The United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers Association (UKARA) is the association developed to ensure that airsoft retailers don’t fall foul of the law when selling Realistic Imitation Firearms (RIFs) to people within the UK and was set up in response to the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (VCRA 2006). Up until recently it was the only association available for airsofters to join to give them a valid defence to buy realistic airsoft guns within the UK but the introduction of a new organisation, the British Airsoft Club (BAC), looks to change this.
If you have previously read this article and have returned to see what the BCA have said in response to my concerns then please scroll to the bottom to see their response.
Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (VCRA 2006)
The VCRA was introduced in the UK to do exactly what it states, reduce violent crime, and how that relates to airsoft is that, in a nutshell, it is an offence for airsoft retailers to sell Realistic Imitation Firearms to those people who are under 18 and/or have no legal defence to own one, a legal defence in terms of airsoft being an active skirmisher. How this relates to UKARA is that by becoming a member of UKARA you have proven that you are an active skirmisher and thus airsoft retailers can sell you a RIF without running the risk of prosecution. If you do not meet the defence requirements or are under 18 then a retailer can only sell you an Imitation Firearm (IF). Imitation firearms being those that are brightly coloured on more than 50% of their body. Those airsoft guns that are made of clear plastic also fall into this category. Basically, the onus is on the retailer to ensure that you, as a customer, are buying a RIF for legitimate purposes.
UK Airsoft Retailers Association
UKARA was set up as an association of retailers to allow them to group together and sell RIFs to approved customers following the guidelines of the VCRA 2006. The way this works for those that are unsure is you basically get your local UKARA approved airsofting site to stamp a form to state that you have played there 3 times within 12 months but not in any shorter period than 2 months. You then send off your form to your local airsoft retailer who will then register you with UKARA. Most airsofting sites will actually do this for you and provide you with a site membership for a small fee. By becoming a member you then have a valid defence to buy a RIF and retailers can sell to you. It is a system that so far has worked but it has drawn criticism for the fact that it is run by a retailer and some disagree with UKARA appearing to be the sole voice of the airsofting community. It is also not a convenient method for those who play at more than one site. But, as said, it does work.
British Airsoft Club
The British Airsoft Club is a new, not for profit, organisation that is offering the same legal defence but are advertising themselves as being more convenient. Using a completely electronic system of on-line memberships airsoft sites can log on and check off players that have played with them meaning that those players who visit multiple sites will have a more convenient way to register their legal defence. Their main selling point for their system over UKARA seems to be convenience. The way their system works is that you, as a player, register a player profile with them using a passport style photo and your address and personal details and then pay a fee of £6.99 per year. This then serves as your on-line membership card. When you play at a registered site, the site owners or admin staff then log onto their own profile and acknowledge that you have played with them. This information is then stored on a database which updates your own personal profile so retailers can instantly check your eligibility to purchase a RIF. It sounds in essence the same as UKARA but he BAC claim that their method gives you more control over your profile and caters for those skirmishers that play at multiple sites. They also claim that this new system gives you the ability to keep track of all the sites you have played at and this is where I think this new system may fall down. With UKARA, all airsoft sites are required to do is stamp a form, as and when you present it to them. With the BAC database, airsoft sites will have to log onto their own profile and review those people who have claimed to have played with them before approving or denying the information. This means that airsoft sites, should they choose to register with the BAC, will now have to keep track of all those players that are registered as and when they play so that they can keep the database up-to-date. To put it into simple terms, stamping the form of someone standing in front of you, as with UKARA, is easy. Answering an email request to confirm that Joe Bloggs played at your site a few days ago, and then logging on to your profile to confirm the information, is not as easy and I feel that there is a the possibility of airsoft sites to become slack with this because let’s face it, they are busy people too! Also, site owners will surely need to see matching ID to confirm with the database on games days to make this an effective method, yet the BAC will not be providing physical memberships. This appears to run the risk of airsoft sites not knowing who has played when and having to rely solely on a list of a names, which kind of defeats the purpose of having a photo ID membership in the first place, doesn’t it?! Let’s put it into a scenario. Joe Bloggs has a mate called Dave that plays airsoft. Joe wants to buy a RIF but can’t because he doesn’t play airsoft and has no intentions of playing. He asks his mate Dave to book on at 3 airsoft games under the name Joe Bloggs. Joe Bloggs then sets up a profile on the BAC website and declares that he’s played at 3 airsoft sites. The BAC then email the 3 airsoft sites to confirm that Joe Bloggs has been there, they check over their list of players and see the name Joe Bloggs 3 times and click approve. Joe Bloggs now has a valid defence without having ever set foot on an airsoft field. The only way to counter this potential problem is to either create physical membership cards ,which the BAC have said they will not be doing initially, or for airsoft sites to enforce photographic ID being presented for players wishing to register so they can then go on-line and cross reference it against the player profile. This then creates a problem of time delays. It will take twice as long to book players in on game days and what about all those people who don’t have photographic ID? Do they get an automatic pass and the assumption that they are who they say they are?!
