Leave Our Guns Alone

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Mark Dennehy

Further to planned new restrictions on gun ownership in Ireland.

An honest attempt to reduce the number of firearms?

Or a deliberate attempt to demonise licensed firearm owners  –  farmers, hunters, paintballers, vets and sportspeople – all of whom “are personally vetted and signed off by the Gardai themselves?

Marksman Mark Dennehy writes:

Let’s start with the basics: Yes, ordinary people in Ireland own firearms for perfectly good legal reasons. Vets, hunters, farmers, target shooters in a dozen sports including the Olympics, paintballers, race officials, even the guy who maintains the birdscarer at Dublin Airport. There’s about a hundred thousand of them and it’s been that way since at least the 1850s.

What’s the law today? Firstly, this is not America. We don’t have a second amendment and we don’t want it. If you want a firearm, you apply for a licence from the Gardai. There are several tests before you get the licence, which in essence are:

Do you have a good reason for wanting the firearm?
Do you have a safe place to use the firearm?
Do you have a secure place to store the firearm when it’s not in use?
Would you be a danger to the public or the peace if you had this firearm?
Are you allowed to apply for a licence in the first place?

Those tests get checked six ways from Sunday (and no, you can’t get a licence for a firearm for self-defence and you never could). The Gardai have enormous latitude for refusing applications or revoking existing licences when there is any concern for public safety, and applicants have to accept a large number of conditions when applying for a licence – giving the Gardai access to their homes for inspections of gun safes, access to medical records, character references, and so on.

There are competency requirements for applicants so you don’t have untrained people owning firearms, and there is a strong culture surrounding firearms ownership in Ireland regarding safety and training.

By and large, the design of the legislation isn’t bad. It served perfectly well for almost forty years without a single amendment. Today the fine detail is a mess because we have over twenty
Acts, two EU directives and over forty statutory instruments all layered on top of one another and all of which must be read together to figure out what the current law is. That’s a long way from clear and the Law Reform Commission and High Court Justices alike have called out for this to be fixed for over a decade.

What are these proposed changes and why are people annoyed at them?

They’re not annoyed at *all* of them. Some are actually things that have needed fixing for a while and nobody has a problem with those; others have to do with tidying up problems that arose from the palimpsest nature of the law, and no one has a problem with those either (we’d like much more of that). The parts causing the fuss are:

1. Changes to the tests for licence applications adding unreasonable reasons for refusal

This sounds like a technical change; unfortunately it’s not, it’s just petty. Gardai have in the past resorted to making things up when refusing applications (despite having enormous powers to just refuse an application if there are any real grounds to do so). Reasons like “I don’t like the look of this” or “If I give him a licence, there’ll be an increase in firearms in my district” were looked at in literally hundreds of legal cases and District, High and Supreme Courts alike all
said “Oi, quit taking the mick, that’s not in the act”. This change is looking to put those reasons in the Act to sidestep the Court rulings.

2. A ban on all semiautomatic centerfire rifles

This has been put forward under the banner of banning “assault rifles”. First things first – assault rifles are things like M-16s and AK-47s. You can’t own them in Ireland, they’re fully automatic. You can’t own them anywhere in the EU except with the direct special permission of your government, which means if you’re not in the police or the army, you don’t get one. And that’s how it should be.

There are target shooting rifles in Ireland that look like assault rifles, if you squint. There are about a dozen of them and they’ve been here for years without ill effect. They’re strictly controlled already, which is why you’ve not seen breathless reports in the tabloids about them. And there just isn’t any reasonable ground to ban them. Not to mention, “looks like” is dodgy ground for a law to be on.

Not only that, this ban wouldn’t hit just those dozen rifles – it’d hit thousands of hunting rifles as well, which have been in the state for decades. There are good reasons for their existence and banning them by accident would be daft… but it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.

3. A ban on all shotguns that could hold more than three shells

When you think of a farmer with a shotgun, most people think of a double-barrelled shotgun. And they’re right, it’s the most popular kind. But the second and third most popular kinds of shotgun in Ireland are pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns; the former because they’re inexpensive and reliable, and the latter because they allow rapid follow-up shots when hunting duck and pheasant. For decades, these have been legal as long as you had the magazine of the shotgun altered to only let the shotgun hold three shells, usually by having the tube crimped or a plug put into it, and everyone was happy with that.

