With the new licencing legislation being rushed into place this year, there was rather widespread dread of significant problems with the new system. And in fact, many problems did show up and are still being encountered – and the next few weeks are the real acid test, as the extensions of people’s licences expire. From what I’ve seen from talking to farmers and hunters, the majority of shooters did not understand that when those extensions expired, the shooters were no longer licenced to possess any firearms; and that this year was a reapplication and not a renewal as it has been for the last 80-odd years.
Most shooters seemed to believe that they had to wait until the extension expired in order to apply; some even thought that when the extensions expired, they’d be asked to come into the station and pay the annual fee and renew as before. And since a large number of extension letters apparently never made it out, and yet more shooters received extensions to their extensions in error (as such second extensions don’t have any authority under the Act); the level of confusion out there is high, even allowing for the typically Irish approach to a change in the system (ie. ignore it until you can’t, don’t learn about it until someone gets annoyed enough to explain it to you in small words, admit nothing and give nothing up…).
With all that, I was feeling rather unhappy about the odds of getting my licences in time to travel abroad. My own fault really – when the workload in college took off at the start of this term (I grossly underestimated the amount of work I had to do when the embedded systems course changed its hardware platform, as did several others), I had left the application slide. Now granted, for several weeks noone was being advised to apply – with the commissioner’s guidelines not published, the restricted list update SI not published, the local gardai not being briefed on how to handle the new process, and even the An Post system not up and running for paying the fees, every NGB out there was advising people to hold off from August 1 until around about mid-September or so. Still, the last six weeks are my own daft fault.
So I was quite pleased at the speed of the turnaround on my licence application. More details and forms after the break…
So here are the original extension letters:
So all my licences were extended to October 31, which put me in the first group of licence renewals as we transitioned from the one-year to the three-year licences. I suspect that that may well have been down to alphabetical sorting of the names, but it could equally be just sheer bad luck (bad because the first group up are where the teething problems in new systems typically show up…). It might also be down to there being a pistol licence there – there’s been some confusion over what pistols are and are not on the restricted list, and any restricted licence was up to be in the first group according to the new Act.
We’ve all seen the new forms; if not I recommend going to shooting.boards.ie and reading the information on the new licencing procedure and asking questions there! Most of my own forms I’d have to redact before posting so there wouldn’t be much left over – so I won’t post the actual forms themselves. On top of which there were issues with mine – not all clubs have PULSE numbers yet despite having been inspected and approved by the Gardai, for example, and WTSC is one of those (it’s a Real Soon Now situation). Further, I don’t have an actual GP. In the end, I settled on giving my most recently used GP, but frankly the intent of asking for your GP is rather undermined by there not being an answer to give (not all of us have GPs who’ve looked after our families’ medical needs for years); and the recent Ft.Hood shootings being carried out by a medical health professional raises further ugly questions as to the worth of giving up your right to medical confidentiality.
However, that’s a debate for another day. I filled in the forms, went into my new local Garda station on Thursday (Oct29) to hand them in and meet the new Firearms Officer. I say new because to add to the fun and games, since my last renewal I got engaged and moved in with Herself in our little apartment in Dublin – so not only am I renewing, I’m changing address and Superintendant and Firearms Officer all at once. Since the personal relationship between shooter and Firearms Officer is an important one for the design of the firearms legislation (it’s a primary safeguard for the public), that’s kind of a big deal. So I took the afternoon off, dropped in the forms and waited to meet the FO. Unfortunately, he was out on call at the time, so I couldn’t meet him that day.
The following evening (Oct30), I got a call from the FO when he came on duty, and we talked about my application, my past licencing and my new storage and security arrangements and so forth. He had to meet me in person — fair enough, he’s never heard of me before — and so we meet in person the following Monday lunchtime (Nov2). I show up, show him my passport (as proof of identity), talk about the application and the upcoming trip to Finland and how it’s putting me under time pressure with the licence for the air rifle and he assured me he’d do all he could to expedite matters. It was a very encouraging meeting. The application went into PULSE that afternoon, and was brought to the Superintendent the following morning. There was an issue over the air pistol — there’s been a lot of confusion because the list of pistols on the Commissioner’s guidelines doesn’t include air pistols; this is because all air pistols are unrestricted and don’t need to be on the list at all but the list doesn’t explicitly say that — but that was sorted out with a call to the FPU. I’m tempted to say that being known of by the FPU from having bumped into them at FCP conferences and seminars may have made all this a bit easier, but I happen to know that another ISSF air pistol shooter ran into this problem a few days before me and the NTSA were on to the FPU to sort it out, so it may well be on the list of Frequently Asked Questions in the FPU now.
The licences were granted on the following day (Nov4). In fact, it all happened so fast that I got both the receipt-of-application letters and the licence-granted letters in the same post:
And the letters indicating the licences were granted:
So the next step is to pay the fees; these letters arrived in on the Friday and happily, the Gardai had just released their list of An Post offices where payments could be made at the counter instead of being paid in. The GPO is on that list, so the next day I cycled over there and gave my wallet a good hiding. So come tomorrow morning, the licencing company in Clare will be printing up the licence and posting it to me, and then it’s a race between An Post and the departure date for Kuortane. Fingers crossed!
But it does show that the new system can work, and quickly. That’s a turnaround of four days from the Gardai (well, it’s seven if you count the weekend and the day that the application sat in the Firearms Officer’s in-tray, but that’s still fairly good); and then it’s down to the company doing the printing (they’re still a bit of an unknown, but let’s see how it goes).
There are still problems I’ll have to sort out after I get back from Finland – PULSE apparently won’t allow a licence to have 10,000 rounds on its application form, so I’m stuck with 1,000 rounds at the moment. That sounds like a lot, until you remember these are airgun pellets and they come in tins of 500 each, which are sold in sleeves of ten tins apiece. Generally, I’d prefer to go buy a sleeve every five or six months so I know the pellets are all the same size and batch. And for .22lr ammunition, it’s sold in bricks of a thousand rounds (in cases of 50 rounds each) and you’d go through that in a heavy fortnight of training without much trouble at all. Plus, if you buy batch-tested ammunition, you’re talking about a minimum quantity of 10,000 rounds and not all manufacturers will sell in lots that small.
On top of that, if you look at the licence grant notices carefully, I have (yet again, for the ninth year running) a licence for a .220 rifle (I don’t have a .220 swift, I have a .22lr; and I even wrote “.22lr” on the application form…) and you can’t see it but the serial number on my air rifle application is wrong, again for the ninth year running (there’s a leading zero on the serial number that PULSE drops because, like the “calibre” database field, it treats “serial number” as a number rather than as text (unless there’s text in it, like there is in the air pistol’s serial number). But those are old flaws (though after five years of legislative rewriting, it’d be nice to have gotten them fixed, and for a programmer, seeing this sort of sloppy coding seems just plain unprofessional…), not new ones brought in by the new system.
Anyway. On to Finland and we’ll fix the problems later!