Irish Shooting Politics

April 8, 2009

The rights of shooters

Filed under: Politics — Mark Dennehy @ 12:44 am

There is a lot of noise amongst those who are clamoring for a return to the bad old days of taking legal action against the Minister, on the topic of the rights of shooters. Specifically, on the idea that we have a right to keep and bear arms, though it’s usually watered down to a right to own firearms, or a right to be granted a license if we fulfill the preconditions in Section 4 of the Firearms Act, or a right to make a living selling firearms.

The first idea, that we have the right to keep and bear arms, is more severe than a lack of knowledge of Irish law, but hints at a deeper, geographical confusion. This is Ireland; not the United States of America. Our second amendment does not grant the right to keep and bear arms, it was an omnibus of small changes to the original constitution aimed at making implementing it easier; and if we look at the second Article instead of the second amendment (and the fact that even the basic terminology is different is a hint at how applicable any of the US constitution is in this jurisdiction), it is about the right to citizenship. Firearms, in fact are mentioned nowhere in Bunreacht na hEireann, and “arms” is only mentioned twice – once defining treasonous acts and once saying citizens cannot gather together to protest while armed. Neither instance is applicable; nor would any sane shooter want them to be. So let us be clear – there is no legal right in this country to own a firearm in the sense that we normally think of, that is, being able to possess and use it regardless of license.

What of the less strident claims to rights? The ‘right to own firearms’ is often claimed. In a sense, this is a valid right. The right to own private property is a real one, though not an absolute one (indeed, precious few rights are absolute). For example, while you might have a right to own property, that is not the same as having a right to possess or use that property. For example, the firearms which were held in storage by the state from 1972 to 2004 were never taken from their owners in a legal sense – their ownership was never transferred, nor did the state confiscate them. If an owner wished to sell their firearm or transfer it from the state, that was possible. This is what the “right to own” is all about – and thus it is utterly useless to us as sportsmen. Perhaps if we were all arms traders, it might be apropos, but when you wish to take part in a sport, it is a hindrance to your participation if merely touching your property is in effect a criminal offense under the Firearms Acts.

What of the ‘right’ to be granted a license if we fulfill the preconditions in Section 4 of the Firearms Act? This is not a right; it is a misreading of Section 4. Section 4 lists the preconditions which must be met for a licence to be granted:

(1) An issuing person shall not grant a firearm certificate unless he or she is satisfied that the applicant complies with the conditions referred to in subsection (2) and will continue to comply with them during the currency of the certificate.
(2) The conditions subject to which a firearm certificate may be granted are…

As can be seen from sub-section (1) here (the emphasis is mine), this section does not serve to set out rights for the applicant – instead it serves to limit the actions of the superintendent by stating what must happen before he has the option to grant a license. If one fulfills all the preconditions detailed in sub-section (2), it does not place a duty upon the Superintendent to grant a license – it merely permits him to do so under the law.

There is a right to fair procedure in such cases; this is a valid right and if one were refused a firearms certificate despite a valid case for being granted one, then this manifests as having the right to an appeal. This is currently provided for through the District Court system. It is not however, the same thing as having a right to be granted a license for fulfilling all the preconditions. That is simply not a right which any Irish citizen possesses.

The final right to consider is that to earn a living, and it is a valid and an interesting one — for firearms dealers. From the point of view of the shooter, it is hard to see how it could apply in a productive manner.

The above must seem as depressing reading for a shooter. Perhaps we should postfix it then, with the note that every year in Ireland, some 232,000 firearms licenses are processed and granted. We hear of problems with only a small handful of cases – boards.ie and other publicly reported sites indicate that the ballpark for the number of cases is somewhere around 100 to 200 or so; this means that all the problem cases put together represent a little under 0.1% of all cases – ie. 99.9% of applications are successful and trouble free.

One cannot help but feel that such a system is by and large within the boundaries laid down by the definition of the word “working”…

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