TopGun Paintball Games' original owner, Raymond Gong, founded and legalized paintball in New Jersey on May 2, 1988. Prior to winning his lawsuit, paintball play was considered illegal in New Jersey. The NJ State Police, based on the interpretation of NJ firearms laws by the State Attorney General's Office, considered paintball guns to be firearms. Thus, potential owners of paintball guns needed both a valid Firearms ID card along with a Pistol Purchase Permit for each paintball "gun" they wanted. Even if a player followed these rules for the purchase or ownership of the paintball gun, it could be considered Assault and Battery if the "firearm" was discharged at another player. Any would-be paintball player in New Jersey ran the risk of being arrested. Thus early New Jersey paintball players had to journey several hours each way to New York or Pennsylvania to play. Many NJ players "secretly" and "illegally" owned paintball guns.
In 1987, Ray filed a lawsuit challenging the States interpretation that paintball guns were firearms. The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office and the State Attorney General's Office contended that the paintball guns were firearms for several reasons. First, since paintball guns used CO2 cartridges, they were firearms since one definition of a firearm involves the use of cartridges. Next, paintball guns were firearms since they used compressed gas to discharge a projectile. Finally, paintball guns were "destructive devices" since they fired a projectile greater than .60 caliber.
At that time, Ray had read an article in Action Pursuit Magazine about a player named Bud Orr out in California who had made his own paintball gun using a refillable CO2 tank and could fire .68, .62 and .50 caliber paintballs. Some of you "older" paintball players will probably remember the .62 caliber was used in the first full automatic paintball gun, the Tippmann SMG (Sub-Machine Gun), and the .50 caliber was used in the Crossman .357 Magnum pistol. Ray immediately called Bud Orr and convinced him to make a .50 caliber version of his Sniper pump gun to be used in New Jersey and for evidence at the upcoming trial.
The .50 caliber Sniper with the "constant air" tank was chosen for several reasons. First, it did not use a "cartridge", but rather a refillable CO2 "constant air" tank. Next it used a .50 caliber projectile which was greater than 3/8 inch and was also smaller than the .60 caliber of a "destructive device." Technically, the .62 caliber paintballs were actually .60 caliber which meant they also did not fit under the greater than .60 caliber definition of a destructive device. Ray believed that the standard .68 caliber paintball gun would fall outside the definition of being a firearm under the current NJ laws but presented several more options for the state to consider. Can you imagine one possible scenario that would have players in New Jersey using only .50 caliber paintball guns to this day?
Ray also decided to use Russell Maynard and Jessica Sparks as expert witnesses for the trial along with Bud Orr. Russell was the original and current editor of Action Pursuit Games magazine at that time. Jessica was both an attorney in California, avid paintball player and board member of paintball's first industry and player association, the International Paintball Players Association. Bud was to be the critical technical expert on paintball guns. However, Russell and Jessica were needed to explain what paintball was all about since the court had no idea what it was. Also, it was felt that an explanation of the game and the existence of a "regulatory" body promoting rules, regulations and safety would showcase paintball as a sport and not just as a "bunch of survivalists running around in the woods shooting each other."
On April 14, 1988 the trial began. The Honorable Judge A. Milberg presided over the case. During the course of the trial, the Judge wanted a demonstration of the paintball "guns" which we carefully kept calling paintball "marking devices." The demonstration was made over at the Monmouth County Police target range. Both .68 and .50 caliber paintballs were fired at various targets including white coated backboards, cardboard cutouts of "criminals" and a styrofoam head. However, the Judge wanted to see what the impact was on a human. Russell volunteered to be the "target." We gave him a set of JT goggles and covered him with a plastic garbage liner to protected his suit and proceeded to put him at the receiving end of the target range. Bud loaded up the .50 caliber Sniper and proceeded to shoot Russell about a dozen times. The paintballs wouldn't break due to the "stealth" nature of the plastic bag. Finally, one struck him in the sternum and broke. It also punctured the plastic liner leaving a "blood" red trail on his white shirt. Unfortunately, .50 caliber paintballs were only made with red enamel paint. However, it did prove to the Judge that being hit with a paintball was not "deadly". A videotape of this incredible demonstration is available at the Top Gun store. It will be made into a viewable or downloadable video in the near future on this website.
One of the key points in the trial was when Bud was testifying. Bud pulled out a copy of Speer's Reloading Manual for Rifle and Pistol and pointed out the definition of a "cartridge" in the Illustrated Glossary section. A "cartridge" was defined as a complete unit of ammunition assembly containing case, powder, primer and bullet. This effectively destroyed the prosecutor's argument that the the CO2 cartridge used in paintball "markers" was the cartridge used in the definition of a firearm. The trial lasted two days and required only a Judge's ruling since a jury is not used in Prerogative Writ cases.
