of gel blasters could not be enforced.
She said if the toys were to be regulated, it would be important to consider and consult those players and business owners who were considered significant members of the blaster community.
“I think the other slightly disturbing thing for me is that the people who are selling these gel guns, are the ones that tend to get stuck, targeted and stigmatised,” Dr Fay said.
“[These blasters] are used in gaming, they are toys, and they are not harmful, though they do look very real to someone who would not know the difference between that and a real firearm,” she said.
“If you take a look at [the sellers’] social media sites, or you take a look at their advertising, or go into any of their shops; they are very clear about what their responsibility is to communicate to people that are purchasing these things about responsible use.”
It is experts such as gel ball business owner Pete Clark that Dr Fay wishes to see at any meetings about regulation within the state.
Mr Clark is the co-owner of Tactical Edge Hobbies.
Tactical Edge Hobbies is a small gel ball store currently based in Ormeau, but Mr Clark has plans to expand into Adelaide and across Queensland.
The business owner said regulation already existed for the gel blasters and said ultimately if people took them out in public, they would be prosecuted by the legislation, such as the Weapons Act 1990 and the Criminal Code Act 1899.
“What’s happening is police are arresting these people, they go into court, they’re getting let off with a… fine,” Mr Clark said.
“The solution is to increase the penalty or give a mandatory penalty if you’re going out with these things,” he said.