This proposed change would mean that the shotgun will have to have come from the factory with a magazine that can’t hold more than three shells; tens of thousands of existing shotguns would suddenly become illegal until and unless new parts are available, bought and fitted. In many cases, that won’t be possible – they just don’t make the parts.

Nowhere in the document does anyone explain why a system that’s worked since the founding of the state is suddenly insufficient despite literally hundreds of thousands of licences having been granted over the years for shotguns like this without any problem.

4. A ban on all pistols except those “designed for use” in the Olympic Games

This one’s the doozy. Let’s be clear about pistols first – they’ve been in Ireland since they were invented. For hundreds of years, long before the state was founded. There was a thirty-year gap during the troubles when licences weren’t issued, but that was not the normal state of affairs. And there are very few pistols licenced at the moment compared to other firearms – less than 1% of all firearms licenced in Ireland are pistols. It’s a few target shooters – you can’t licence a pistol for anything else in Ireland – who are all personally vetted by the Gardai. It’s purely for sport, and we happen to do very well internationally in the pistol sports. That’s the current state of play.

The proposal is to ban everything other than pistols on a “whitelist” maintained by the Department of Justice. There are purely technical problems with that: – Someone has to maintain such a list.

Pistols are like any other manufactured good in that new designs come out and old designs retire. Maintaining that list will not be a one-off job, and keeping track ofevery smallbore pistol design and judging which meet the criteria and which don’t would be almost a fulltime job. I’m a fully qualified ISSF judge who’s been target shooting for twenty years, I’ve run equipment control for a few international pistol matches, and I certainly

couldn’t make a call like that just by looking at a brocure from the manufacturer, I don’t see how an untrained civil servant, with the best will in the world, is going to do any better. The Department of Justice would have to buy firearms to test them if they wanted to do this properly, which is expensive and time-consuming and demands expertise.

– The list is meant to be pistols “designed for use” in the Olympics, but most pistols are designed for use in a lot of other sports as well because of the nature of manufacturing economics. Like a Ford Focus, you can get a pistol like the Hammerli Xesse in several different variants, mostly with cosmetic changes between them. For a beginner in the sport, this is perfect – the pistol costs six or seven hundred euro instead of the three to five thousand euro the pistols used by Olympic medallists cost, and they can try several Olympic and non-Olympic shooting sports to find out which they’re best at. Ban those beginner pistols and you’re banning not only a dozen non-Olympic sports, but you’re strangling the Olympic sports as well.

– The ban is suggesting a large-scale ban and confiscation of fairly expensive pistols which happen to be people’s property, and the report is very explicit about seeking legal advice that says compensation won’t be necessary, but you can be sure people will be testing that advice in court so it could wind up costing not only a few hundred thousand in compensation but also a few million in court fees becuase it’s likely to get to the Supreme Court if it goes that way.

But leaving aside the technical problems, there’s the root cause of the fuss:

There’s no reason to be doing this at all.

The report, when it tries to justify the ban, immediately starts talking about mass shootings, and lists off several of them, and the Minister has listed others when talking about this report in the media. Both the report and the Minister however, have been very, very quiet about the enormous differences in firearms legislation between us and everyone else (we have the strictest firearms laws and the smallest number of licences firearms in Europe) and the sheer unlikelihood of such a tragedy happening here — you’re a bit more likely to be hit by lightning while being attacked by a great white shark (spoiler alert for anyone watching the next SyFy film).

The report also goes on to say that they’ve seen gun crime committed by drug gangs and because the Gardai didn’t recover the pistols used, or because the serial numbers were filed off the pistols they did recover, they couldn’t say that those pistols were not licenced pistols that had been stolen. Well, I can’t say that those pistols were not the personal property of Donald Trump either, but somehow I don’t think the Commissioner would swear out an arrest warrant for him on the basis of that. Which is fine by me, but I would have thought you’d need evidence to change legislation too…

In fact, quite a lot of us think that it’s almost as though the report was written in inflammatory language deliberately to demonise licences firearms owners in the media so any counter-argument would be painted as a bunch of American NRA gun-nuts demanding to be allowed to walk down Grafton street with an M-16 over their shoulder, instead of a collection of farmers, hunters, paintballers, vets and sportspeople, all of whom are personally vetted and signed off on but the Gardai themselves.

