FEAR OR FUN: 'Massive' Coast craze sparks debate
THEIR popularity is rapidly rising on the Fraser Coast but gel blasters could cause more fear than fun for some.
While one criminal expert says the toys' realistic appearance is a problem for some members of the public, retailers argue the products are safe and deserve their place in the market.
As stores selling the toy guns pop up throughout the Fraser Coast, University of Queensland criminologist Dr Suzanna Fay said what worried people about gel blasters was how lifelike they were.
She said it may be difficult for people who were not familiar with the toys to tell the difference between a gel blaster and a firearm.
What Maryborough locals said about gel blasters:
The Queensland Police website says when carrying a gel blaster in public, it should be "carried in a way that is not visible to members of the public, so as not to cause alarm to any person".
The rise of gel blasters has led to a spike in police incidents such as the arrest of a Hervey Bay teenager in September 2019, who was allegedly shooting a blaster in public and was charged with dangerous conduct of a weapon.
Queensland Police Service statistics reported five recorded incidents in 2017, jumping to 31 recorded incidents in August 2019.
Gel blasters do not require a licence to own and are not regulated in Queensland.
The popularity of gel blasters has seen two stores open in Maryborough and one in Hervey Bay.
Wayne and Orrie Cross run the U Gelly gel blaster store in Adelaide St, Maryborough.
They described gel blaster popularity as a massive trend and saw the toys as an opportunity for family bonding through skirmish-type activities.
Wayne Cross said gel blasters were family friendly, had much lower impact than paintball and were more affordable.
The store owners stressed the importance of sticking to safety rules.
Tactical Gel Blasters is also in Maryborough and run by manager James Whitbread.
Mr Whitbread said that there had been a massive increase in the popularity of gel blasters across a wide range of people.
He said people who misused gel blasters risked jail time.
M4A1 Gel Blasters Hervey Bay employee Daniel French said the store had sold hundreds of blasters over Christmas.
All three stores promoted the Stop and Think campaign, a partnership between Queensland Police and Gel Ball Association of Australia to promote the safe and proper use of gel blasters.
Members of the gel blaster community play on constructed skirmish fields like Susan River Gel Ball, run by Bob Davis.
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He said players attend a safety briefing before playing and are required to wear eye protection when on the field.
Mr Davis said there was only a small minority of people ruining gel blasters for others.
Dr Fay said she had not seen any evidence to indicate gel blasters had led to a rise in gun-related crime.
She said any possible regulation of gel blasters would be difficult and would have to include input from gel blaster owners, retailers and field operators.