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Is it a Replica or is it a Phaser

An Advocate for the Laser Tag Industry

Battlefield Sports has been an advocate for the laser tag industry since we started our business in 1999. Since 2004 we have been actively lobbying the government regarding its legislative changes that might have a deleterious effect on laser tag.

blue scorpionWhile Battlefield Sports is a leading laser tag manufacturer, well known for its outdoor equipment the group has never produced a replica firearm. Prior to 2004 it was assumed that as long as reasonable steps were taken to insure against public alarm that playing outdoors would not be deemed illegal.   

Generally a replica firearm was considered something that looked exactly like the real thing; a one to one ratio copy. Battlefield Sports gaming guns were specifically designed so they are not an exact replica although some models are more authentic looking than other models.

These days any gaming gun that has a fake barrel made by Battlefield Sports has a clear safety orange barrel to clearly and permanently mark it as a non firearm, which is the de facto international standard.   

Battlefield Sports also makes sure any fake barrels do not have a substantial barrel recess so that it is clear that no bullet could possibly be shot out of the unit.   

Battlefield Sports spotted the worldwide trend to replace the term and definition of a replica firearm with the much less exact and often much broader category of imitation firearm. An imitation firearm does not need to be copy of a known firearm to become prohibited or in some way restricted.  The definition and interpretation as to what is, and is not, an imitation firearm varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In fact even with the same jurisdiction, the interpretation of the laws can vary dramatically providing inconsistent information to the laser tag industry.

Battlefield Sports has for many years produced a wide variety of gaming gun models to suit different regulatory and cultural environments. For example we have models like the P90 and the Spitfire which are inspired by real-world firearms. Then we have other models like the Scorpion and the Commando which are “self-designed” i.e. they are not inspired by any unknown real-word firearm.

Following face-to-face meetings with the NSW firearms registry in 2009, Peter Lander decided it was time to start a new project to design a brand new gaming gun – one that could be used for mobile laser tag without falling foul of possible new legislation. Peter was also involved in meetings with the Queensland weapons licensing branch.  Peter discovered there is a point system for determining if a device is classified as a replica or imitation firearm or not.

To be or not to be? Is it a Replica? That is the Question.

There are several factors that the ballistics branch of the police department use to determine whether or not a laser tag toy is an imitation firearm. These include the presence of a fake barrel and a gun like trigger mechanism with a gun like trigger guard.  While not covered in officially Australian law, the presence of safety orange markings near the front of the device is also helpful.  

The Cobra was therefore professionally design from the ground up to ensure it met all the requirements needed to not be classed as an imitation firearm and therefore it is ideal for anyone running a mobile business. As it has turned out the Cobra has proven to be hit with the gamers. This model is especially popular with younger children.

The main issues with the imitation firearms started in NSW.  NSW “pride” themselves on having the toughest weapons controls and Laser Skirmish got caught in 2004. Battlefield Sports engaged and fully funded a NSW based solicitor to act on behalf of the industry in negotiating with the NSW firearms registry.  The solicitors name was Douglas Linnette from Rodd Peters Commercial & Media Lawyers.  Peter and Douglas worked hard this resulted in the operators getting a reasonably workable prohibited weapons permit.

In 2010 Battlefield funded and engaged the assistance of a professionally lobbying firm, Hawker Britton. Phil Joyce from Red Baron Laser Skirmish in NSW was of great assistance as well in the lobbying efforts. The main issue was the NSW police had decided to rescind their previous position that the Commando was not an imitation firearm.

The NSW ballistics have made 3 different assessments of 2 models, the Commando and the Scorpion:

  • On one occasion they classified neither model as being an imitation firearm
  • On the second occasion they classified both as imitation firearms and
  • then on the third and final occasion they classified the Commando as an imitation firearm and the Scorpion not to be. 

Such inconsistency is very challenging for the laser tag industry. Industry needs certainty. However since 2010 to the present day Scorpions have ben explicitly defined by the NSW Police Department as not being an imitation firearm.

cobra group Current permit conditions for imitation firearms are onerous. In fact these conditions have become more and more unworkable. Any new permit holders restrict play to people 18 and over. This means, practically, that all new operators in NSW use Scorpions and of course the Cobra models, because these two models do not require a permit.

What become obvious by 2010 was the need to have a strong industry association on our side.  Generally government officials prefer to deal with an industry association rather than individual businesses. To this end, Peter Lander and Phil Joyce successfully lobbied the board of the “Australian Amusement, Leisure and Recreation Association Inc.” known as AALARA to form a Laser Tag sub-committee.   AALARA is professionally run and is well respected so they provide a very valuable tool for the industry.

Because of AALARA, we have had representation in Queensland on the weapons bill review committee.  A process that has been very constructive in providing advice to the Queensland government. Phil Durkin from AALARA and Rob Bradley as well should be thanked for their tremendous assistance.

To this day AALARA remains a powerful platform to lobby government on behalf of the membership.

Today the major challenge is that all States and Territories have agreed through the ministerial council for emergency services and police department to implement nationally consistent rules for the definition and treatment of imitation firearms. However, as is very common, each jurisdiction has or is planning to implement the agreement differently. The result is that some models which are legal in one State may be doubtful in another State.  The most obvious example is the Commando. The Commando does not have any of barrel for a bullet, is boxy in construction with a science fiction theme.  This model is generally deemed not to require a permit throughout Australia, but does need one in NSW.

Meetings between AALARA and the Victorian Justice Department have occurred in 2014. The aim is to ensure the rules and regulations in that State remain workable for the laser tag industry.  Battlefield Sports continues to support AALARA and the laser tag industry, in fact Peter Lander is the current chairman of the AALARA Laser Tag Sub-committee.

The Battlefield Sports’ message to operators across Australia, is that it is vitally important that everyone supports AALARA.  We will only get out of the Association what we collectively put in.   It is very important to become members and to attend our industry association’s annual conference.  Our experience from their annual conference is we can all learn tremendously from the experience of allied industries.  AALARA is also the best conduit for the future professional lobbying on behalf of our industry.   

There is still time to register for this month's AALARA Conference, click here.