Yes, I know. The average person doesn’t care about the sport and if it’ll save one life why not ban everything? The problem is that a ban won’t fix anything. Drug gangs smuggle their guns in with their drugs, they don’t apply for licences for them. Banning sports is not going to solve the drug problem which is the source of our gun crime problem. Massaging statistics isn’t going to fix it, and blaming licences firearms owners isn’t going to fix it either.

Funding Gardai properly instead of closing Garda stations and freezing Garda recruitment, that’s how you fix the problem. Banning sports just gives the Minister a soundbite about “doing something”. It ticks off about a hundred thousand of us because we’re made into public scapegoats without any just reason, but it should tick off the other four million of us because we’re still at risk and the people who should be solving the problem are dodging it instead.

Mark Dennehy

Previously: Out Of Our Cold Dead Hands

50 thoughts on “Leave Our Guns Alone

    1. Ms Piggy

      look, I’m as fervent about gun control (and the complete banning of those ridiculous assault rifle things that have no place outside of a war-zone) as anyone. But I also like to eat pheasant in restaurants sometimes, and city girl that I am, even I understand that bird has to be shot. So there are some sensible reasons for certain people to have certain guns under certain circumstances. I must say I wasn’t aware of any problems with the current legislation, but then like I say, I’m a city girl.

    1. Mark Dennehy

      No, Airsoft replicas aren’t firearms under the law since about 2006 (they have a muzzle energy of less than one joule, which is the limit at which they become a firearm). Paintball guns are about 16 joules so they’re covered. For comparison, Olympic air rifles and air pistols are under 7.5 joules.

  1. Grouse

    This is interesting. Thank you.

    Are there any figures for how many licensed firearms are taken in burglaries, etc? I have no idea, it might be something close to zero, but I assume that list would be collated somewhere. I understand the point about anonymised pistols not being proof of anything (and as likely smuggled in), but if I knew dozens of pistols (or even shotguns) were being stolen from homes every year, it would certainly influence me on the likelihood that some proportion would be later used in violent crime.

    1. Mark Dennehy

      There are figures, but they’re distorted because in the last few years we had two large and high-profile robberies of firearms dealers (who would have, for obvious reasons, more firearms about than the average target shooter). Those numbers were thrown in with the figures relating to target shooters and farmers and hunters – they were covered a while back. (They also included the figures for lost firearms, without explaining that “lost” doesn’t mean “I know I put it down here a minute ago…” but “Beyond recovery” – ie. lost in house fire, lost over the side of a boat in deep water, etc).

      Getting accurate figures on firearms in Ireland is pretty hard because of the vagarities of the system used to track them. For example, nobody can tell you today precisely how many firearms owners there are in Ireland, because we licence the firearms, not the owners. So we know there are just over 200,000 firearms, and going by membership numbers in various organisations, club sizes, and so froth, we have an estimate of 100,000 firearms owners – but an actual hard number is something nobody’s every gotten. It’s been asked for a dozen times or more in the Dail but never given (the number of firearms is given instead). We could get it, but it’d apparently take more effort than is considered reasonable. And that’s fair enough, actually – the local superintendents all know who has firearms in their district, so it doesn’t actually impact on public safety; it just looks weird when you go looking for national numbers.

  2. Jack Ascinine

    Gun legislation written by people who very likely have never even held a gun or had anything to do with them. This entire effort is completely baffling and I believe is just being used as a distraction on other current events. There’s absolutely nothing to say that current legislation that is in place isn’t doing the job. Criminals will always have guns because they don’t ask permission. Laws only apply to the law abiding.

    1. Grouse

      I wouldn’t hesitate to put a capped speed of 120KPH on all vehicles, and limit their acceleration, if I somehow had the power to do so.

