NORTH BAY -- A North Bay-based airsoft business, that sells replica guns, pellets and accessories, plans on fighting to change Bill C-21. That bill is the federal government's move to ban the sale, use and import of over 1,500 assault-style rifles.

The airsoft gun community said it is under threat by the bill that would essentially wipe out the hobby.

Andrew Mitchell and Keegan Tennant, the co-owners of Nipissing Airsoft, feel betrayed by the federal government.

"With Bill C-21, no one from the government reached out to the airsoft community," Mitchell said. "They just blindsided us."

The airsoft community, that uses low-power guns that fire lightweight plastic pellets, is finding itself in the government's crosshairs. Under the proposed bill, replica airguns and many paintball guns would be banned because they fall under a new definition of replica firearms.

"At least 60-70 per cent of the fields would have a very hard time continuing airsoft," said Tennant. "We're looking to get the entire bill scrapped."

Tennant notes Nipissing Airsoft would be forced to close if the bill is passed.

"These are toy guns with plastic pellets. They are safe to use and we have people of all ages using them up here playing every weekend," said Tennant.

Nipissing-Timiskaming Liberal MP Anthony Rota says he will be speaking to Minister of Public Safety, MP Bill Blair, to get more information on Bill C-21. Rota acknowledges that part of the problem is how realistic airsoft guns look compared to real firearms.

"We’ll look at what the impacts are and weigh that out with public safety," Rota said.

Under the proposed bill, the government will launch a buy-back program on assault-style weapons. There is no clarification if this offer will be made to the airsoft community.

"Many different countries have made modifications to these rifles so that they are very obvious or the shape of them is a little different," Rota said.

There are between 50 to 80 retail outlets across Canada like Nipissing Airsoft that strictly sell airsoft guns and accessories.

"This bill does not make Canadians safer," Tennant said. "It targets legitimate owners of air rifles and real steel guns."

The airsoft community said it has not been consulted on Bill C-21 and would welcome a chance to make its point to the federal government saying their hobby is very safe. 

Petition e-3201, sponsored by Simcoe-Grey MP Terry Dowdall, is asking the federal government to exclude airsoft guns from Bill C-21. The petition is open for signatures until March 26 at 6:17 p.m. and as of March 4, 26,747 have signed it.