Ask LH: Can I Use Replica Firearms In My Movie?

Ask LH: Can I Use Replica Firearms In My Movie?

Dear Lifehacker, are blank-firing airsoft guns legal in NSW? I was wondering this because I want to make a mini action movie on my YouTube channel. All the rules I read online conflict with each other! Thanks, Australian McGuyver

Lara Croft picture from Shutterstock

Dear AM, This is a topic we’ve touched on before. Unfortunately, Australia’s airsoft laws are quite strict compared to the rest of the world; particularly in NSW.

Any gun replica that could be reasonably mistaken for the real thing is legally classified as an imitation firearm in Australia. This includes toys, ornaments, video game peripherals and — yes — airsoft products. Unlawful possession of airsoft goodies can result in prosecution for weapons related offences. No really.

Despite posing no more danger than the average Nerf gun enthusiast, airsoft owners are supposed to apply for a firearms license and fill out an Australian Customs’ B709 Importation of Firearms certification form prior to purchase.

Even then, most states prohibit use of airsoft guns for a range of bureaucratic reasons. For example, in Victoria you can’t import airsoft “weapons” due to there being no official airsoft firing ranges — according to the law, this means there is no genuine reason to own one. Similarly, Tasmania has banned them on the grounds that their use constitutes a “simulated military exercise” which is heavily restricted under Tasmanian law.

In addition to this, certain airsoft models are banned outright in all states and territories. This includes guns with folding or detachable stocks, guns capable of fully automatic fire and guns that outwardly resemble a sub-machine gun or machine pistol — pretty much everything you would want to use in a movie. Oddly, many of these models are categorised as actual prohibited firearms despite having no lethal capability.

As far as we can tell, the Northern Territory appears to be the only place in Australia where the rules are somewhat relaxed. It’s perfectly legal to own an airsoft gun there, although you’ll still need the correct firearms licence. Tch, eh?

Even if you managed to jump through all legal the hoops and moved to the Northern Territory you still couldn’t import one. Airsoft weapons are defined as a prohibited import under schedule 6 of the Customs Prohibited Imports Regulations 1956. In other words, you would need to find a local supplier.

We would also advise against using movie props without a proper licence; especially if the model in question fires blanks. Here’s what the Australian Customs And Border Protection Service has to say on the legalities of importing imitation firearms:

To import imitation firearms into Australia, importers must first obtain written certification from the police firearms or weapons registry in their State or Territory. This certification will be in the form of a B709A Importation of Firearms – Police Confirmation and Certification Form (B709A Form). [clear] [clear]The original police certification must be presented to Customs and Border Protection at importation. Imitation firearms do not have to undergo safety testing and do not require a unique serial number

With that said, most gun replica stores will happily accept orders with no questions asked. Usually, the website will contain a caveat that it’s the buyer’s responsibility to ensure they have the required permits; but you don’t actually have to provide any proof.

Just bear in mind that you will be breaking the law by going down this route. This definitely isn’t something I’d want to trust to mail delivery — especially for overseas purchases that need to clear Customs.

Currently, the maximum penalty for importing imitation firearms without import approval is $275,000 and/or imprisonment for 10 years. Maybe downgrade your hero’s weapon of choice to a machete? Hey, it worked for Danny Trejo!


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  • Australian McGuyver
    Wasn’t the real Angus opposed to guns?

    That said, and whilst I’m sure you’re planning a movie on a tight budget, you may want to find a prop company with the appropriate permissions.

    • So by extension, a lot of real guns could pass as toys if you painted them some silly color, or splashed a sticker over them? Being silly of course, which the whole situation is these days, but I’ve seen Hello Kitty decals for sub-automatics.

      Its a shoot first ask questions later issue these days. Pun intended.

      • the problem is an imitation handgun can be used to rob a bank, there’s not really much advantage to having a pink real gun except maybe if you want to kill someone they might not realise it until it was too late

    • To play Devil’s advocate, isn’t the law not about replicas and airsoft guns specifically, but anything that could reasonably be mistaken as a firearm? That would seem to make it illegal to modify a nerf gun or even cutting something out of foam yourself and painting it so that it could reasonably be mistaken as a firearm… movie-makers and cosplayers beware?

      That seems to be a pretty unfair rule, thinking about entertainment industries.

    • +1 for mentioning TNova… It’s funny though, I think it’s a bit of a split reason with TN, being filmed in QLD, falls under the same laws outlined in this article… It might have been an artistic choice though, because it is a good example of where this method actually works, and works well.

      What I want to know is, why is the local tobacco store here is allowed to sell full sized, metallic or black coloured replica pistols? (I’m in Newcastle NSW)…. Not some quiet little smoke shop in a small suburb either, right in the center of town, tens of thousands of passers by each day… I thought the law stated that if a replica or toy gun was made/sold here, it HAD to have those orange tips at the end of the barrel at minimum, in order to identify it as a toy?
      That’s what I don’t understand about this tobacconist, all of the guns there, aren’t behind the counter or anything, in full shopfront window displays, some $200+, with no red tips on the barrels, and feels like they’re made out of Die cast or something similar. Infact the Glock .45 looked so real I thought they were selling real ones! I had to actually ask the owner because they weren’t marked as “replica” or “toys” either, just a hand written price tag on a bit of string…
      No doubt on-beat Police have walked past there before, probably been called to that very store many times for shoplifting thieves and what not… Can they do anything? Or does this strange (but probably good) law prevent them from being able to intervene?

  • Not sure about NSW, but when we were filming for a student project here in VIC… if you wanted to use a weapon (or anything that looked like a weapon, even a toy), you needed to lodge a filming notification with the Victorian Police too. The last thing you want is bystanders seeing your shoot, thinking it’s real and calling the cops on you!

  • I have a friend who was arrested for behaving like a goose with some toy guns. The arrest was based on the toys being reasonably mistaken for real weapons. He wasn’t prosecuted in the end, but he does tell people that he did some time for firearms offences, which is technically true.

  • The short version is “You can do it without permits until you get caught, then you are screwed”.

    Closed, non-public locations help, as does going through props/armorers who can deal with all the legal details. Chances of getting caught inside a house are a lot lower than if you are filming on a city street.

  • Assumption is that anywhere where the general public could observe you wielding a weapon is likely to get you in trouble unless you have spoken to the appropriate authorities about permits and controls. From a Cosplay point of view, the advice is ensure that any replica firearms are carried in a bag to the event so as to not alarm the public.

    • Good advice in general. As a registered (real) gun owner who moved interstate, I registered my ownership at the local cop shop.
      Did I walk in with weapons? Hell no.
      I entered, spoke to the cops, explained the situation, even showed the removed bolt actions from the rifles – THEN brought in the weapons for inspection.

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