18 March 2006

One in 12 here own guns

Belfast Telegraph

By Michael McHugh
18 March 2006

Over 20,000 firearms certificates were issued by police to members of the security forces and private citizens last year, it emerged last night.

That equates to one in 12 people here owning a gun - three times the figure for England and Wales - and that's just the legally held weapons.

Gun owners believe concerns are "alarmist" but news that the Chief Constable issued 20,074 certificates to applicants in 2005 will spark more attention.

Lord Laird obtained the information in Westminster and he said the authorities should be trying to reduce the number of weapons held, both legal and illegal.

"I recognise that there are certain people who have to have firearms like farmers with vermin but I do feel we should be looking at trying to cut down on the number of guns," he said.

"I am opposed to hunting as a sport and that is an area in which I would like to see gun ownership coming to an end.

"In an ideal world there would not be a single gun in Northern Ireland, that is the utopian world which we should be working towards."

The Belfast Telegraph revealed last month that 7,174 new guns were issued in the last four years recorded.

There are presently more than 144,500 legally-held guns in Northern Ireland. This does not include security force personal protection weapons.

Police screen applicants for certificates under the provisions of the Fire Arms (NI) Order 2004.

According to information on the PSNI's website, successful applicants must not be of "intemperate habits or unsound mind" or for any reason unfitted to be entrusted with a firearm. The petitioner must also not constitute a threat to public safety or the peace.

Many of the weapons are used by farmers, although there are only 51,000 farmers registered in Northern Ireland under the most recent census.

Some of the more than 30,000 privately-owned rifles and handguns would be used at Northern Ireland's 55 authorised gun clubs and 39 legal gun ranges.

There are 132 registered gun dealers. A PSNI spokesman said the checks carried out on applicants were "among the most rigorous in the world".

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