New Firearms Legislation

The Criminal Justice (Misc. Provisions) Bill 2009 has finally been published, and it’s an unmitagated disaster as currently drafted.

Nothing in it is in any way good for the target shooting sports, in fact the only groups who gain anything at all under it are gun dealers and those training gundogs.

Everyone else is now facing a range of bad changes. In summary:

  • It allows the Minister to prohibit certain types of firearm according to relatively arbitary criteria
  • It allows for the renewal of certs to be spread out over the year instead of all happening at once (but this is just a technical detail on something we’ve had for three years now without implementation)
  • It allows for people other than the Gardai to handle the licence fees (ie. An Post) once the licence is granted
  • It says you can’t get a pistol licence for anything that’s not currently un-restricted unless you already have the licence for it prior to November 19 last year and if you had the licence after that, it’s revoked
  • It bans “practical or dynamic shooting” which is defined as “simulated combat or combat training” with exemptions for airsoft and paintball
  • It bars personal importation of firearms and ammunition (only an RFD can import them now) unless a licence is granted
  • It brings airsoft back into the authorisation mechanism

In more detail:

The bill begins in section 23 with the relatively straightforward act of defining “prohibited firearm” and “prohibited ammunition” as being the firearms and ammunition defined by the Minister in an SI as being prohibited, and also amending the definition of firearm to change a loophole whereby a faulty blank-firing pistol wasn’t a firearm, but was when it was repaired. General housekeeping stuff.

Then section 24 amends the act to allow people to carry blank firing guns without a licence if authorised by their local superintendent (think gundog trainers and the like).

Section 25 adds in the first doozy, allowing the Minister to prohibit firearms under the following criteria:

  • category
  • calibre
  • working mechanism
  • muzzle energy
  • description

and also allowing him to prohibit ammunition under the following criteria:

  • category
  • calibre
  • weight
  • kinetic energy
  • ballistic co-efficient
  • design
  • composition
  • description

Some of these are just out-and-out ridiculous and unnecessary. How do you accurately describe a firearm to render it prohibited without accidentally describing another, utterly unintended firearm as well? The Minister does not possess the technical knowlege to do so – I know this because earlier attempts in this vein which were trying to ban shotguns with folding stocks like this:

…managed to also ban every olympic air and smallbore rifle currently in use – utterly unintentionally.  The DoJ didn’t even know this had happened until the NTSA pointed it out to them. So frankly, giving the Minister this kind of power without the technical knowlege to use it strikes me as being a recipe for a stream of expensive High Court cases.

There’s also the note saying that putting on display any prohibited firearm will be an offence. In other words, if you have a ‘bullet board’ on your wall as a decoration you inherited from some forgotten uncle ten years ago, you might in the worst case wind up facing a €5,000 euro fine or a year in jail. Wonderful.

Section 26 is a rather convoluted bit of wording which basicly says that instead of handling all the licence renewals on July 31 every year, the 220,000 firearms licences will be broken up into a number of groups and each group will get a date to come in and renew their certs. Anyone with a restricted firearm is in the first group by default. Everyone else will be told what group they’re in.

Section 27 allows the Minister to issue guidelines on the application and operation of the Firearms Acts. This is a significant problem, not because the idea is heinous in the extreme (though frankly, with the technical knowlege of firearms and the cynical attitude thus far expressed by Minister Ahern, ‘heinous’ isn’t far off the mark), but because it creates confusion around the persona designata status of the Superintendents.

It also worries me because I know of no other area of garda operations where the Minister for Justice can issue such guidelines to gardai directly. I’m pretty sure that day-to-day, not many Supers will say to themselves “well, they’re only guidelines” and ignore them. And so they become de facto rules. And when the Minister for Justice isn’t seperated from the police force, people should be worried.

Section 28 introduces the idea of paying your licence fee at the An Post office (or other specified place). It’s not a horrible idea, but it overly complicates the process of application – do you pay to the Gardai when a new licence is applied for or to An Post, and which comes first, the granted cert or the fee? How is all that managed? The bill doesn’t really lay that out in detail, and the details are where the confusion starts. I’m also a bit peeved that the Minister for Finance is put in charge of where and how the fees are paid.