All in all the new BAC will give airsofters a new option other than UKARA allowing you to choose which organisation to use, and generally speaking, choice is always better than no choice. But I have my doubts (which are slowly being alleviated!) about the feasibility of this system and it all being totally on-line. It all seems a little bit open to abuse at the moment in regard to the BAC, but I have pitched this question to the BAC on their Facebook page and will report back with their response.
Well the BAC were up bright and early this morning and responded to my query before I’d had a chance to publish this post so here is there response.
“Thank you for your question. In my experience 99% of airsoft players are honest and decent people. So therefore, I don’t believe that this will be issue. However, for that 1% we will in the future be issuing physical membership cards. As you are aware, at the moment a player has an online membership card that they can print off and provide the airsoft sites if needed. Best wishes, Malcolm BAC.”
As you can see they’ve noted the potential problem and to combat this in the future they will be issuing physical membership cards. But what about in the meantime?! I’ve put another question to them regarding this and shall report back with their response.
UPDATE! 24 FEB 2014
After posting some questions on the BAC’s Facebook page I was pleased to see that they responded with interest and thanks for pointing out where possible confusion maybe arising. Their website initially stated that you could track all the airsoft sites that you play at and this led to some believing that part of the BAC’s mandate was for airsoft sites to approve every player that played every game. This was also the impression I had from reviewing their website so I posed some questions to them on their Facebook page and was pleased to see that they took on board my comments and have already amended their website for clarity. I’ll list the conversation here as it happened for clarity.
Templar Airsoft: “Can you confirm how will airsoft sites acknowledge a player has played with them if there is no physical membership being given? With no physical membership being given, site owners will surely now have to check on-line as players turn up, on site, to check their names against the database otherwise they’ll have no-way of knowing if the person who turned up at the weekend is in fact the person on the database when the time comes to confirming attendance??”
BAC: “Thank you for your question. In my experience 99% of airsoft players are honest and decent people. So therefore, I don’t believe that this will be issue. However, for that 1% we will in the future be issuing physical membership cards. As you are aware, at the moment a player has an online membership card that they can print off and provide the airsoft sites if needed. Best wishes, Malcolm BAC”
Templar Airsoft: “I agree that a large portion of airsofters are honest, it comes with the sport, but how will you account for that 1% that aren’t, before your membership cards are introduced? When an airsoft site gets a notification to confirm someone’s attendance a few days after the game day, how do they know that the profile they are looking at is the same as the person who turned up? Does the criteria for site membership mean they have to ID players and cross reference their BAC profile to ensure people are who they say they are? Or will you be relying on the airsoft site staff to remember the faces of all those who have played?
To confirm I’m not trying to throw mud here, just trying to clarify possible loopholes that appear to be in place at the moment. Choice in matter like this is always a good option (UKARA or BAC).”
BAC: “With regards to verification it can be done on the day, if the Airsoft site feels that this is necessary. We are looking into producing ID cards as we speak.
The BAC aims to always adapt and evolve to improve the experience and security for the Airsoft community.
We still are in phase one, which is registering the Airsoft sites and retailers. Players do not register until 1 March 2014.
Will will also offer registration to any current UKARA members from 1 March 2014. They will get 12 months membership so long as they can demonstrate their UKARA membership.”
Templar Airsoft: ” Malcolm, Many thanks for the response. Sounds more promising as the days go by! I think where there may be some confusion, from the point of airsoft sites checking off every player, originating from the part of your website that states that players can keep track of the sites that they play at. There are a few that I have spoken to that are reading that as, you can log every site you play at and then the site owners shall be acknowledging your attendance. I’m sure you can agree that if every player did this for every game then it could potentially cause a lot more work for the site owners and administration staff. Nonetheless, your reply has cleared up the point that this is not necessary. I shall keep checking back for updates and shall pass on your comments to my readers.
BAC: “Thanks TA, we will amend that on our website – you are correct, that is confusing. Yes that would be far too much admin for sites and we would never expect that – three game confirmation only. Thanks, BAC.
Done – any others you notice, please advise…”
So as you can see it seems there may have been a little confusion over the initial requirements for the BAC process, but as they have said, they are already now looking into physical membership cards. They have also confirmed that there is no requirement to keep registering airsoft sites that you have played at which should settle some of the concerns that airsoft sites raised. All in all it is still early days for the BAC, they haven’t even started player registration yet but on the face of it it seems they are more than willing to take note of peoples concerns which can only be a good thing.
If the BAC can keep this attitude going then things seem very promising. Time will tell, and I look forward to watching them grow. As always I will update this article as more information becomes available.
Watch this space!!
There seems to be a consistent misunderstanding in certain areas of airsofting about how UK law works in relation to airsoft so for the purposes of this article I have intentionally dumbed down the information regarding the VCRA 2006. For further information regarding the VCRA 2006, UKARA and the BAC you can use the following links.