Brightly coloured toy ‘gel ball’ guns see shop owner charged

Brad Towner has built a successful business over several years, in full view of the NSW Police, selling colourful plastic toy guns that shoot a harmless gel ball at harmless speeds.  These toys are an alternative to the well-known Nerf brand.

Brad was recently charged for unlicensed firearms dealing and is facing serious penalties, including jail time, if a court convicts him.  Brad’s case represents one battle in the cultural war being waged by many government agencies and politicians against anything that looks like a firearm and anyone who takes an interest in them.  Brad took a few minutes to talk to us about his case.

Interview with Brad Towner

LAFO: Thanks for talking to us Brad. We understand you were, until recently, running a small business selling (often brightly coloured) plastic toy guns to enthusiasts.  That fairly harmless activity seems to caught the eye of the NSW Firearms Registry and their attitude about it has snowballed out of control to the point you’re being charged with unlicensed firearms dealing. We’re familiar with the way some Firearms Registry police like to bully businesses and threaten prosecutions over technicalities, but your case seems completely unreal. We’d like to backtrack to just what sort of toy guns you’ve been selling and why people buy them. Before we do that, where can people contribute to your legal fight?

Brad: Not a problem at all. I’m really happy you guys are helping to spread the word. We have a Go Fund Me (click here) set up where anyone can donate whatever they like. All donations will be used to pay for lawyers, barristers and expert witnesses.

LAFO: So how did this all start?

Brad: I started Armoured Heaven back in August 2010 on the basis I needed a toy gun for a costume to attend a convention. A lot of my friends also expressed interest in this and so I spent a lot of time searching for a good supplier of these awesome toys. I started off with toys that just did lights and sounds and eventually moved into the Gel Ball Blasters. People buy them for collecting, playing, cosplay at conventions and just because they look great displayed on a wall. I also have a fair few people who use my toys for their amazing YouTube videos, such as Fury Fingers, who are sponsored by Ubisoft and do a lot of their recent promotional work.

LAFO: It’s interesting to know that other Australian businesses have a use for these imports.  How did you discover Gel Ball Blasters (GBBs)?

Brad: My toy supplier just simply sent me a catalogue of all their new toy guns at the start of 2015 and these were the brand new hit. I started off with a few not really knowing what they were or if any good, but quickly discovered how amazing they are as a toy and what opportunities these products bring to my awesome customers. My customers caught on quick and arrived in droves to my store or online to grab as many as they could carry. Some buying for an entire boot full for them and their friends and family.

LAFO: Some people say they must be firearms because they look a bit like firearms. Are GBBs firearms?

Brad: Most definitely not firearms. Under the law, these are certainly toys and from their previous investigations, the Firearm Registry also determined them as such. Prior to the serving warrant to seize my toys by Penrith LAC Police, the last time was by the Major Crimes and Firearm Dept of Parramatta.

My customers use the toys purely for playing or collecting and cosplaying like I mentioned above. Lots of parents buy for themselves and their children to encourage outside play and exercise.

LAFO: How do your GBB function? What do they do?

Brad: They are operated by a battery pack connected to a plunger. When the trigger is pressed, the plunger moves back and forth, hitting the gel ball inside the toy to shoot approx 20m in range. Just like a Nerf toy product or even a Super Soaker.

The GBB shoot Gel Balls, hence their name “Gel Ball Blasters”. These are tiny crystals that when soaked in water for 3 hours, form up a “jelly ball” that when contact is made, splatter apart. Completely biodegradable and safe. Some are 8mm in size, others are 9-11mm depending on the toy’s requirement

LAFO: Have you dealt with NSW Police and Australian Customs much before you were charged?

Brad: Yes. Numerous times. With customs, I declared all my imports properly and correctly and not once had an issue. Customs, after a year, recently issued me a seizure notice for a shipped 20ft container they seized March 2017, sighting my toys are Airsoft Guns with the reason they are capable of firing an explosive round or bullet. I don’t understand their logic since that type of product can’t operate with real ammunition. But why allow logic and legal definitions to dictate a good ol’ seizure notice of something they originally cleared and then delivered an empty container whilst refusing to speak to my lawyer about it. Despite us also holding the clearance paperwork and truck delivery notice.

NSW Police have in the past been great. I originally was set up in Belmont NSW at my parent’s place in their garage and ran everything as a home business until I moved to Western Sydney late 2014. The firearm registry first checked me out in 2012 and immediately cleared me at first glance. They were highly professional and were thankful I was doing everything right. Between then and 2016, I was looked into again just confirm everything was above board. Each time I was fully compliant. When Parramatta Major Crimes and Firearm Dept came to investigate me when I shared a shop in their city, they were relieved I only had toys and nothing else. Oddly enough they were doubtful a toy gun shop would be a successful venture and thought I was some gang related front. After meeting me, we spent about 20 mins discussing toy guns and they took photos to add to the file, we shook hands and they parted ways. From there, we had the odd police officer poke their head in out of curiosity as their branch had briefed the Parramatta station I was in operation and nothing to worry about.

LAFO: What are you doing now to prepare for the situation you’re facing?

Brad: I’m currently running a Go Fund Me. It was suggested by Peter Whelan of the Shooters Union to help spread the word. I have also written to my local MP Stuart Ayres and the NSW Minister for Police Troy Grant detailing my case along with evidence to support my legal stance and why this is such a ridiculous prosecution. They did not respond in any meaningful way.

The charges are:

(1) Possession of 3 or more unregistered firearms including pistol or prohibited firearm.
(2) Possess unauthorised firearm.
(3) Possess Ammunition without holding licence/authority.
(4) Possess or use a prohibited weapon without being licensed.
(5) Carry on activities of a firearm dealer without being licensed.

These charges are very serious and are classified as a ‘Serious Indictment”, meaning I can go to prison for 5 years to life under our laws. My legal team believe that this is a test case set out by the DPP to see if they can in fact ban anything toy gun related. My Ammunition charge (charge number 3 above) is linked to the gel ball blasters I sell for the toy guns. A lot of the prohibited weapon charges are based off the Ballistics Report categorising my GBB as “Airgun Firearm”.

LAFO: How can your toys be described as airguns? Do they operate off CO2 canisters or other compressed air?

Brad: No. Purely the plunger. Without contact from the plunger, no Gel Ball will move out of the toy’s barrel. They are clearly and purposefully misidentifying these toys to string me up on charges.

Likewise with the Gel Balls. Classifying them as ammunition would indicate that anyone with a garden bed could grow bullets with some water and TLC. Completely absurd.

LAFO: The fact that those charges were even brought against you should concern more than just law-abiding shooters. We can only imagine how many toys and items of memorabilia are likely could be the subject of criminal charges under the various State firearms Acts. Thanks for taking time out to talk to us.

Brad: Thank you so much for the support and spreading the word. I fully intend to fight these charges and walk out of court with my liberty and business back. Anything less is just not acceptable and says a lot about their attitude to small businesses in this country. If the DPP push hard on this and are successful, they are sending a strong message that the government doesn’t care about us and will find any reason to send you to jail.

For any go fund me donations, I’ve got some cool 3D Velcro Patches being made and will send you one for free for anything over $20 as a thank you. Just message Armoured Heaven on facebook with your postal address and when they’re ready, I’ll be sending them off ASAP.

LAFO: Brad, we wish you every success.