Australia's firearm lobby claims it has won a substantial victory in New South Wales to wind back the regulation of paintball weapons, including lowering the age that a person can engage in paintball to 12.
In most Australian states and territories paintball weapons – known as markers – are treated like firearms. The basis for the original classification was that the weapons can still cause significant injury and harm.
Australians can generally only purchase paintball weapons by obtaining a firearm licence from their state or territory police authority. In Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia they even require the same licence as certain types of shotguns.
But sports shooting and paintball groups claim they have succeeded in an extensive and protracted lobbying effort to persuade the NSW government to take steps to deregulate access to paintball weapons. Over the weekend several paintball groups began posting on Facebook that the NSW government had agreed to introduce new legislation to deregulate the ownership of paintball weapons.
The NSW Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MLC Robert Borsak said in a post that "after a long battle with the New South Wales government, I'm pleased to announce that we have finally secured a commitment to have paintball markers no longer classified as firearms".
He wrote that the key changes would include paintball licensing to occur online, instead of with NSW police. The current age limit of 16 would be lowered to 12.
It is unclear how stringent the online registration requirements would be and how they would differ from the current firearm regime. The NSW government has not released any details.
The Australasian Paintball Association (AUPBA) said it had received a memorandum from the NSW government outlining that cabinet had approved reforms that were the "culmination of many years of lobbying".
The president of the AUPBA Leon Bubenicek wrote in a statement: "We are thrilled with the result and are elated we now have the opportunity for our NSW members to provide safe, adrenalin-fuelled outdoor entertainment for a larger portion of the community."
Despite the public comments from paintball and firearm groups, no public announcement has been made by the NSW government.
The office of the NSW police minister Troy Grant referred questions to the innovation and better regulation minister Matt Kean. Kean's office has not responded to queries from BuzzFeed News.
Australian gun control groups are alarmed at the prospect of less regulation.
The chair of Gun Control Australia Samantha Lee said deregulating paintball weapons was a "dangerous slope", and showed how powerful Australia's gun lobby had grown in the decades since the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, the aftermath of which saw Australia introduce one of the world's most strict gun control regimes.
"Paintball guns ... include single shot, repeating action, semi automatic and fully automatic models. They can propel pellets at velocities topping 200 miles per hour.
"They are real guns and like all real guns the same laws should apply as to all other guns."
The regulation of paintball has been under review in NSW since 2017. NSW Police said in September 2017 that the changes to paintball regulation "will not occur until rigorous industry consultation takes place and a regulatory framework (including transitional arrangements) is developed".
"The consultation with the paintball industry and stakeholders is an important step in getting the regulatory model correct," it said.
Gun Control Australia has called for a broader overhaul of firearm regulation in Australia, and fears Australia's tough gun control laws are being whittled away.
On Monday the organisation released a report stating that firearm theft from licenced owners had almost doubled over the last decade.
"Gun theft is a problem that has long been ignored by both state and federal governments," Lee said. "So much concern is expressed about the illicit gun market, yet governments give so little attention to the impact theft is having on gun trafficking. It remains a primary source for guns feeding the illicit market.”