Firearms legislation review - A small price to pay to avert murder

Every time someone runs amok in an American school or university campus, or even an idyllic Norwegian holiday island or a quiet Scottish border town, killing at random but for no obvious purpose, one simple truth is underlined:

 If the killer did not have access to high-calibre, semi-automatic weapons they might not have exacted such a bloody toll.

Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and murdered 20 children just two years ago is just one of many, many examples of what can happen when unbalanced, out-of-control people step over the line between their simmering Rambo fantasies and atrocity.

Each and every time one of these tragedies is inflicted on a community, especially in America, the very same questions are asked and the very same answers show a cultural divide that many Europeans — and many Americans too — find impossible to comprehend.

Each and every time a school or college is turned into something like a frontline field hospital President Barack Obama promises to try to curb access to military-style firearms but is challenged, usually successfully, by one of the most powerful lobbies in America — the gun lobby led by the arms industry-funded National Rifle Association.

Americans see access to firearms, non-sporting, military grade weaponry, very differently to Europeans and pay an exceedingly high price to celebrate the values that won the West.

The reality is that now America is so awash with weapons designed to kill people that any restrictive legislation seems pointless.

It would be too great a task to remove even 50% of the powerful handguns, semi-automatic or automatic pistols or rifles from circulation.

They are simply too deeply embedded in a gung-ho society. That, however, is not the case in Ireland and we must never reach that point.

Legislation governing access to firearms of any kind in Ireland has had a chequered history since heavy sporting and target weapons were confiscated by the State when sectarian violence broke out in the North and threatened to destabilise this Republic.

Restrictions have been relaxed over the years and now a review of licensing is under way. During that process the gardaí have said they want a ban on almost all handguns — those above .22 calibre.

They also want to prohibit shotguns capable of holding more than three rounds and all semi-automatic centre-fire rifles.

There are less that 2,000 legal handguns held in the State and they represent just a fraction of the 200,000-plus legally held firearms.

A coalition of sports organisations opposes these proposals even though the weapons under review have no relevance in our hunting culture where double-barrel shotguns and single-shot deer rifles are the predominant weapons.

No one can guarantee that legally held firearms will not fall into the wrong hands or be stolen. For those reasons alone high calibre or semi-automatic, non-sporting weapons should not be available in Ireland.

If some people feel that impinges on their rights then that is a burden they may have to bear in an effort to try to ensure we never have to deal with a Sandy Hook or a Utoya-style massacre.

This seems a small price to pay if such a tragedy can be averted.

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