Gun enthusiasts have been hit with an immediate halt to the licensing of a model of rifle that gardaí have warned presents a danger to the public.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald announced the temporary cap on the licensing of any new centre-fire semi-automatic rifles with immediate effect.
The cap will apply until the situation is reviewed by a new body, the Firearms Assessment and Appeals Authority, which she announced would be set up.
Anyone who applies to renew their licence for an existing centre-fire semi-automatic rifle in the interim will have to do so on the understanding that the licence may be revoked if the new authority decides such rifles should be prohibited.
The authority’s main function will be to decide what kinds of firearms may be licensed, whether there should be any limit on their numbers, and what safety conditions should be attached.
The existing licensing application system will continue for most cases, with enthusiasts required to make their applications to their local Garda station.
However, the Garda Commissioner is to set up a centralised licensing system for firearms categorised as restricted, which often cause contentious applications.
The new authority will act as an independent appeals body for people who are refused a licence by An Garda Síochána, whereas currently, anyone refused a licence by the gardaí must take their appeal to the courts.
Ms Fitzgerald also said she would monitor the number of 0.22 inch rim-fire calibre handguns being licensed and would introduce a cap if there was a significant rise in the number of licence or import applications.
This model of handgun is relatively low-powered and intended mainly for pest control but gardaí have expressed concern about it falling into criminal hands.
Ms Fitzgerald announced the new measures in response to the recommendations of a joint Garda- Justice Department working group late last year, many of which were criticised by the country’s gun clubs.
She said she acknowledged the “dedication and responsibility of the owners of legally held firearms” but she added: “I share the concerns of An Garda Síochána in relation to public safety and I am determined to prevent any proliferation of handgun availability in Ireland.”
She is also to re-establish the Firearms Consultative Panel, which would include gun clubs.
One issue for the panel would be the creation of a record of firearms, which would involve keeping a forensic record of every licensed firearm, which could then be compared with any ammunition recovered from a crime scene.
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