Gun lobbyists urge rethink of firearms legislation

Licensing of firearms should be considered a civil rather than criminal matter, according to representatives

Licensing records show there are over 200,000 legal firearms owned by some 100,000 people in Ireland, most of which are used for sporting events and pest extermination. File Photograph: Reuters

Licensing records show there are over 200,000 legal firearms owned by some 100,000 people in Ireland, most of which are used for sporting events and pest extermination. File Photograph: Reuters

 

More than 200 gun shops in Ireland are having to store stocks of firearms overseas because of proposed changes to the licensing system here, an Oireachtas committee has been told.

Speaking this afternoon, a panel of gun lobbyists from different organisations accused Gardaí of denying hundreds of licences due to “interpersonal difficulties” with applicants, decisions which are often overturned by the courts at a later date.

Out of 602 such cases taken recently, 92 per cent of rulings sided with the licence applicant.

Members from the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality were told “mistrust” and “frustration” have begun to dominate relations between gun owners and An Garda Síochána.

According to representatives from various firearms groups, the situation has been exacerbated by new proposals being considered by the Department of Justice to ban almost all legally-owned handguns in the country.

A report published by a departmental working group on the licensing of firearms also put forward proposals to ban shotguns that hold more than three rounds, and all semi-automatic centre-fire rifles.

In his submission, Michael Tope of the National Association of Sporting Rifle and Pistol Clubs said moves to tighten legislation in order to prevent the theft of firearms were misguided. He said the figure of 1,136 legally owned guns stolen across the State in the last four years paled in comparison to an estimated 150,000 illegally-imported weapons currently in circulation.

Licensing records show there are over 200,000 legal firearms owned by some 100,000 people in Ireland, most of which are used for sporting events and pest extermination.

The committee was told that while potentially lethal shotguns owned by many farmers require no special storage, pellet guns had to be kept in safes fixed to the structure of a house, while possession of a sporting gun requires an alarm monitoring system on top of extensive premises inspections carried out by gardaí.

“I don’t think it’s right that since 2009, any stag party that comes over for the weekend and goes paintballing is in breach of the [Firearms] Act, which technically requires them to be put in jail for seven years and fined €20,000,” said lobbyist Mark Dennehy, who pointed out that children’s toy crossbows firing suction darts should also technically require a licence under current legislation.

Members of the panel proposed that the State’s “fragmented and flawed” firearms legislation, emanating from the Firearms Act 1925, should be recast in order to make it more understandable for gun users.

Jeff McCann of the Munster Shooting Club said the licensing of firearms should be considered a civil rather than criminal matter, while others said the hysteria caused by “Hollywood movies” and mass murders committed in the US had created a distorted perception of licenced gun owners in Ireland.