A coalition of gun enthusiasts and hunting bodies has been set up to oppose a plan to restrict gun ownership.

The gardaí have asked the Department of Justice to ban ownership of thousands of handguns and semi-automatic rifles  by refusing or revoking owners’ licences.

Gun owners say they are being unfairly targeted because of crime associated with illegal gun possession.

Gun enthusiasts use both handguns and rifles for target shooting in the controlled environment of shooting ranges, where safety and security measures are closely followed.

For some years gardaí have been unhappy that such firearms can be licensed for private ownership, and the Garda Commissioner asked the Minister for Justice to prohibit them.

At a recent hearing of the Oireachtas Justice Committee, Chief Superintendent Fergus Healy said semi-automatic rifles, high-powered handguns and some shotguns were military-style weapons.

Gardaí fear criminals might target legitimate owners to steal their firearms.

But Mark McGuire, chairperson of Harbour House Sports Club in Co Kildare and a member of the National Association of Sporting Rifle and Pistol Clubs, said prohibiting their firearms would destroy their sport.

It would also result in the loss of their investment in ranges and equipment, and do nothing to stop criminals using illegal weapons in this country.

He said sport shooters adhered to the strictest security and safety standards in their homes and on the range, in compliance with all regulations.

A draft piece of legislation banning the future licensing of these guns, and revoking existing licences, has already been prepared by a working group for the Minister for Justice.

The Oireachtas Justice Committee is now also preparing a report. 

That will be given to the minister who will soon make the decision to prohibit or permit these high-powered weapons.