Minister rejects criticism on handgun licence reform


MINISTER FOR Justice Dermot Ahern has warned of a “highly undesirable” culture of handgun use.

He also rejected criticism from Fine Gael and Labour regarding his proposals to reform gun ownership laws.

Charles Flanagan of Fine Gael and Labour’s Pat Rabbitte had put down amendments to the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009, which went through committee stage yesterday.

The proposed legislation would ban new handgun licences, except for those used in Olympic sports.

Some 1,800 handguns have been licensed in the State since 2004.

Mr Ahern said he was determined to stamp out a practice known as “practical shooting”. His department had monitored with concern “competitions in which people shoot their way through multi-stage target courses based on real life combat scenarios, such as a home invasion or a hostage rescue”.

He said: “This activity is one that seeks to glorify and normalise attitudes to high-powered handguns and promote their use and ownership,” he said. Mr Ahern said “practical shooting” was a “highly undesirable” recent development in Irish shooting sports.

The Garda authorities had recommended that it be prohibited, and it was not endorsed by the Firearms Consultative Panel, he said.

“It’s simply not in the public interest to tolerate the development of a subculture predicated on a shooting activity which by the liberal standards of the US is regarded as an extreme shooting activity.”

He said any cursory research on the internet showed that these activities were marketed as being at the “extreme end” of handgun ownership and were “anathema to the tradition of Irish sporting clubs”.

Fine Gael’s justice spokesman Mr Flanagan accused the Minister of scaremongering and exaggerating the threat of the development of a handgun culture.

“Rural Ireland isn’t like rural America of the George Bush Republicans, with a chicken in every pot and a gun under every pillow.

“We have no such tendencies in this country,” he said.

Mr Flanagan said he had visited a shooting range recently to find out how such clubs operated.

“I just feel that there should be a mechanism for genuine sporting enthusiasts to have their licences . . . granted under the most stringent and strict conditions.”

Labour’s justice spokesman, Mr Rabbitte, said the Minister was proposing to significantly alter the licensing regime for firearms generally, and handguns in particular.

“I’m a bit puzzled by the severity of what you’re proposing,” he said.

Mr Rabbitte said there was no evidence of guns “leaking” to the criminal fraternity from legitimate gun clubs.

He said there were “an awful lot of people” involved in recreational and sports-related shooting activities, and they were law-abiding citizens.