Irish Austrian Society Essay Competition 2011 Pistols

Cover of the first edition, featuring the painting Pizarro seizing the Inca of Peru by John Everett Millais

AuthorJared Diamond
CountryUnited States
SubjectGeography, social evolution, ethnology, cultural diffusion
Published1997 (W. W. Norton)
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback), audio CD, audio cassette, audio download
Pages480 pages (1st edition, hardcover)
ISBN0-393-03891-2 (1st edition, hardcover)

Dewey Decimal

303.4 21
LC ClassHM206 .D48 1997
Preceded byWhy Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality
Followed byCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (also titled Guns, Germs and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years) is a 1997 transdisciplinary non-fiction book by Jared Diamond, professor of geography and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1998, Guns, Germs, and Steel won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction and the Aventis Prize for Best Science Book. A documentary based on the book, and produced by the National Geographic Society, was broadcast on PBS in July 2005.[1]

The book attempts to explain why Eurasian and North African civilizations have survived and conquered others, while arguing against the idea that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, moral, or inherent geneticsuperiority. Diamond argues that the gaps in power and technology between human societies originate primarily in environmental differences, which are amplified by various positive feedback loops. When cultural or genetic differences have favored Eurasians (for example, written language or the development among Eurasians of resistance to endemic diseases), he asserts that these advantages occurred because of the influence of geography on societies and cultures (for example, by facilitating commerce and trade between different cultures) and were not inherent in the Eurasian genomes.


The prologue opens with an account of Diamond's conversation with Yali, a New Guinean politician. The conversation turned to the obvious differences in power and technology between Yali's people and the Europeans who dominated the land for 200 years, differences that neither of them considered due to any genetic superiority of Europeans. Yali asked, using the local term "cargo" for inventions and manufactured goods, "Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?" (p. 14)

Diamond realized the same question seemed to apply elsewhere: "People of Eurasian origin ... dominate ... the world in wealth and power." Other peoples, after having thrown off colonial domination, still lag in wealth and power. Still others, he says, "have been decimated, subjugated, and in some cases even exterminated by European colonialists." (p. 15)

The peoples of other continents (sub-Saharan Africans, Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians and New Guineans, and the original inhabitants of tropical Southeast Asia) have been largely conquered, displaced and in some extreme cases – referring to Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians, and South Africa's indigenous Khoisan peoples – largely exterminated by farm-based societies such as Eurasians and Bantu. He believes this is due to these societies' technologic and immunologic advantages, stemming from the early rise of agriculture after the last Ice Age.


The book's title is a reference to the means by which farm-based societies conquered populations of other areas and maintained dominance, despite sometimes being vastly outnumbered – superior weapons provided immediate military superiority (guns); Eurasian diseases weakened and reduced local populations, who had no immunity, making it easier to maintain control over them (germs); and durable means of transport (steel) enabled imperialism.

Diamond argues geographic, climatic and environmental characteristics which favored early development of stable agricultural societies ultimately led to immunity to diseases endemic in agricultural animals and the development of powerful, organized states capable of dominating others.

Outline of theory[edit]

Diamond argues that Eurasian civilization is not so much a product of ingenuity, but of opportunity and necessity. That is, civilization is not created out of superior intelligence, but is the result of a chain of developments, each made possible by certain preconditions.

The first step towards civilization is the move from nomadichunter-gatherer to rooted agrarian society. Several conditions are necessary for this transition to occur: access to high-carbohydrate vegetation that endures storage; a climate dry enough to allow storage; and access to animals docile enough for domestication and versatile enough to survive captivity. Control of crops and livestock leads to food surpluses. Surpluses free people to specialize in activities other than sustenance and support population growth. The combination of specialization and population growth leads to the accumulation of social and technologic innovations which build on each other. Large societies develop ruling classes and supporting bureaucracies, which in turn lead to the organization of nation-states and empires.[2]

Although agriculture arose in several parts of the world, Eurasia gained an early advantage due to the greater availability of suitable plant and animal species for domestication. In particular, Eurasia has barley, two varieties of wheat, and three protein-rich pulses for food; flax for textiles; and goats, sheep, and cattle. Eurasian grains were richer in protein, easier to sow, and easier to store than American maize or tropical bananas.

