Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009: Report and Final Stages
(Wicklow, Fine Gael)
Perhaps the Minister has changed his view. Many members of the public and of this House believe the Minister’s measure is good because there is a public perception that it is a good measure, but it is not a good measure. Satisfying public perception should not be a basis for public policy. The proposal put forward by the Minister targets legitimate users of firearms, rather than criminals. We have a case where a scumbag murders a completely innocent individual, and all of a sudden several thousand innocent people are penalised. I challenge the Minister to provide any research that shows a correlation between the increase in legitimately held hand guns and any increase in their use in crime.
There is much research from those in favour and those against gun use. They can paint whatever picture they want, but it is important that the Minister produces research to show that there is a correlation. I do not believe there is. The real reason for crime and the use of guns in crime is social deprivation. Bringing in such a measure will not only not address the problem, it will assist in distorting the reasons we have crime. The public perception will be that we have taken a measure that will assist in dealing with crime, even though we have not addressed the social deprivation issues. We would be far better off if we talked about putting in additional classroom assistants to address the issue of dyslexia, rather than banning hand guns. This decision is wrong and I hope the Minister has the courage to reverse it. When guns were banned after the Dunblane massacre in Scotland, the use of handguns in crime increased over the next few years.
I support this amendment. I do not believe innocent people should be penalised to satisfy public perception, and this section will do nothing to address the difficulties with crime.
(Minister, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; Louth, Fianna Fail
We had no legalised handguns here until 2004. The former Minister for Justice, Des O’Malley, banned hand guns in the early 1970s, so there were no legalised hand guns here for more than 30 years. As a result of a series of High Court decisions, the number of hand guns increased since 2004 to about 1,800 today. The decision in 2004 centred around the suitability of the person rather than the suitability of the gun. The judgment given in the case meant that if Deputy Timmins got a licence and was found to be a suitable person to carry a firearm, he would be entitled to have a small pistol, an AK 47, a Biretta, a Magnum or a Glock.
We had to do something about this. Judge Charelton stated in a case that it may be that the proliferation of pistols and high calibre rifles has not been noticed and that no general policy of permission for the private use or possession of hand guns is being pursued. He went on to state that a reasonable person would be entitled to feel alarmed at the increase in the number of handguns. I took my lead from that. I did not make the connection between illegal handguns and crime with what I am endeavouring to do, which is responding to the direction given by a High Court judge. God forbid, if something like that which occurred in Dunblane happened here and we had done nothing about it having been warned by Judge Peter Charelton, then we would have had to answer why we did nothing to respond to a High Court decision on a challenge against the licensing regime at that time.
I accept that 99.9% of the people who carry firearms here are excellent people. We have been very lucky with the people we have in the gun clubs here, and I have been assured by the Garda Síochána and by my staff, who have experience in this area. Unfortunately, in recent years since 2004 there has been a desire to bring legalised hand guns into this country. I have asked the Garda Commissioner and every senior garda whether this is the right way to go and whether we should allow hand guns. They all say “absolutely not”. One of the main reasons is due to ease of concealment of these hand guns.
When there are 1,800 licences here, we obviously have to address that. This legislation will allow people to continue to have a licence for a hand gun, but on a much more restricted basis. It will exclude quite a number of existing hand guns that people legally possess at the moment. Many of them have Glock pistols, Magnums and other guns that would never be included in sport, no matter how sport is defined.
The effect of what the Deputies are trying to do is to legalise practical shooting. The definition of practical shooting, according to the US Practical Shooting Association, is that “shooters take on obstacle-laden shooting courses – called stages – requiring anywhere from six to 30 plus shots to complete. The scoring system measures points scored per second, then weights the score to compensate for the number of shots fired.” Somebody here referred to extreme sport, and the USPSA states “If shooting has an “extreme” sport…. practical shooting is it.”
I know that Deputies have been inundated with representations since I originally stated that it was my intention to severely curtail hand guns. To be fair to organisations that had difficulties with this legislation, they have made it quite clear that they do not wish to have practical shooting or dynamic shooting, which effectively mimics combat. They do not want to have this in the country. Des Crofton is the director of the National Association of Regional Game Councils, representing 28,000 gun licence holders in the country. We asked for the association’s view on practical shooting, and he sent a letter to us on 25 June and it stated the following:
One of the matters discussed is the issue of practical and dynamic shooting. I wish to confirm that the associations in attendance at the meeting in December 2008 unanimously decided that practical pistol shooting was a cause of serious damage to the reputation of traditional shooting, as practised by Irish shooters heretofore, and was giving an undeserved bad impression of competitive pistol shooting generally. The associations present also unanimously determined that with immediate effect, none of them would approve of or support practical pistol shooting. This was the position then and to my certain knowledge, that remains the position today, as none of the associations in attendance at that meeting have given any indication that they have changed their position.
…Even today, I have received emails from both the NTSA and the NASRPC, both of which reiterate their previously stated opposition to practical shooting…However, I am concerned to hear that the impression has been given to some politicians that practical shooting enjoys support from some of the organisations or associations which met in Leixlip last December.
The Shooting Sports Association of Ireland representative wrote a letter in which he stated:
I am well aware of the Minister’s concern with practical or dynamic shooting, and I give a personal assurance that they will be neither promoted nor condoned by any of the 35 or so affiliated clubs and ranges. I welcome the majority of the steps in the legislation, and in particular, the co-operation of the Department of Justice and the work of the Garda unit. I take on board the stance regarding practical or dynamic shooting styles, and I accept that fully. It will not be part of shooting in Ireland.
Under this legislation, the State will take over the process of certifying and insuring shooting ranges. The State Claims Agency has been asked to give its view in this regard. It has stated that on no account should the State be involved in any way in indemnifying any range which participates in practical shooting. On Committee Stage I read the opinion the assistant commissioner, Mr. Walter Rice, had given on practical shooting and it is important to do so again in order that people will be under no illusion about what we are talking. He said practical pistol shooting or new activities which mimiced combat or confrontational shooting scenarios were developed as a more realistic training method for military and police personnel and that shooting at human shaped targets would not be considered as legitimate firearm use or possession. Therefore, if engaging in such practice was considered as a legitimate reason for possessing or using weapons, there would be concerns that this type of shooting could be seen as a way of training individuals in the use of these weapons with a view to engaging in criminal actions. He went on to recommend that practical shooting which clearly could be compared to combat shooting, not target shooting, be removed and banned as this type of training in weapons use was not legitimate and could be utilised by criminal elements. I cannot add further to this.
I came at this issue afresh. It is not a sport in which I wish to participate. Deputies in the House probably do not realise what is happening in practical shooting. While people would have been brought to some ranges, they would not have engaged in the practical shooting at issue here.
The International Practical Shooting Confederation was mentioned. The Department has monitored with concern the development of the IPSC which organises competitions in which people shoot their way through multi-stage target courses based on real life combat scenarios. From a cursory look at the Internet one will see that these activities are marketed as being at the extreme end of handgun sport.
The Garda Síochána and the reputable representative bodies of those engaged in firearm shooting, including handgun shooting, are against this. The Deputies in the House perhaps do not realise what is involved. I have heard the argument that it is a sport; it is not. The evidence our people and the Garda have received about what has been going on in a number of practical shooting ranges indicates that it amounts to nothing other than a mimicking of combat style shooting. I strongly urge Deputy Flanagan to desist from pressing the amendment.
(Wicklow, Fine Gael)
It is an issue in the regulation of ranges and has nothing to do with the use of small firearms which is a completely different issue.