Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2015: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2015.

This Bill is about illegal firearms, not legal firearms. Some time ago I had sad cause to visit the family of a man who had been shot and left in a vegetative state. He had been shot by somebody wielding an illegal firearm, in a case of mistaken identity. This type of incident happens far too frequently in this country.

Less than 4 weeks ago, on 28 February, an 11 year old child was shot in his own home in Tallaght. Two days later, a six year old girl riding on a motorcycle narrowly avoided being killed when a bullet struck her helmet. Three weeks ago today, on 5 March, a pregnant woman in my constituency and her partner were both shot, and last June, a six year old boy was shot in Ballyfermot. Sadly, I understand that he is paralysed and will never walk again. I could list dozens more examples of shootings and murders. The streets of Dublin or any other town or city must not become a hunting ground for violent criminals. We must not allow innocent children to become gangland victims. However, it is clear from these examples that the State and the criminal justice system are failing these children and other innocent victims of gun crime. It is vital that we in this Chamber and people across the wider society do not become desensitised to these atrocities just because they have become so frequent.

Gun crime and gangland murders are a serious issue for the people of this country. Entire neighbourhoods across the State, including in my constituency, are living in fear of gangland criminals. Decent, hard-working people living in communities across this country are under the constant threat of falling foul of ruthless criminals. The most serious crime in our society is to deliberately take the life of another human being. This crime carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. However, even if a successful conviction is brought, it is of little consolation to the victim or their family. Gardaí are genuinely doing their best to tackle this problem, but we need to be proactive about preventing these shootings before they occur.

After two men were shot dead within the space of six days of each other in my constituency some time ago, I spoke to detective gardaí working on the front line about what I could do. The response was that while there is nothing we can do after the fact to prevent these murders, we need to make it riskier and more difficult for criminals to possess, store, transport and hold guns. If we increase the severity of the punishment for being caught with illegal weapons and ammunition, it will make it riskier and more difficult for gangs to find people who are willing to store and transport these weapons for them and will make it riskier for these weapons to be transported before they are used for murder. This would be a direct way of confronting the support system that is used for these murders. The more pressure that is put on gangland criminals who use firearms, the more difficult it will be for them to plan and carry out murderous gun attacks.

I believe we need to send a message to all criminals who engage in gun crime. The message from the Dáil needs to be that the State is going to come after people who hold guns illegally and that they will go to prison for a considerable amount of time if they are caught with a gun. That message must go to every community and every person who would consider using guns illegally. I believe the current criminal system is not acting as an effective deterrent to people possessing illegal firearms. For example, when I researched this issue, I came across the case of an individual who was caught red-handed in possession of an AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle and the relevant ammunition. The presumptive minimum sentence for holding any type of illegal firearm, never mind an AK-47, is five years. However, the judge in this case handed down a sentence of four years. The DPP was forced to appeal this sentence on the grounds of undue leniency - costing the State money - and successfully had the sentence increased, but only to the minimum of five years. If we are serious about tackling gun crime in Ireland, we need laws that reflect this commitment.

As a legislator, I am rightly barred from any interference in the operation of the criminal justice system. However, I am in a position to propose changes. That is why I am introducing the Firearms (Amendment) Bill 2015. My Bill aims to increase the presumptive minimum sentencing guidelines for gun crimes, so that any person who considers purchasing, possessing or having anything to do with illegal firearms knows that if convicted, he or she will face serious penalties. As the law stands currently, a number of offences attract a five year minimum sentence, such as possession of a firearm or ammunition in suspicious circumstances, carrying a firearm or imitation firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence or resist arrest and other similar offences. However, the minimum five years is almost never served in prison by the person convicted. My Bill would increase the presumptive minimum sentence for these crimes from five to seven years, while keeping the maximum sentence at 14 years. Currently, the offences of possession of firearms with intent to endanger life and using a firearm to assist or aid in an escape attract a ten year presumptive minimum sentence. Under my Bill, this presumptive minimum sentence is increased to 13 years. The maximum sentence for life imprisonment remains as it is.

The Bill will still allow judges some discretion. We need to take every step possible to tackle organised crime in Ireland. The Bill aims to deter people from engaging in any activity that involves unlicensed firearms. The message must go out loud and clear that the possession of an illegally held firearm will lead to a lengthy time behind bars.

The Deputy is over time.

At 11 a.m. this morning, two men were shot in Drumcondra, one of whom is now dead. This is an issue right across the State which we must deal with.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.