Gun owners express ‘fundamental legal concerns’ over proposed lead ban

Organisations representing gun owners throughout Europe have expressed “fundamental legal concerns” over a proposal to ban lead ammunition.

EU member states will vote next week, on July 15, whether to accept or reject the European Commission’s proposal, which, if passed, will see the use of lead ammunition banned in and around wetlands.

The commission decided to put the draft regulation to a vote on June 23 last. Member states have until July 15 to return their decision (positive, negative or abstention).

According to Dan Curley, chairperson of the National Association of Regional Game Councils (NARGC), the former Irish government indicated an intention to vote no, and there is no indication that this stance has changed. However, Curley highlighted that there is no knowing how other member states will vote at this time.

The NARGC obtained legal advice on this matter, which led to the body highlighting a number of concerns.

The first of these concerns is the scope of the restrictions, which the NARGC argues is too broad. The definition of wetland being used for the purpose of the regulation includes, apparently “areas of march, fen, peatland or water; whether natural or artificial; permanent or temporary; with water that is static or flowing; fresh, brackish or salt; including area of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed 6m”.

The NARGC said: “In the context of hunting, the said definition does not fulfill requisites of the principle of legal certainty which is enshrined in EU law, as it is not sufficiently detailed for practical application.

More particularly, it does not give hunters a clear and precise understanding of their rights and obligations, nor does it enable national courts to ensure that those rights and obligations are observed.

Curley told AgriLand that “any puddle in a field could be considered a wetland” under these definitions.

The second area of concern the NARGC has highlighted is that the regulation, in its present wording, operates on a ‘presumption of guilt’, in that hunters and gun users would have to prove that they were not shooting in and around a wetland.

“The presumption of innocence is a fundamental right and key element at the heart of fair trial rights protected by various legal instruments of the EU. We are very concerned that this legal principle has been overlooked in this case,” the NARGC said.

Statistics

There are some 210,000 licenced guns in Ireland, including 46,000 rifles. Of the total number of guns, 115,000 are owned by farmers or landowners, of which 13,000 are rifles.

For 35,000 of the 46,000 rifles, alternative forms of ammunition cannot be used, and they will have to be scrapped.

Looking at shotguns, a total of around 142,400 – including 97,000 owned by farmers – will have to be scrapped as there is no appropriate form of ammunition, or they will not be able to shoot steel ammunition effectively.

In total, between rifles and shotguns, some 178,400 guns will have to be scrapped. Using €2,500 as an average price per gun, the cost of replacing these scrapped firearms could be as high as €446 million.