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Upcoming changes in Firearms Act regarding licencing?

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The recently-published Criminal Justice Bill 2004 contains some amendments to the Firearms Acts relating to the conditions for granting a firearms licence. This won't apply this year, but may from next year on.

Okay, so the basic story here is that there is a change being
proposed for the licencing section of the Firearms Acts. It
won't affect you this year when you renew your licence (July
31 folks, don't forget!) but it may well be in force by next
year.

The press briefing released by the Department of Justice states :

Secure Accommodation for Firearms
25. The Minister has also included in Part 5 of the Bill in section 30 an amendment to the Firearms Act 1925 which will require applicants for firearms certificates to satisfy the Garda Superintendent to which they have applied that they have provided secure accommodation for the firearm.

The provision is necessary because the Supreme Court found in the case of Dunne & ors v Superintendent K. J. Donohue and others that there is no existing legal base for the policy of applying pre-conditions, including that of secure accommodation for firearms. A number of other amendments to the Firearms Acts are required and it is the Minister's intention to deal with these by way of amendment to the Bill at Committee Stage.
Dunne v. Donohue was the NARGC case regarding gun safes that most will remember from 2001/2002. The basics were that a directive was issued by the Garda Commissioner to all Superintendents listing preconditions for granting licences, specifically that the applicant had to have a gun safe (and various other security precautions for fullbore rifles, like steel doors and bars on windows in the room where the safe was located).

The NARGC challenged this directive in the High Court and then the Supreme Court, on the basis that the local superintendent is the sole authority for granting licences, and won their case.

This amendment doesn't directly overturn that ruling, which in effect said that the Commissioner couldn't list prerequisites. Rather it adds in the specific prerequisite that caused Dunne v. Donohue to be brought up in court, ie.secure storage, to the Firearms Act.

Okay, so what's the end result of all this?

When you apply for your next licence or renew your current one at the end of July this year, the Superintendent must consider whether you meet three criteria, set forth in section 4 of the 1925 Firearms Act. Basicly, this are:
  1. Is there a good reason for you to have the firearm?
  2. Would it be a threat to public safety or the peace to give you a licence?
  3. Are you allowed apply for a licence in the first place?
The last critera is to do with criminal records, age limits and so on, and it's fully listed in section 8 of the 1925 Firearms Act.

Once this new Criminal Justice Bill is passed, which is scheduled to happen before Christmas this year, the Superintendent must now also consider a fourth reason:

4. Does this person have secure storage for the firearm?

So far, it seems that the definition of "secure storage" is left up to the Superintendent, but the best guess is that it'll be a gun safe.

The NTSA would recommend that all NTSA shooters store their firearms in a gun safe or a similarly secure arrangement, and most NTSA shooters already do so anyway, so the overall impact on us would appear to be minor at best - your local Superintendent (or the local Garda acting on the Superintendent's behalf) may want to take a look at the safe, and that should be that, effectively.

It would appear, however, that there are more amendments to the Firearms Acts to come, and we'll be watching for those with care.

The full Criminal Justice bill is available on our website here as well as at the Oireacthas site here and can be followed in the Oireachtas as it progresses here.

The relevant section of the bill is in Part 5, section 30 (page 34) and reads:
30. Section 4 of the Firearms Act 1925 is amended
(a) in paragraph (c), by the substitution of "certificate, and" for "certificate.",
(b) by the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (c):
"(d) in the case of an application for a firearms certificate made to a superintendent of the Garda Siochana, has provided, to the superintendent's satisfaction, secure accommodation for the firearm concerned at the address where it is to be kept.", and
(c) by the numbering of the section as subsection (1) and the addition of the following subsections:
"(2) For the purposes of subsection (1)(d) of this section the superintendent or a member of the Garda Siochana acting on his or her behalf may inspect the accommodation referred to in that subsection or require the applicant to provide proof of its existence.
(3) If the superintendent or the Minister (as the case may require) is not satisfied as to the matters specified in the said subsection (1)(d), he or she shall refuse to issue a firearms certificate to the applicant under this Act and shall inform the applicant of the refusal and the reason for it."
From the Explanitory Memorandum that accompanies the Bill, the relevant note says:
Section 30 (Amendment of section 4 of the Firearms Act 1925)
Section 4 of the Firearms Act 1925 provides for the conditions to be met before the granting of a firearm certificate.
The proposed amendment provides for a further condition (paragraph d) to the effect that in the case of an application for a firearms certificate made to a superintendent of the Garda Siochana, the person has provided, to the superintendent's satisfaction, secure accommodation for the firearm concerned at the address where it is to be kept.
For the purposes of subsection (1)(d) the superintendent or a member of the Garda Siochana acting on his or her behalf may inspect the accommodation referred to in that subsection or require the applicant to provide proof of its existence.
If the superintendent or the Minister (as the case may require) is not satisfied as to the matters specified in subsection (1)(d), he or she shall refuse to issue a firearms certificate to the applicant and shall inform the applicant of the refusal and the reason for it.

This has been reported on by the Irish Examiner already on July 9th. We don't have the clipping, unfortunately, but here's the text of the article:

Justice bill to force legal gun owners to keep guns in safes
By Cormac O'Keeffe
The Government took its first steps yesterday in a planned crackdown on firearms.
Under new legislation legal owners of firearms will be obliged to lock their guns in secure safes.
The move is the first of a number of security measures to combat the growing use of firearms, both in the criminal underworld and in personal disputes.
The Criminal Justice Bill 2004, published yesterday, will require gun owners to provide "secure accommodation" before they are issued with a firearms certificate by gardaí.
Justice Minister Michael McDowell said that under existing law - as highlighted in a recent Supreme Court ruling - gardaí could not attach pre-conditions to the issuing of firearms certificates.
Mr McDowell hopes the measures will help reduce the theft of legally-held guns by organised criminal gangs, many of whom specialise in supplying weapons to other criminals.
There are an estimated 212,000 legally-held weapons in the state.
Gardaí have repeatedly raised concerns at the poor security measures taken by many legal gun owners and the extent to which these firearms end up in the criminal underworld, to be used in shootings and murders.
Garda Commissioner Noel Conroy told a Dáil committee last year that the number of homicides involving firearms had doubled between 2001 and 2003.
Figures show the number of shootings jumped from 54 in the first quarter of 2003 to 83 in the first quarter of 2004. There was also a substantial rise in burglaries and robberies of cash and goods in transit.
Mr McDowell said yesterday he would be bringing in further measures during the committee stage of the bill in the autumn.
He has indicated those convicted of firearms offences will serve "substantial" mandatory jail sentences under these measures. This follows his displeasure at the sentences handed down by judges.
The minister is also considering an "amnesty" for people in possession of firearms as a preparatory step to introducing mandatory sentencing.

As we get more details on this Bill and how it affects NTSA shooters, we'll post them here.

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