There has been a "huge drop" in the number of gun dealerships in the Republic, which has led to a surge in the smuggling of shooting products into the State, the Irish Gun Traders Association (IGTA) has said.
Members of the IGTA mounted a protest outside Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, on Thursday to highlight issues it said are “devastating trade” in the Republic.
It said the industry was worth tens of millions in sales and employs hundreds of people. However, the number of gun dealers has significantly reduced from 840 in the late 1990s to just 263 currently.
The IGTA said current “overly-strict controls” and “bureaucratic conditions” on legitimate dealers have led to “a decrease in their business and an increase in the smuggling of shooting products into the country”.
“We accept that controls on the sale of guns, even for sporting purposes is necessary,” said a spokesman. “But the introduction of recent regulations is further driving legitimate, law-abiding dealers out of business.”
While the majority of licensed guns held in Ireland are long guns, such as shotguns or rifles used by hunting enthusiasts and farmers, there are also sporting handguns. These are used for national and international competitions including the Olympics.
“When the regular licensed importers, which traditionally supply the retail firearms dealers, apply for permits to import new handguns to cater for the demands of the market, they are refused,” said the spokesman.
“Instead they can only import a handgun after it was first licensed by the local Garda superintendent or chief superintendent.
“Effectively, the handguns have to be imported one at a time. It would be the same as car importers having to import their cars one at a time and only after they are taxed.”
Such control, according to the IGTA, isolates the home trade and forces the shooting public to purchase directly from other jurisdictions.
“This results in gardaí licensing guns in another jurisdiction which have not yet been imported to the Republic, nor indeed has permission been given by the host country to allow the export,” the spokesman said.
“All of this is having a devastating effect on the Irish shooting industry. Many retailers and wholesalers have gone out of business resulting in a situation where there are many towns that do not have a firearms dealer.
“Local farmers have to travel great distances to obtain supplies which are necessary for animal and crop protection.”