An internationally successful sporting club may be wiped out and Fermoy’s local economy could lose thousands of euro if government proposals for a ban on licensing handguns are adopted, writes Joe Leogue.
That is according to Fermoy Rifle Club who fear for the future of their sport following indications by the Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern that no new licences will be issued for handguns and existing licenses will not be renewed unless applicants met the requirements of a radically tightened licensing procedure.
Kieran Barry, secretary of Fermoy Rifle Club and national development officer of the Shooting Sports Association of Ireland this week explained the club’s concerns to The Avondhu. While the laws have been introduced as a result in the rise in gangland murders, Mr Barry says that targeting responsible registered handgun owners will not impact on the problem.
“From 1972 to 2004 not a single handgun was licensed and yet we can see the significant use of such firearms in crime prior to 2004,” Mr Barry said of the 32 year period during which handgun ownership was banned in Ireland.
“Our sportsmen and sportswomen hold the view that “banning” legally held firearms in Ireland will not reduce the current use of firearms by criminals. It did not work in the UK when they enforced the pistol ban in 1997. The total pistol murders (in the UK) for the 6 years 1992 to 1997 inclusive were 196, an average of 32.7 per annum. The total pistol murders for the six years 1998 to 2003, after the UK pistol ban came into effect, were 255, an average of 42.5 per annum or an increase of 30%.”
Mr Barry maintains that the ban would kill the sport and prove prohibitive to potential new members. He added the implications such a move would have on the local economy.
Fermoy Rifle Club is due to hold international events in April and July 2009, to which competitors from six countries throughout Europe have already entered. This year the April and July events drew 78 and 528 competitors respectively to the Fermoy Rifle Club facility in Ballyhooly.
“Each and every competitor who will travel to Ireland to compete in Ballyhooly will require permission from An Garda Siochana to bring their firearms to Ireland. If the minister goes ahead with this proposal not to issue licenses for handguns it will automatically mean that our visitors will not travel as they will not be able to bring their sporting equipment with them. Therefore we will have no option but to cancel these planned events,” Mr Barry explained.
Mr Barry emphasised that the shooting community is constantly working and assisting the Department of Justice and the gardai in drafting guidelines for the licensing of firearms and the licensing of shooting ranges such as the Ballyhooly facility. This ban was not previously discussed with the shooting community and came as a shock, Mr Barry added.
“We are not like the NRA (National Rifle Association) in America. We do not see these guns as a right, or a means of self-defence. We use these pistols for sporting reasons only. We compete in safe, purposely designed environments and shoot paper targets. There have been no injuries suffered as a result of our sport at Fermoy Rifle Club – you would come home with at least a bruise after a game of hurling,” Mr Barry said as he outlined the investment Fermoy Rifle Club has made to comply with sporting standards.
“The club has upgraded its facilities in Ballyhooly at a cost in excess of €100,000 over the last 3 years to ensure it complies with the highest safety standards and built a dedicated pistol range which is regarded as the best in the country. All monies came from the club itself and no public money has been used for the project,” Mr Barry said, adding that the prohibitive cost of hand guns ensure that only those serious about the sport participate.
Mr Barry, who is calling for the support of local representatives at Government and County Council level, says that people who use handguns for sport are responsible with their equipment, keep them locked in safes when not in use and dismantle them in transit, rendering them useless. Without the support of local politicians, patrons of Fermoy Rifle Club fear their sport will be outlawed.