Concern over impact of new European gun laws in Northern Ireland

editorial image

A new European Directive on firearms will unfairly restrict the activities of legitimate gun owners in Northern Ireland, it has been claimed.

Legislating in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, the European Commission has decreed that member states prohibit semi-automatic small calibre weapons “which resemble” those with a fully automatic capability.

Once filtered down to become law in the UK, the directive will also affect de-activated collectors’ weapons and the purchase of guns and ammunition through the internet.

One of its main elements states there should be “stricter rules to ban certain semi-automatic firearms, which will not, under any circumstance, be allowed to be held by private persons, even if they have been permanently deactivated.”

The proposed amendments to the existing Firearms Directive will now go forward for approval by the European Parliament and European Council.

Graham Downing, who is the shooting consultant to the Countryside Alliance, said each of the shooting organisations he is involved with “wish to stand firm against terrorism,” but said there are very real concerns over the practicality and proportionality of some of the proposals.

“It must be said that .22 semi-automatic rifles are in very widespread use in the UK for pest control (mostly rabbit shooting) and for target sports.

“My contention is that firearms should be classified according to their technical specifications, i.e. what they do or are capable of doing, and there is a strongly held view that the Commission’s proposal to ban certain firearms simply because of what they look like is entirely misguided.”

Mr Downing added: “If EU citizens who currently possess, quite lawfully, certain items for sport, pest control, recreation or as part of a collection, are to be deprived of those items, then there is a very strong case that they should be compensated for their loss.”

Mourne TUV councillor Henry Reilly described the new directive as a “pathetic response” to the terror threat.

“Does anyone seriously believe that laws which make it more difficult to legally obtain firearms are going to discourage terrorists who are prepared to blow themselves up?

“It is a fact that ISIS terrorists clearly have access to military grade assault rifles along with grenades and rocket launchers.

“They are not dependant on legally held weapons in any shape or fashion,” Mr Reilly added.

Announcing the new directive, Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said: “The recent terrorist attacks on Europe’s people and values were coordinated across borders, showing that we must work together to resist these threats.

“[The] proposal, prepared jointly by Commissioners Elżbieta Bieńkowska and Dimitris Avramopoulos, will help us tackle the threat of weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.

“We are proposing stricter controls on sale and registration of firearms, and stronger rules to irrevocably deactivate weapons.”