What are the gun laws in Ireland? How does gun legislation in Ireland impact the rates of gun violence there? We take a closer look.

On May 24, an 18-year-old opened fire on at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two teachers.

Just 10 days earlier on May 14, in Buffalo, New York, an 18-year-old white supremacist clad in body armor opened fire at a Tops supermarket, killing ten people, including a security guard. 

So far in 2022, there have been over 200 mass shootings in the United States. That's more than one a day. 27 of these mass shootings took place in schools. 

As the matter of gun law in the United States continues to be brought to the front of the public's minds, with almost daily shootings and constant political debate it's little wonder that so many of our readers have been inquiring about the gun laws in the Republic of Ireland.

We thought it would be a good time to explore the gun laws in Ireland, which are much stricter than those in the US, and their impact in terms of gun violence.

Gun laws in Ireland

Ireland, according to GunPolicy.org, has some of the most restrictive firearm legislation in all of Europe.

In Ireland, those wishing to purchase a firearm must be 16 years of age or older and must have been living in Ireland for at least six months in order to apply for a firearm certificate. (That minimum age of 16 - two years younger than America’s limit of 18 - is the only way in which they are less restrictive.)

Applications for a firearm certificate are made via local Gardai (police), to whom you must demonstrate a ‘good reason” for wanting one, such as hunting or protecting flocks as a farmer. As John Spain wrote in a previous article on IrishCentral, “well over 90% of guns held here are shotguns and sporting rifles used for hunting or controlling vermin. These weapons are usually single shot and never automatic.”

In addition to a reason for applying for the certificate, you must also show proof of identification and age, competence with the firearm, and secure storage for the weapon and ammunition when not in use. A background check then takes place, during which Gardai will contact two people the applicant has selected as character references. They also reserve the right to contact doctors or psychologists regarding the applicant’s mental health history. The maximum legal time between application and approval is three months.

The license or certificate has to be renewed every three years. A separate certificate is required for each gun.

Most other firearms are considered restricted and a special restricted license - with an accompanying justifiable reason - must be applied for. For example, if someone wants a handgun to do target shooting, they must belong to a Gardai-approved target range or shooting club. Almost no handguns (pistols or revolvers) are allowed in private possession outside of gun clubs.

Per GunPolicy.org: “Where application is for a restricted firearm, the applicant must have 'good and sufficient reason for requiring such a firearm' and must additionally demonstrate that 'the firearm is the only type of weapon appropriate for the purpose.'”

According to the Restricted Firearms and Ammunition Order 2008, firearms prohibited in Ireland are automatic firearms and their ammunition. Restricted firearms include military-style semi-automatic firearms, semi-automatic firearms which resemble automatic firearms, shotguns with a magazine capacity of more than three cartridges, long guns over .308 (7.62mm) caliber, and rimfire rifles holding more than 10 rounds.

How many guns are legally owned in Ireland?

In September 2021, Garda Headquarters said, according to the Irish Independent,  that there were currently 234,000 firearm certificates in circulation, equating to one in eight households in Ireland possessing a legally held firearm.

In the US, the National Firearms Survey found that in 2021, there was an overall rate of adult firearm ownership of 31.9%, suggesting that in excess of 81.4 million Americans aged 18 and over own firearms.

How do the levels of gun violence compare in Ireland and the US?

In Ireland, there were 17 homicides by firearm in 2014. (More recent data shows that there were 39 homicide offenses and 2,517 weapons and explosives offenses in 2021, but the Central Statistics Office says that the "the quality of these statistics" does not meet its standards.)

In the US, data published by the Pew Research Center earlier in 2022 showed that 79% of US murders in 2020 – 19,384 out of 24,576 – involved a firearm.

Should the US adopt similar gun laws to Ireland? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

*Originally published in March 2018, updated in May 2022.