THE VCR ACT
The VCR Act is the violent crime reduction act, introduced by parliament in October 2007.
What does it do?
It has many sections, but there are 2 that affect airsoft skirmishers.
The first bans the importation, manufacture and sale of Realistic imitation firearms. (So everything gun shaped airsofters use)
The second bans anybody under 18 from buying any type of replica, realistic or not.
There are several other sections that define what a realistic imitation firearm (RIF) is and also the way you define an imitation firearm (IF), but they are largely irrelevant to most airsofters. Take it as read that includes anything that looks like real gun and you shouldn’t get into trouble.
Thankfully 2 years fighting the act as it went through parliament resulted in airsoft skirmishing getting a specific defence against prosecution under the VCR act. Anybody that can prove they are a skirmisher can avail themselves of the defence, so they can be sold to, import and manufacture as many replicas as they like.
Any existing replicas you own (regardless of how old you are) are not affected as there is nothing in the act about ownership and you can be gifted any sort of RIF or IF, even if you are under 18, as long as the person that buy’s it can legally do so.
So how do you get a site membership?
The government didn’t want just anybody claiming they were a skirmisher, or every Tom Dick and Harry that wanted a RIF would claim they were, so they devised a sensible system for players to prove they were genuine.
To satisfy the requirements of the defence they require a player to have played at least 3 times at a site in a period longer than 2 months. To qualify as a site it must be insured for airsoft skirmishing.
Consequently most sites in the UK now run a membership scheme, you play at the site 3 times in at least a 2 month period, sign up and you can buy as many RIF’s as you need.
What is UKARA registration?
Having site memberships is all well and good until a shop (who are the ones doing the selling and consequently the ones breaking the law) needs to verify a membership from a player or site they don’t know, sometimes for distance selling over the net. The United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers Association (UKARA) took on the responsibility of setting up a secure database that could be used to easily verify a sites membership.
It is a tool that verifies the site memberships of those people that want to sign up to the system. It’s not compulsory and you can’t be on the database without being a member of a site, but it is a good system that is secure and safe. Nobody logged into the system has access to all of the data and the way it has been set up, retailers can’t use the data to market their services as they only have a limited look up feature to confirm memberships.
What about the under 18’s?
There are a lot of players that are under 18 and they have been hardest hit by the VCR act.
An under 18 player can be gifted a replica. The problem comes when the players parents don’t play as they themselves cant buy RIF’s, they are limited to buying IF’s, or their sale name 2 tones.
There are then 2 choices, play with a brightly coloured gun which can be temporarily covered in scrim cloth and tape during play, or paint the gun a realistic colour.
The painting would be considered manufacturing under the VCR act, so can only be carried out under the airsoft skirmishing defence. If you are under 18 and the site you play at runs a junior membership it is still worth you signing up. As a junior member of a site you can still avail yourself of the defence as it has no age limit on it. You still cannot buy as the part of the VCR act banning the under 18’s from purchasing is not covered by the defence, but you can manufacture and import (as long as the RIF is bought outside the UK, for instance while on holiday).
As you can manufacture you can paint an IF to become a RIF and you can also assemble parts to make a RIF where there wasn’t one before.
Unfortunately the under 18’s have more hoops to jump through, but when you consider the average age of a perpetrator of crime with a replica is 13 years old, you can see why the younger age group comes under more scrutiny.
Can I still import?
Yes, if you satisfy the defence you can. It’s not as easy as it used to be and expect delays, but it’s still possible.
When importing it’s worth putting as much information on the package as possible, to help customs verify you’re a skirmisher. A site UKARA number helps to verify a sites validity and insurance, site contact details and web site (so customs can look the number up for themselves) a copy of your membership card and a velocity declaration are all customs should need. Don’t expect parcels to speed through customs as the previously did, there is limited manpower dealing with personal RIF imports, customs do get it sorted eventually but it takes time.
The VCR Act is here to stay, I don’t know anybody that likes it, but it has ended up with airsoft skirmishing being officially recognised as a legitimate activity and now has protection under UK law. That can’t be a bad thing.