03 January 2006

Gardaí to seize 3,000 guns under amnesty

Irish Examiner

03 January 2006
By Shaun Connolly, Political Correspondent

GARDAÍ expect more than 3,000 illegal firearms will be handed over in the up-coming amnesty ahead of tough new anti-gun laws.
Automatic minimum jail terms of between five and 10 years for a range of weapons’ offences are set to be approved by the Oireachtas before the summer as part of the Criminal Justice Bill.

The move is aimed at cracking down on Ireland’s spiralling “gun culture” which left 19 people dead last year in gangland shootings alone.

The offences to carry mandatory minimum sentences include possession of a firearm in suspicious circumstances, with intent to endanger life or while hijacking a vehicle, and production of a firearm to resist arrest.

The Government intends to offer a month long amnesty in which people can surrender unlicensed guns before the new clampdown comes into force.

An amnesty in Britain in 2003, following the New Year’s Day drive-by shooting dead of two teenage girls, netted 44,000 firearms and one million rounds of ammunition.

Adjusted for population difference, gardaí expect the haul in the Republic to be similar, resulting in around 3,000 weapons and 70,000 rounds.

A garda source said: “Generally we have more shotguns per head of population than the UK because of the much bigger farming sector. They are robbed from farm houses and then used again in other burglaries, an awful lot of guns have been stolen over the years. “More than 600 firearms were seized in 2004 through normal investigations. The amount of illegal weapons in the country that weren’t seized is anyone’s guess.”

Gardaí are concerned about the level of guns coming into the State from the continent and the fact they only intercept a “fraction” of them.

“It is certainly difficult to quantify how much is coming into the country. With so many people travelling in and out it’s not possible to search every vehicle coming in. The ones that are seized in investigations and searches are probably just a fraction of the illegal weapons in the country.”

In 2004, gardaí seized 358 shotguns, 164 riffles, 70 pistols, 21 revolvers, 19 machine guns, 53 replica guns and 88 pellet guns.

Gardaí have high hopes the tough new penalties for possession will drive up the total to be handed in. The move will allow people with unlicensed or unregistered firearms and weapons to hand them over to gardaí to avoid prosecution.

Justice Minister Micheal McDowell said the amnesty would not apply to guns used in crimes.

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