The last part of Section 28 introduces the much-vaunted handgun ban. In short: if you have a fullbore pistol (ie. not air, not .22lr) or a smallbore or air pistol that was not designed for use in the olympics; and you got your licence before 19 November 2008, then you get to keep it. Everyone else who has a fullbore or non-olympic pistol loses it, regardless of what you had to fork out for monitored alarms, safes, security upgrades and so forth; and no further applications for fullbore or non-olympic pistols will be entertained.

As an olympic shooter, I can’t tell you how monstrously bad that is. Sure, my IZH-46M is safe, and so we have a cheap entry point into air pistol shooting. Wooo. But Olympic Smallbore Pistol just got told you have to invest nearly a thousand euro to get started (because a Browning Buckmark or a Ruger Mk2 isn’t specifically designed for the Olympics, even though it’s perfectly servicable as an entry model pistol for our style of shooting). That’s a death knell for the sport right there, it turns it from an actual sport into a pastime for old men.

In fact, given the Minister’s assumed goal of banning silly stuff but not affecting our sports, this makes no sense – it does nothing but gut the sport and leave the rest.

Section 29 is a ban on ‘practical or dynamic shooting’ which the bill defines as ‘any form of activity in which firearms are used to simulate combat or combat training’. This is basicly intended to ban IPSC and similar forms of shooting in Ireland; but you have to wonder who defines what ‘simulated combat training’ is. At one time, shooting at bullseye targets was the standard combat training used by armed forces worldwide – I know it’s pushing a point, but it shows that the language in this bill is far too loose and that the drafters haven’t paid enough attention to the technical experts here.

Section 30 introduces a new section to the Firearms Act (section nine there), which deals with airsoft and similar stuff; I’ll skip a detailed look at it because I don’t do airsoft so I can’t comment on how it affects them.

Sections 31, 32 and 33 introduce a ban on personal imports of firearms or ammunition. All firearms and all ammunition now imported into the state has to come through a registered firearms dealer (this doesn’t mean that if you go up north for a match and come down again that you need to use an RFD to ship the firearm, just that when you first buy it, you have to buy from an RFD. The thing here is that dealers in Ireland are notorious for overcharging, and while there are exceptions, by and large you can look forward to paying well over the odds if you buy Irish. For smallbore ammo at the moment, Irish prices are three to four times the prices across the border and for actual firearms you’re looking at a few hundred or so euro more when you buy here; this section of the bill basicly gives a monopoly to Irish firearms dealers to continue in this vein with the blessing of the State.

Section 34 increases the penalty for carrying knives in public (which is nothing to do with firearms, but is stuck in here because it was originally covered in the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990).

Section 35 makes it an offence to carry a replica imitation firearm in a public place (though frankly, the 1990 Act already covered that as it covers any item the arresting officer thinks may be used in any crime). The rest of Section 35 has to do with airsoft and authorisations for airsoft sites and so forth.

Section 36 gives the Gardai the power to search your person or vehicle without a warrant if they think you are carrying a replica firearm in public. Anything found may be seized pending prosecution. What happens to people carrying real firearms in this case is presumably that you show your licence and the Garda in question knows enough of the law to leave you continue on your way…

Section 37 states that any non-resident getting a licence (so they can come in to Ireland and shoot in a match) will get a one-year licence, instead of a three-year licence. Way to address the need for importation permits and visitor permits lads!

Section 38 completely rewrites section three of the Firearms Act. It eliminates your paying the fee in with the application form (so when do I pay it and to where?) and it accounts for the staging of renewals mentioned above. But apart from that, it duplicates the prior section three word-for-word, if not section number for section number.

Section 39 repeals the as-yet-uncommenced section in the 2006 Act that talked about issuing reloading licences. The whole reloading issue is supposed to be dealt with in the rewrite of the Explosives Act later this year.

And that concludes the sections that affect firearms legislation.

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