By John O’Keeffe
The Government’s assertion that handguns could more than double in number to 4,000 by 2011 has been branded as “absolute garbage” and “scaremongering” by one of Ireland’s leading pistol instructors and shooters, Declan Keogh.
Last week, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern outlined his proposals for a ban on licensing handguns — which may be expanded to include all firearms held by civilians — however, gun holders are now calling on the minister to rethink his proposals.
Under the plans, no new licences will be issued for handguns and existing licences will not be renewed unless applications fully meet the requirements of “a radically tightened licensing procedure where the safety of the community will be paramount”, the minister said.
Mr Ahern has also publicly stated that there now exists a real possibility that an outright ban on all firearms may come into force if there is “a threat to public safety”.
Declan Keogh regards Mr Ahern’s analysis as deeply flawed. “From 1972 to 2004, not one licensed pistol was in circulation and it did not prevent the mayhem and murder perpetrated by the criminals,” Keogh told the Sunday Independent.
“Pistols were also banned in Britain between 1997 and 1998, yet murder rates actually increased after the ban. This is unsurprising as civilian ownership of lawfully held firearms has no effect on crime rates.”
A temporary banning order on handguns was imposed in the early 1970s due to the Troubles, but this was overturned by the High Court in 2004. Since this time, nearly 1,900 have been licensed in the State. The total number of firearms licences issued in the Republic, for all gun types, reached 233,934 in the 12-month period to July 31 last, equating to roughly one firearm for every 16 people in the country.
Michael Walls is the precision pistol competition co-ordinator for the NASRPC (National Association of Sporting Rifle and Pistol Clubs) in Ireland. Currently ranked 7th in the world for this type of shooting, he is clear that the Government is now aiming at the wrong target.
“Your average criminal or drug dealer who is involved in gun crime is not going to their local superintendent and applying for a licence for a gun for use in their ‘business’,” he told this newspaper.
“Much is made of the possibility of one of our guns being stolen and used in a crime, but no pistol has ever been stolen from licensed holders in Ireland to date. Should I not have a car in case someone steals it and knocks someone down?
“Pistols were banned in England about 11 years ago, and since then gun crime has gone through the roof. Time and effort would be better used to putting criminals behind bars than punishing sports people like myself.”
Mr Ahern said last week his concern was that “unless strong and decisive action is taken, the number of handguns could grow exponentially and our firearms regime would equate to that of countries such as the US”. But on current and projected statistics, this appears unlikely.