Enthusiasts left frustrated at measures
A NEW licensing application system for firearms has led to long delays in processing gun licences, and legal challenges over refusals to hand out licences for certain types of handguns.
The new nine-page application form, which includes requirements for various proofs and permissions, meant an end to the straightforward annual renewal, and a headache for some gun owners who were not used to filling out such paperwork.
Thousands of firearms have been surrendered since the new laws came in, as owners decided against going through all the steps necessary to get a licence.
The new system has also placed extra pressure on Gardai who are charged with processing the applications, and manually entering each one of them on a computer system.
Gun dealer Paul Walsh from East Coast Dog and Gun in Gorey said that it can take half an hour of a Garda's time for one application to be processed.
'If you take a small station, where you might have 650 to 700 firearms licences in the area, that's a lot of man hours given to licensing. That's not reasonable for Gardai to be expected to do, along with their other duties,' he said.
' They have been given a system which is unreasonable considering all the other pressures they have to do in their job.
' Yes it is their problem, because they are the administrators of the system, but in fairness, they are not the ones who came up with the system.'
He said that in Northern Ireland, a central licensing office deals with license applications.
The new Irish system allows for a three-year license at a cost of €80, whereas the old license fee was €13 annually, upon renewal.
It is acknowledged that the old system was in need of an overhaul, but the delays, and the restrictions on handguns, have led to frustration among shooting enthusiasts.
'Shooting has become a popular sport in the past few years,' said Paul. 'As a result, there were certain people in the Department of Justice who decided there was a gun culture. Minister Dermot Ahern stood up in the Dail and said there was a gun culture he was determined to break.'
Paul pointed out that many of the thousands of firearms that have been surrendered, were probably never outside the house, and he didn't believe their surrender will have any effect on crime figures.
' These guns were not taken out of criminal hands,' he said. ' They would have been guns sitting in houses where people passed on or left the country. These were sporting firearms kept by law-abiding people.'
All handguns were recalled by the State during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and returned to owners following a court case taken by a Wexford resident.
'Once a fella joined a registered target club, he could get a pistol,' said Paul. ' There was a big growth in centre fire pistols. In the new legislation, they will not give out centre fire pistol licenses. You can get a .22 pistol for the purpose of target shooting if you are a member of a club. A lot of pistols that were out there are now in legal limbo because the Gardai are refusing to renew them, and fellas are ending up in court.'
He explained that each Garda Superintendent is responsible for the licensing of firearms. Applications have to be made to the Chief Superintendent for restricted firearms.
'If a guy has been using a centre fire pistol for the last five years, shooting in a club, two to three times a week, and has met all the storage conditions, why is he all of a sudden a threat to society?,' asked Paul.
'Nobody's saying the extra security measures or training are bad ideas. Nobody that's responsibly holding firearms has a problem with those, but it's just the delays.'
He said that someone who might have been filling out a two page form all his life, now has to fill out nine pages, and go back and get the original landowner's permission again to use the land. Every gun owner has to be checked again, leading to a 'colossal' backlog.
He said that the gun traders' association has been asking the Minister to step in and put in a centralised office.