Criminal Justice Bill 2004

I normally try to keep non-training topics out of this blog, but this one’s too damn nasty really. For those that haven’t seen yet what the Criminal Justice Bill 2004 will do to our Firearms Act, try reading this composite document. The list of things that affect both shooters and non-shooters adversely is insane. For the non-shooters, are you ready to have your homes, cars, aircraft, boats and business premises made searchable at any time without prior notice by someone who’s neither a Garda nor a civil servant?

I’ll go through the problems in the order they’re in in the Bill for the first eight sections (I’ve not finished the later sections’ restatements yet).

Section 1
First off the bat, there are two conflicting definitions of the word “firearm”. To me, that’s pretty serious. “Prohibited weapon” is also defined twice, but at least it’s with the same definition, which is just tautological.

Section 2a
This is the new Firearms Training Certificate – originally intended to let under-16s train for target shooting legally. Only now, the age limit for this certificate has been raised to 16 – at which age you can get a full certificate anyway, so why bother? In fact, it gets better – if you go for a training certificate at age 16-18, you have to supply parental permission in writing – which isn’t needed for a full certificate! So why get a Training Certificate? Well, the only reason I can think of is that you want to avoid all the new stuff in Section 4 indefinitely, as there’s nothing in Section 2a to say that an applicant for a Training Certificate has to fulfill any of the conditions in Section 4!

Section 2b
Ah, this is a doozy. Basicly, it says that for any firearms the Minister wants, he can force more hoops to be jumped through to get them, to the point where noone can get through the hoops, and it’s all legal and above board and can’t be challanged in court successfully. Two guesses what fullbore rifles and pistols will be declared restricted once this Bill is enacted?

Section 3a
Described as the “do anything you want” clause, this section empowers the Commissioner, or – according to Section 1 – any Garda at or over the rank of Superintendent that the Commissioner wants to let do so – can set out “guidelines” for how the act is enforced, and for any extra conditions that we have to fulfill to get our licences. No mechanism for appealing these of course, nor for ensuring that firearms experts are consulted first, nor even for ensuring that these guidelines are put in the public domain…

Section 4
Not just almost rewritten, this section has been rewritten completely. No longer a simple section with just three conditions to meet to get a certificate, now you have – count ’em – nine conditions (or eleven for a restricted firearm); plus you have to furnish more information as the Gardai see fit, including character references, permission to check your medical records and proof of competence with the firearm.

Argh! Okay, first the information – how do tourists or those outside the state provide character references, and if they don’t have to, why do I? Why should the Gardai be able to see my medical records when for every other licence (driving, pilots, etc) that has a medical concern, I just take a test and either pass or fail? Who in the Gardai sees my records? The Commissioner? The Superintendent? The secretary? Are they returned to the doctor? Are copies kept if they are returned?

Now, the mandatory conditions. (a) through (c) are just the current conditons, and (d) is just secure storage, which most shooters will have anyway, if they’re in any way sensible – though what exactly “secure” means isn’t defined.

(e) where the firearm is to be used for target shooting, is a member of an authorised rifle or pistol club,
What about clay pigeon shooters then? Or do you not need to be a member of a club for shooting at clay disks? If so, I predict a rise in the number of shooters shooting rifles and pistols at said disks…

(f) is of sound mental and psychiatric health,
Okay, I know I’m of sound psychiatric health, but how do I prove it? And not just right now, but also that I will be so for the entire duration of my certificate? Medically speaking, I’m told that that can’t be done – so then noone gets to have a certificate! Wonderful!

Oh, and for the record – are you feeling a bit blue during winter because of the short days and bad weather? Then you may have SAD, a kind of depression that 60% of us get – and therefore can’t have a firearms licence as you’re not of sound mental health…

I suppose I should be happy. Prior to committee stage, my dentist was qualified to testify to my mental health, according to the bill…

(i) complies with such other conditions (if any) specified in the firearm certificate, including any such conditions to be complied with before a specified date as the issuing person considers necessary in the interests of public safety or security, and

Ah yes, the “do whatever the hell I want” clause. How wonderfully just and fair…

(j) in case the application is for a restricted firearm certificate—
(i) has a good and sufficient reason for requiring such a firearm, and
(ii) has demonstrated that the firearm is the only type of weapon that is appropriate for the purpose for which it is required.

Excuse me? “Weapon”? That’s the term for something used in a crime, not something you give out a licence for!

Section 4a
Here’s where it gets even more fun. Any shooting club or range that’s not authorised isn’t allowed to exist, basicly. Anyone shoots there, then both they and the operator of the range/club get fined anything up to €25,000 and go to jail for up to seven years. No, that’s not a misprint. You can go to jail for up to seven years for not having paperwork authorising something that the Bill doesn’t even define.

And if that authorisation is revoked and your rifle is in the club safe? It goes to the gardai lockup. Doesn’t matter that it’s not owned by the club.

Oh, and the authorisation can be set according to the competence of the people using the range – and from what we’ve heard, that’s a very, very, very likely thing to happen. By the way, how many newbies do you know who are competent from before their first shot? And yet, if they get a training licence for target shooting, they can only shoot on a range; but if they’re not competent they can’t shoot on that range. Lovely, isn’t it?

Section 4b
Sweet. Zombie. Jesus.
Okay, I know all the above only applies to shooters. But this little section applies to the entire nation. It creates the post of Firearms Range Inspector, and it then empowers this person – who doesn’t have to be a Garda, a civil servant working for the Department of Justice, or even a firearms expert – hell, they don’t even have to not be a criminal – to enter and search anywhere they want to, any time they want to, without a set warrant, in case they think there’s target shooting going on in that place, dwelling, vehicle, aircraft or hovercraft (no, I’m not making that one up). Want to search a house but don’t want that pesky wait for the warrant? Hark! Is that a target shooting noise I just heard! I must inspect the house! And goodbye to civil liberty safeguards that apply to Gardai and Customs officials!

Oh, and since neither what a range or a target is is defined in the Bill, who can say if the search did or did not succeed?

And that’s just from reviewing the first few sections. I’m half afraid to study further 🙁

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