WILL FIREARMS BE BANNED?
As many of our readers live in our rural community, we often report on issues affecting the agricultural set. And there is a new issue in town.
Currently, many rural dwellers are worried about moves being made to restrict access to firearms. Some feel that this may restrict their way of life in the rural community. The National Association of Regional Game Councils explains here the matter at hand.
A coalition of shooting groups has formed to fight fresh proposals by An Garda Siochana to ban a number of classes of firearms. At present, the Gardai have submitted proposals to the Minister for Justice seeking new legislation to ban almost all handguns which are currently licensed, including centre fire and most of those .22 calibres which are on the Garda Commissioner’s list of unrestricted handguns. In addition, the proposals seek the banning of all pump action and semi-automatic shotguns which are capable of holding more than three rounds and all semi-automatic centre fire rifles.
The effect of this, if the Minister accedes to the Garda proposals, will be that a very large number of firearms which are currently licensed will be banned and licence holders will be required to either sell them in what will then be a non-existent market or have them destroyed. Under the Garda proposals there will be no scheme of compensation for the effective confiscation of property and no compensation for licence holders who were required by the state to expend significant amounts of money in enhanced security arrangements at their homes to license these firearms.
All existing semi-automatic and pump action shotguns will suffer the same fate. All are capable of taking more than three rounds with plugs etc. removed, as there are no semi-automatic or pump action shotguns manufactured to take only three rounds. The same fate awaits semi-automatic As for range operators, all have had to pay significant licence fees to become authorised, €1,000 every three years, and all have spent tens of thousands of Euro investing in reconstruction of their ranges to meet the new certification standards demanded by the state so that all licensed target guns, but especially handguns, could be used on the ranges. Again, there is no consideration to compensate the range operators for this loss of their investment, not to mention the loss of jobs as inevitably, if the Garda proposals are accepted, ranges will close down.
As for firearms dealers, their current trading problems will be exacerbated by stocks of these firearms currently held, having been lawfully acquired in the course of business at a cost, becoming valueless. The state has required each firearms dealer to pay a dealer’s licence of €1,000 every three years and a further €450.00 to trade in restricted firearms. Again, there is no consideration of a compensation scheme for loss of stock and loss of business and again it is inevitable that jobs will take place.
In 2006 and 2009 the Oireachtas enacted new legislation which significantly amended the Firearms Act 1925, bringing in new higher standards to be met by firearms licence applicants, not least significant new home security measures, referees, doctors’ details etc. In arriving at the new legislative provisions, the Minister of the day, the late Brian Lenihan TD, established a Firearms Consultative Panel comprised of all stakeholders, including Gardai, shooting representatives, farming, Sports Council, statutory bodies etc., the purpose of which was to arrive at a consensus as to what the new updated firearms requirements should be. This, although not perfect, did in fact achieve broad agreement on the new legislative arrangements. The shooting community embraced the new requirements and complied with all of them to the letter. The Gardai disregarded those elements which they didn’t like and exerted much energy and taxpayers money in trying to circumvent the legislation. This resulted in literally hundreds of court cases having to be taken by shooting people to force the Gardai to comply with the legislation. The result has been that the courts have upheld a staggering 93% of those challenges with consequent massive liabilities for the taxpayers in legal costs against the Gardai. This was despite the Minister who introduced the new legislation in the Dáil, Dermot Aherne TD expressly stating on the Dáil record that the intention of the Oireachtas in enacting the new legislation was to allow the licensing of what the Gardai now propose should be banned. Many of the cases have been characterised by obstruction and even dishonesty and in one very significant test case being representative of some 168 High Court cases, a senior Garda officer was found to have interfered with evidence even as the cases were before the court. That matter is currently the subject of a criminal investigation by the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC). Further complaints to GSOC are in the pipeline.
In a recent decision in the District Court, Judge Lucey took the quite unusual step of issuing a lengthy written judgement, the contents of which raise a great many serious questions for the Gardai. The Minister would do well to read it before conceding anything to the current Garda proposals. These new proposals represent a very serious development for all shooters, more particularly as such proposals have not been discussed with any representative body of the shooting community. It would also represent a very serious and unnecessary escalation in a deterioration of relationships with the Gardai and potentially now the Department of Justice. Apart from the fact that a ban such as is proposed is made without even a reference to a risk assessment of the issue to support or disprove the Garda position, this would represent an unconscionable insult to the thousands of law abiding citizens who happen to be firearms licence holders and who, unlike An Garda Síochána, have done nothing other than comply with every regulation put before them. We are advised that any notion that these Garda recommendations could be achieved without payment of compensation would be a serious misunderstanding of the law. In fact such a move would likely result in a conveyor belt series of army deafness type claims.
In the meantime, Garda officers have ceased licensing most unrestricted handguns as are listed on the Commissioner’s list in the knowledge that many applicants will be put off District Court Appeals because they cannot get their costs even when they win. Judge Lucey had something to say about the unfairness of this in his written judgement and he raised the prospect of the Gardai indulging in a policy of “wear them down”. The failure of the state in these particular circumstances are thought to be most likely in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Gardai have failed to make their case where it counts most in a democracy, in the courts. Because the courts have not allowed them to break the law, they now require the law to be changed. There is no reasonable basis for this as no security risk can be substantiated since the law was enacted as any risk assessment will confirm. There are no series of thefts of licensed handguns since the new laws, and consequently the new security arrangements, came into effect.
The net effect of these proposals would be:
• the banning of almost all currently licensed handguns,
• the banning of all currently licensed semi-automatic shotguns,
• the banning of all currently licensed pump action shotguns,
• the banning of all currently licensed centre fire semi-automatic rifles,
• the complete devaluation of most of the stock of all firearms dealers,
• the closure of a significant number of ranges which would be unable to recoup their investment,
• unemployment for many employees of the gun trade and ranges.
Consideration is also being given to similar restrictions for all 30 calibre rifles. Every single shooting and countrysports enthusiast and supporter should without delay contact every sitting politician in their area of all parties, including all candidates for the forthcoming local and European elections and insist on knowing if they intend to support these proposals. Every shooting person who has complied with every regulation put before him/her has a right to be very angry that the Gardai, who have done nothing but repeatedly broken the law and tried to circumvent the legislation and squandered large amounts of taxpayers money in the process of defending indefensible cases in the courts, should now seek to reward themselves with a change in the legislation to allow them to do what the Oireachtas and the courts have said they must not do. Such contempt for the democratic principles which previous generations fought to preserve and the continued state erosion and interference with our countryside sports is inexplicable.
The coalition of organisations now organised to fight these proposals is comprised of:
The WA 1500 Association of Ireland
The National Association of Sporting Rifle & Pistol Clubs (NASRPC)
The National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC)
The Range Operators’ Association of Ireland
The Irish Firearms Dealers Association
The coalition is further supported by the Federation of Irish Salmon and Sea Trout Anglers (FISSTA), an organisation of approximately 20,000, many of whose members are also firearms licence holders. The coalition is led by the NARGC which acts as sole spokesman on their behalf.
So what can you do?
You can support NARGC by writing an email to Minister for Justice, Mr. Alan Shatter, T.D. at firstname.lastname@example.org and express your deep concern that, according to NARGC, “law abiding citizens could possibly be penalised in this way in favour of a discredited Government institution which has been repeatedly held by the Courts to have broken the law” and ask him to please retain the status quo.
For more information, click here.
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