The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
has agreed to the following Report:
THE CONTROL OF FIREARMS IN NORTHERN IRELAND
AND THE DRAFT FIREARMS (NORTHERN IRELAND) ORDER 2002
As in other parts of the United Kingdom there are
in Northern Ireland substantial numbers of individuals who hold
and use firearms entirely safely and legitimately for leisure
and business purposes. Their possession and use of firearms is
governed by the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 1981. In July
2002, the Government laid before Parliament a proposal for a draft
Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order which would in due course replace
the 1981 Order. This has been the focus of our inquiry.
While there are a wide range of firearms covered
by the legislation there are inevitably some which cause greater
public concern than others. Handguns are not banned in Northern
Ireland, although they were banned in Great Britain following
the shootings at Dunblane in 1996. Between 11,000 and 12,000 handguns
are held by individuals in Northern Ireland for personal protection.
Although we believe that gun laws in Great Britain and Northern
Ireland should be consistent, we believe that the time is not
right for a hand gun ban in Northern Ireland.
Other questions similarly give cause for continuing
debate. The current firearms regimes in Great Britain and Northern
Ireland are complex and vary from each other in certain key aspects.
As a general principle, we advocate the view that regulation throughout
the United Kingdom should be consistent, wherever possible. With
that in mind, we have recommended that a single regime should
govern young people's access to firearms throughout the United
Kingdom, and that a single regime should continue to govern access
to imitation and replica firearms. We have also requested that
the Government establish a Firearms Consultative Committee for
Northern Ireland as an advisory body similar in character to the
Firearms Consultative Committee for Great Britain. We believe
that such a body would have an important role to play in determining
areas of common ground and best practice in firearms regulation.
A new proposal is that the competence of an individual
should be tested before his application for a firearm certificate
is approved. Although we agree with the principle of testing competence,
the full practical implications of the proposal have yet to be
worked through. It will require considerable further work before
it is ready for implementation.