As early Western Asian civilizations began to trade, they found additional useful animals in adjacent territories, most notably horses and donkeys for use in transport. Diamond identifies 13 species of large animals over 100 pounds (45 kg) domesticated in Eurasia, compared with just one in South America (counting the llama and alpaca as breeds within the same species) and none at all in the rest of the world. Australia and North America suffered from a lack of useful animals due to extinction, probably by human hunting, shortly after the end of the Pleistocene, whilst the only domesticated animals in New Guinea came from the East Asian mainland during the Austronesian settlement some 4,000–5,000 years ago. Sub-Saharan biological relatives of the horse including zebras and onagers proved untameable; and although African elephants can be tamed, it is very difficult to breed them in captivity;[2][3] Diamond describes the small number of domesticated species (14 out of 148 "candidates") as an instance of the Anna Karenina principle: many promising species have just one of several significant difficulties that prevent domestication.

Eurasians domesticated goats and sheep for hides, clothing, and cheese; cows for milk; bullocks for tillage of fields and transport; and benign animals such as pigs and chickens. Large domestic animals such as horses and camels offered the considerable military and economic advantages of mobile transport.

Eurasia's large landmass and long east-west distance increased these advantages. Its large area provided it with more plant and animal species suitable for domestication, and allowed its people to exchange both innovations and diseases. Its east-west orientation allowed breeds domesticated in one part of the continent to be used elsewhere through similarities in climate and the cycle of seasons. The Americas had difficulty adapting crops domesticated at one latitude for use at other latitudes (and, in North America, adapting crops from one side of the Rocky Mountains to the other). Similarly, Africa was fragmented by its extreme variations in climate from north to south: crops and animals that flourished in one area never reached other areas where they could have flourished, because they could not survive the intervening environment. Europe was the ultimate beneficiary of Eurasia's east-west orientation: in the first millennium BCE, the Mediterranean areas of Europe adopted Southwestern Asia's animals, plants, and agricultural techniques; in the first millennium CE, the rest of Europe followed suit.[2][3]

The plentiful supply of food and the dense populations that it supported made division of labor possible. The rise of nonfarming specialists such as craftsmen and scribes accelerated economic growth and technological progress. These economic and technological advantages eventually enabled Europeans to conquer the peoples of the other continents in recent centuries by using the guns and steel of the book's title.

Eurasia's dense populations, high levels of trade, and living in close proximity to livestock resulted in widespread transmission of diseases, including from animals to humans. Smallpox, measles, and influenza were the result of close proximity between dense populations of animals and humans. Natural selection forced Eurasians to develop immunity to a wide range of pathogens. When Europeans made contact with the Americas, European diseases (to which Americans had no immunity) ravaged the indigenous American population, rather than the other way around (the "trade" in diseases was a little more balanced in Africa and southern Asia: endemic malaria and yellow fever made these regions notorious as the "white man's grave";[4] and syphilis may have originated in the Americas).[5] The European diseases – the germs of the book's title – decimated indigenous populations so that relatively small numbers of Europeans could maintain their dominance.[2][3]

Diamond also proposes geographical explanations for why western European societies, rather than other Eurasian powers such as China, have been the dominant colonizers,[2][6] claiming Europe's geography favored balkanization into smaller, closer, nation-states, bordered by natural barriers of mountains, rivers, and coastline. Threats posed by immediate neighbours ensured governments that suppressed economic and technological progress soon corrected their mistakes or were outcompeted relatively quickly, whilst the region's leading powers changed over time. Other advanced cultures developed in areas whose geography was conducive to large, monolithic, isolated empires, without competitors that might have forced the nation to reverse mistaken policies such as China banning the building of ocean-going ships. Western Europe also benefited from a more temperate climate than Southwestern Asia where intense agriculture ultimately damaged the environment, encouraged desertification, and hurt soil fertility.