On April 22nd, Judge Milberg ruled that paintball "guns" were not firearms under NJ Firearm laws, thus paving the way for paintball in New Jersey. His decision stated that paintball guns were not firearms since the definition of a cartridge for firearms also included internal combustion and that even though gas powered devices are covered under firearm laws, they also state that the projectile emitted must be less than 3/8 inch (.375 caliber). Thus a paintball pistol or rifle cannot be considered firearms under the current law. In addition, Judge Milberg ruled that the paintball guns were not "destructive devices" since those weapons also involve uncontrollable combustion. Judge Milberg's ruling was officially signed on May 2nd, the official birthday of paintball in New Jersey. That made New Jersey the last state in the entire United States to legalize paintball. A dozen foreign countries approved paintball before New Jersey.
The case was appealed by the Prosecutor's Office. However, the Appellate Court unanimously upheld Judge Milberg's Superior Court ruling on November 22, 1988.
That's the good news. The bad news follows. Ray planned to open a paintball field on a 120 acre piece of property that he owned in Marlboro township. However, the Monmouth County Prosecutor sent a letter to each of the mayors in Monmouth County telling them that they might lose this case and thus each township should change or enact ordinances if they wanted to ban or control paintball facilities in their township. Marlboro reacted by removing the recreation use as an approved use from the zone in which Ray's property was located. Thus instead of just applying for site plan approval, Ray now had to seek a use variance.
Ray first tried to open his paintball field as a club without physical facilities. His Grand Opening was set for September 22, 1988. The first games ever played at that site were attended by about two dozen players. The following Saturday, the entrance to the site was blocked by several township police cars under orders from the Mayor. The Zoning Code enforcer also issued several summons, citing that paintball was not a permitted use. Ray was required to appear in municipal court where his attorney successfully argued that although there was "activity", there were no permanent facilities. Since activities such as hunting were permitted, the summons was not valid. The Judge agreed with Ray's attorney's arguments. It was also agreed that Ray would go through the Use Variance process.
Big Mistake! Marlboro's Zoning Board meetings dragged out over a year. Rumors ran rampant that Ray was building some kind of survivalist or Neo-Nazi training camp. Ray himself was accused of being a Neo-Nazi or Skinhead. The Mayor was concerned about the "message" that it would send about violence to the children of Marlboro. The Mayor was also concerned about the "type" of people that would be attracted to Marlboro Township. Needless to say, Ray's application for a use variance for his paintball facility got turned down.
Undaunted, Ray took his case to Monmouth County Superior Court. In November 1990, the Honorable Judge L. Lawson ruled that the Marlboro Zoning Board acted "unreasonably, arbitrarily and capriciously in denying the Plaintiff a Use Variance to permit use of the land for a paintball facility." Thus Ray was finally about to have his Grand Opening in June of 1991. The Grand Opening was a big success but dark clouds hung overhead. Marlboro township appealed the Superior Court ruling. In October 1991, the Appellate Court overruled Judge Lawson's decision. Top Gun was force to shut down again.
When New Jersey's Supreme Court decided not to hear this case, the groundwork was started on a new lawsuit contending that Marlboro had illegally "taken" Ray's property. This lawsuit was to drag on for the next five years. Meanwhile, Top Gun was successful in opening a new paintball facility in Jackson township, their current site, in 1993. Actually, Top Gun had 5 Grand Openings in 5 years if you count the paintball field opened behind Top Gun Paintball Games first store located in Bayville, New Jersey. Finally, both sides gave up on the "taking" lawsuit and settled the case after "wasting" at least a million dollars in personal and taxpayer monies.
On January 1st 2006 Ray turned over ownership of TopGun to long time player, and TopGun customer, Carl Atkins. Carl, his family and loyal staff invested a lot of time, energy and $$$ to update the facilities and refocus on the importance of delivering excellent customer service. On January 15th 2007 Jim Renschler joined the management of TopGun and has injected even more enthusiasm into building TopGun into the icon of what a paintball field can be.
Working with the TopGun Family, Including Carl, Carl III, Kathy, Beth, SuiLee, Jim, Matt, Cindy, Bill, Dan, Alvin and the rest of the TopGun Staff and friends including Bunk, Paul, Glen and others too numerous to mention, the first 20 years of TopGun will be the launching platform to even greater heights in becoming the premiere Paintball Facility in the country.