Answer updated 18/01/2023
Firstly, in Australia a licence or a permit is required to possess or use a firearm, and this is regulated in each state/territory1.
For example, in NSW an air rifle is regarded as a Category A firearm2, a genuine reason for owning and using a firearm is required3 and this must also be registered with the Commissioner of Police4. Further information for NSW can be found here: https://www.police.nsw.gov.au/online_services/firearms/firearms_and_ammunition Other states should consult their regulators.
Secondly, this is an extremely high-risk activity5,6. Managing the risks would require strict controls in place to manage the safety, security and legal requirements. (E.g. safe procedures; staff training; regular maintenance; secure storage; licencing and registration). In addition, we are not sure that a demonstration of the velocity of a bullet would qualify as a valid reason for schools to obtain a licence to possess and use a BB pump rifle.
The safety risks regarding the use of air rifles/ BB guns far outweigh the educational benefits. There are suitable and much safer alternatives to support the curriculum.
Science ASSIST recommends that the best risk management strategy is to substitute with a less hazardous activity. A standard projectile launcher, with appropriate safety controls in place, would be a suitable alternative. These are available from scientific suppliers, see our list of School science suppliers.
We strongly advise that schools should use safer activities for demonstrating and measuring velocity. Each activity would require a site-specific risk assessment and safety glasses are essential for all practical activities using projectiles. Here are some examples:
- ‘Discovering Velocity Outside of the Classroom’, Science Education Resource Centre at Carleton College website, https://serc.carleton.edu/sp/mnstep/activities/19859.html (Accessed December 2022)
- ‘Exploring Newtons Laws of Motion with Bottle Rockets’, National Geographic Society website: https://media.nationalgeographic.org/assets/file/Exploring_Newtons_Laws_... (2014)
- Robertson, William C. 2011. Companion Classroom activities for Stop Faking it! Force and Motion, NSTA website, https://static.nsta.org/pdfs/samples/PB295Xweb.pdf
- ‘Teacher toolkits – Projectile motion’, The Physics Classroom website. https://www.physicsclassroom.com/Teacher-Toolkits/Projectile-Motion (Accessed December 2022) (this website also includes computer simulations)
- ‘Projectile motion’, The University of North Carolina website, http://www.webassign.net/question_assets/unccolphysmechl1/lab_3/manual.html (2011)
- ‘Simple motion experiments with a datalogger’, Institute of Physics website, https://spark.iop.org/simple-motion-experiments-datalogger (Accessed December 2022)
- ‘Ticker-timers for investigating speed’, Institute of Physics website, https://spark.iop.org/ticker-timers-investigating-speed (Accessed December 2022)
- ‘Timing a trolley on a slope’, Institute of Physics website, https://spark.iop.org/timing-trolley-slope (Accessed December 2022)
- ‘Walk this Way – NSTA News’, NSTA website, https://my.nsta.org/resource/7328/science-sampler-walk-this-way (Accessed December 2022)
A word of caution: We are aware that some schools may be using NERF guns. The darts are made from foam but are still capable of causing serious eye damage, so safety glasses MUST be worn. Science ASSIST strongly advises against any modification of NERF guns7.
References and further reading:
1 Australian Government Attorney Generals Department. Firearms. Retrieved (2023, January 18) from the Australian Government Attorney Generals Department website: https://www.ag.gov.au/crime/drugs-and-firearms/firearms (This website contains links to state/territory firearms registries)
2 NSW Police Force. 2019. Firearms Registry, Licence Categories and Firearm Types, Retrieved from NSW Police Force website: https://www.police.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/133198/Licence...
3 NSW Police Force. 2021. Licence Categories and Genuine Reason Table, Retrieved from NSW Police Force website: https://www.police.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/133134/GR_TABLE.pdf
4 NSW Police Force. Firearms and Ammunition - What is a firearm? Retrieved (2023, January 18) from the NSW government police Force website: https://www.police.nsw.gov.au/online_services/firearms/firearms_and_ammunition
5 U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 2012. CPSC Safety Alert. BB Guns can kill, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission website. https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/5089.pdf
6 The Guardian (UK). (2017, June 8) ‘Boy, 13, died after air rifle accidentally discharged, inquest hears’, Retrieved from The Guardian (UK) website: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/08/boy-13-ben-wragge-killed-air-rifle-accidentally-discharged-inquest
7 BlasterPiece blog. (2020, April 23). ‘Are NERF Guns Dangerous? Hints and tips on NERF gun safety’, Retrieved from the BlasterPiece website, https://blasterpiece.com/tips/nerf-guns-dangerous-hints-tips-nerf-gun-safety/
Western Australia Police Department. Firearms Licence. Retrieved (2023 January 18) from the Western Australia Police Department website, https://www.police.wa.gov.au/About-Us/Our-Agency/Police-Licensing-Services/Firearms-Licensing/Firearms-Licence