          1. delacaravanio

            But it wouldn’t be safe. Sometimes you need to speed. Overtaking, for example. You’re doing 100, the guy you’re passing is doing 80. You go to pass him and he suddenly decides to speed up (happens all the time). You’re now on the wrong side of the road doing the same speed as him. You can either brake, and go back in behind him, or break the speed limit and complete the overtaking maneuver. If you’ve ever driven a car you’ll know the answer is always to do the latter.

          2. Nigel

            I think Martco would suggest that it doesn’t matter, just thinking about this sort of thing means you’re no fun.

        1. Grouse

          I’m admittedly much less fun than the SEAT Ibiza you’re escorting through the ringroads and roundabouts of Ireland. I provide nothing like the thrill of passing a Sunday driver on the road between the commuter town you live in and the commuter town in which you buy your wiper fluid.

  3. John Cassidy

    Hunters may have a legal reason to own a gun but not morally or ethically. Don’t get me wrong, I eat meat but killing animals for sport is wrong no matter how you look at it.

    1. Alfred E. Neumann

      You’re so right. Some kinds of pleasure we derive from killing animals is great, and some is terrible.

    2. Nigel

      Hunters are also great conservationists, preserving and maintaining lands and wildlife populations. I wouldn’t do it myself, but long before you get to the supposedly dubious ethics and morality of hunting animals, there’s the generally indefensible treatment of animals on a vast scale in industrial factory farms which are both cruel and cause widespread damage to the environment. Let them have their guns and welcome.

    3. Grouse

      What about the management of grazing animals when we have removed their natural predators? The deer population of Wicklow would explode unimpeded, which damages the overall health of the herds themselves and also has knock-on effect on ecosystems. Deer are particularly damaging to young forests, for example, when their population grows unsustainably. The deer are (fairly) responsibly culled through licensed shooting. The meat is used. I’m all for reintroducing wolves, but hunting seems like the next-best option to me.

    4. Medium Sized C

      We, humans in Ireland, have a specific responsibility to kill deer as a result of the fact that our ancestors killed all the predators for deer.
      If people do it for the entertainment of the hunt, I don’t see how it is wrong.
      I think what is going on here, is you lack the perspective to understand the difference between something being “just wrong” and just making you feel uncomfortable.

    5. Mark Dennehy

      You know hunting in Ireland is done for food, right? Either hunters are eating what they shoot, in the case of rabbit, duck, pheasant, deer and so on; or it’s vermin control around food production (ie. shooting foxes before they eat chickens, shooting pigeons before they eat the seed grain before it sprouts, that kind of thing).

      Oddly enough, we don’t do safaris in Ireland. Something about how we only had the one tiger and now it’s dead, if I understand it correctly.

    6. DaithiG

      In Killarney National Park and the surrounding areas, it’s quite important to hunt Sika deer from time to time as they are not native to Ireland and are out-competing the native (and much more beautiful) red deer. Also, sika deer migrate more than red deer and they graze more aggressively than red deer in woody habitats, this aggressive grazing helps Rhododendron ponticum seeds to spread. R.ponticum is responsible for the decline in native oak and yew tree. A little knowledge goes a long way.
      The NPWS regulate this hunt very tightly and if any dufus is caught killing deer outside of what the NPWS says then they may face jail time. But NPWS staff cannot do this themselves so licensed gun owners are notified that they can hunt sika deer, and so they do for sport and I’m sure they also harvest the venison, which is delicious by the way, and a much more ethical meat to consume than beef.

      However, it goes to show that with proper regulation and vetting of gun owners, certain firearms can be beneficial.

    1. DaithiG

      “Guns don’t kill people,
      Rappers do,
      And I’m a rapper,
      So I’m going to kill you.”

      Goldie Lookin Chain.

    1. ger fitz

      That’s funny, because I don’t think the 10 or more people stabbed and hacked to death in the attack in China a few months ago were killed by the ability to quickly and conveniently reload guns.

      Madmen and fanatics will find a way.

      Breivik had all day- he phoned police to inform them he wanted to surrender – he didn’t need an automatic weapon to kill 77 – he could have done it with an axe.

