The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Dermot Ahern, T.D. today outlined his proposals to ban licensed handguns.

The Minister said the handgun ban would be included in legislation currently being prepared which will be published shortly.

Minister Ahern said: "Since being appointed, I have made clear my growing concern at the number and type of handguns being licensed.

"From the early 1970s, in the light of the Troubles, until 2004, all handguns were banned in this jurisdiction. But following a series of judicial decisions that is no longer the case and about 1800 handguns have been licensed.  There was no public policy decision to bring about this situation. 

"I am mindful of comments made by Mr. Justice Charleton in his judgement in a recent firearms case that a reasonable person is entitled to feel alarmed at the proliferation of handguns. My concern is 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 United States. Today we have 1800 legal handguns – in three years time that number could exceed 4,000 and rising.

"This is completely unacceptable. While I know the vast majority of licensed gun owners behave responsibly, my paramount concern must be the protection of the public, particularly against the background of the level of gun crime which is taking place."

Some time ago the Minister directed his Department and An Garda Síochána to carry out an urgent and intensive review of the firearms law.  Proposals arising from that review will be reflected in a Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill which is being prepared as a matter of urgency and which the Minister will bring forward shortly.

His proposals for radical reform in this area include

• no new licences will be issued for handguns.
• existing licenses 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 will keep under annual review, in consultation with the Garda Commissioner, the outcome of the licensing  procedure and, if the outcome of that procedure leaves a situation which still poses an unacceptable risk to the community, will use new powers, which the Bill will contain,  to ban outright any type of firearm.

The Bill will provide for the revocation of any handgun licenses which may be issued between now and the enactment of the legislation and it is intended that anyone applying for a handgun license in that period will be informed of that fact.

The Minister is prepared to make very limited exceptions in relation to Olympic sports only.

The Minister considers that his proposals will not cause inconvenience to the vast majority of gun owners, who have had no interest in acquiring hand guns.

The Minister said "While I regret the need for these proposals, the reality is that if we were subject to a Dunblane type incident or stolen legal handguns were used to kill innocent civilians the present situation, which has not arisen as the result of any policy decision, would be impossible to justify."

19 November 2008