The proposals for firearms ownership in Ireland was published on Friday.
How much bang for our buck?
Firearms expert Mark Dennehy writes:
This story started with proposed changes to the existing firearms legislation last November and which wound up in front of the Joint Oireachtas Committee in January this year and which saw dodgy statistics, some seriously dodgy reporting and some truly epic unintentionally comic gaffes. the Minister for Justice [Frances Fitzgerald] on Friday published her intended policies for firearms legislation and they look pretty decent to most of us.
In short, what’s going to happen is this:
A new civilian body, the Firearms Assessment and Appeals Authority, will be created. It will act as a way to appeal licence refusals outside of a courtroom by having an independent expert look over the application decision.
The courts will remain an option; but this should save on a lot of hassle, stop a lot of court time being wasted by misinterpretations of the Firearms Act caused by a lack of training budgets and save Garda man hours for better uses.
Semi-automatic centerfire rifles will no longer be licencable. Those who have licences for them now can apply to keep the licences based on having a good reason to keep them. This will require a new Firearms Bill to be put before the Oireachtas, we’ve not seen that Bill yet.
The Minister has already signed a Statutory Instrument that clears up some confusion over licencing smallbore pistols for target shooting, which should help settle several court cases pretty much immediately. It’s not perfect (revolvers seem to be a bit badly considered in it) but it’s a lot better than what went before and it’s a lot easier to administer.
The Gardai will establish a centralised licensing system for restricted firearms, which will make things far more consistent for those classes of firearms. This will also require a new Firearms Bill.
The Garda Inspectorate will review the administration of firearms licensing. This could lead to firearms licencing being devolved to a civil service function, as is already done everywhere else in the EU. That way, we would have experts managing licencing while the Gardai are freed up from managing a sport to do other far more important things (though they would probably still be responsible for vetting the actual applicant). Again, that would also require a new Firearms Bill.
There will be no changes whatsoever to the licensing of shotguns and the vast majority of rifles which make up 99% of licensed firearms in Ireland.
Lastly and probably most importantly, the Firearms Consultative Panel, a body that brings together all the stakeholders from the Minister to the Sports Council to the Gardai to the various national governing bodies of sport, will be reestablished.
This means that in the future, problems like this will be dealt with in regular, unsexy, scheduled, minuted meetings like any other branch of bureaucracy. No more table-pounding, no more court cases, no more electioneering, just boring, dull, unsexy, effective, mundane laws that everyone can understand and read in one place, with an official communications channel to cope with everything from new legislation to product recall notices. And we can all get back to actually training and competing and winning matches and enjoying our sport.
Not everything in there is positive. Lots of folks shoot perfectly safely with semi-auto rifles and this is not the news they wanted to wake up to today.
And personally I look forward to the idea of a Firearms Bill being debated in the pre-election silly season on the floor of the Dáil by Deputies [Finian] McGrath and [Michael] Healy-Rae in the same way I look forward to having all my teeth pulled without anaesthetic — and I will bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets right now that that particular circus is not going to produce trouble-free legislation because grandstanding on legislation for technically complex areas is a recipe for disaster.
But on the whole, this is good news – the Minister has taken just about every decent idea that was thrown at her and has run with them and also opened up a permanent line of communication to stop problems like this coming up in the future. I’m kind of in shock about that to be honest…
Pic: Mark Dennehy