      Solution – keep these people away from nasty things and lock them up.

        1. Mark Dennehy

          They’re a bit like cordless drills. Used safely, they’re just tools. Let kids play with them or put them to your head and pull the trigger and horrible things will happen.
          Which is why we don’t do things like that.
          The analogy sortof breaks down because there’s no such thing as Olympic Cordless Drilling, but you have to admit, that’d be a funny event to watch and the commentary would sound like Benny Hill on speed…

      1. DaithiG

        “Breivik had all day- he phoned police to inform them he wanted to surrender – he didn’t need an automatic weapon to kill 77 – he could have done it with an axe.”

        What an absurd comment. I doubt he would have got to double digits with just an axe.

      2. Medium Sized C

        No, its funny because of the inherent absurdity of claiming that additional technology to improve the operational efficiency of a fire arm makes it lethal instead of the common capacity to fire heavy projectiles at very high speeds.

        And that there is a law that is banning shotguns that fire more than two shells without reload.
        Its almost as if the person who dreamed that up has been watching too many John Woo films.
        Or playing too many FPS games.

  4. Dave O'Brien

    I find it interesting that they want to ban sports people from taking part in competitions for there club or country. I get that there is a large element of danger associated with guns. I wouldnt be an expert on guns by any means but if someone is giving all their info to the Gardai and basically handing over even their medical records so they can take part in their sport I say fair play to them. From what I can gather most of these people get little or no funding from any sports council and travel to different countries off their own back to win medals for Ireland. Whats next to be banned hurling because a hurley could potentially be used by a violent criminal. Sure we might as well close down hardware stores too while we are at it sure some seriously dangerous items for sale in there and you dont even need a license.

    1. gertrude

      yes and halloween, onward with the complete pussification of society. then on to phase 3, internment.

  5. everybody

    Maybe they can Ban all forms of hunting while their at it……

    And as for the argument that hunters are conservationists LOLZ

    So are bird watchers and they don’t feel its necessary blow them out of the sky with guns to preserve them.

    1. Mark Dennehy

      I hate to make the unintuitive point again, but hunters actually put more time and money into conservation than any other group in Ireland at the moment, public or private. They’ve reintroduced species (no, not to shoot them), they keep game species levels up (yes, to shoot them, but they eat them afterwards Simba), and they act as eyes and ears for the NWPS who are woefully understaffed and underfunded. It’s not what you’d expect, but I always found it a pleasant sort of surprise really.

  6. Clive Jackson

    A good read & well put together article Mark. You have explained all the relevant details that needed to be said.

  7. Philip

    Yes shooters do travel to other countries to fly the Irish flag. In fact 11 people only returned from Germany after shooting an international event. Team Ireland got gold in one and silver in another, not to mention an array of other medals for their country in individual events. Every person on that team shot for Ireland, they paid for every single thing out of their own pocket (flights, car hire, hotel, ammunition even team shirts). These people represented their country with pride and honour like ever sporting man or woman. Did they ask for recognition? No, all they as for is to allow them to continue enjoying their sport just like every shooter in the country.

  8. Richard slattery

    Well said mark.i am sickened at the thought of more stupid gun restrictions.i also know that there is no logic or even common sense involved.the amount of ignorance is astounding bot within the Garda,dept of justice and indeed the poor antis.

  9. Ciaran O'Brien

    Mark,
    A well put, thought provoking and at times entertaining opinion.
    We are just sports people trying to enjoy our sport!
    Couldn’t have said it better.
    Keep up the good work.
    Cheers,
    Ciaran

  10. Keith

    Well said Mark. It sums up the frustration of decent people, being made to feel like criminals, just so the government and police force can try and dupe the public into believing they are tackling gun crime by scuriously and falsely linking legal gun owners to these crimes.

  11. Barry Burke

    Very well written . Joke of a legislation.

    As far as i remember being told , There has Never been one accident at a range in ireland since the state was formed . For comparison , i don’t think there has been a day in the last 50 years that somebody hasent car accident.

    Most drug dealers , gangs are robberies happen with stolen cars , To reduce crime , we should get rid of cars completely – I know , sounds stupid right . so are these measures

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