Guns, Germs, and Steel argues that cities require an ample supply of food, and thus are dependent on agriculture. As farmers do the work of providing food, division of labor allows others freedom to pursue other functions, such as mining and literacy.

The crucial trap for the development of agriculture is the availability of wild edible plant species suitable for domestication. Farming arose early in the Fertile Crescent since the area had an abundance of wild wheat and pulse species that were nutritious and easy to domesticate. In contrast, American farmers had to struggle to develop corn as a useful food from its probable wild ancestor, teosinte.

Also important to the transition from hunter-gatherer to city-dwelling agrarian societies was the presence of 'large' domesticable animals, raised for meat, work, and long-distance communication. Diamond identifies a mere 14 domesticated large mammal species worldwide. The five most useful (cow, horse, sheep, goat, and pig) are all descendants of species endemic to Eurasia. Of the remaining nine, only two (the llama and alpaca both of South America) are indigenous to a land outside the temperate region of Eurasia.

Due to the Anna Karenina principle, surprisingly few animals are suitable for domestication. Diamond identifies six criteria including the animal being sufficiently docile, gregarious, willing to breed in captivity and having a social dominance hierarchy. Therefore, none of the many African mammals such as the zebra, antelope, cape buffalo, and African elephant were ever domesticated (although some can be tamed, they are not easily bred in captivity). The Holocene extinction event eliminated many of the megafauna that, had they survived, might have become candidate species, and Diamond argues that the pattern of extinction is more severe on continents where animals that had no prior experience of humans were exposed to humans who already possessed advanced hunting techniques (e.g. the Americas and Australia).

Smaller domesticable animals such as dogs, cats, chickens, and guinea pigs may be valuable in various ways to an agricultural society, but will not be adequate in themselves to sustain large-scale agrarian society. An important example is the use of larger animals such as cattle and horses in plowing land, allowing for much greater crop productivity and the ability to farm a much wider variety of land and soil types than would be possible solely by human muscle power. Large domestic animals also have an important role in the transportation of goods and people over long distances, giving the societies that possess them considerable military and economic advantages.


Diamond also argues that geography shaped human migration, not simply by making travel difficult (particularly by latitude), but by how climates affect where domesticable animals can easily travel and where crops can ideally grow easily due to the sun.

The dominant Out of Africa theory holds that modern humans developed east of the Great Rift Valley of the African continent at one time or another. The Sahara kept people from migrating north to the Fertile Crescent, until later when the Nile River valley became accommodating.

Diamond continues to describe the story of human development up to the modern era, through the rapid development of technology, and its dire consequences on hunter-gathering cultures around the world.

Diamond touches on why the dominant powers of the last 500 years have been West European rather than East Asian (especially Chinese). The Asian areas in which big civilizations arose had geographical features conducive to the formation of large, stable, isolated empires which faced no external pressure to change which led to stagnation. Europe's many natural barriers allowed the development of competing nation-states. Such competition forced the European nations to encourage innovation and avoid technological stagnation.


In the later context of the European colonization of the Americas, 95% of the indigenous populations are believed to have been killed off by diseases brought by the Europeans. Many were killed by infectious diseases such as smallpox and measles. Similar circumstances were observed in the History of Australia (1788-1850) and in History of South Africa. Aboriginal Australians and the Khoikhoi population were decimated by smallpox, measles, influenza and other diseases.[7][8]

How was it then that diseases native to the American continents did not kill off Europeans? Diamond posits that the most of these diseases were only developed and sustained in large dense populations in villages and cities; he also states most epidemic diseases evolve from similar diseases of domestic animals. The combined effect of the increased population densities supported by agriculture, and of close human proximity to domesticated animals leading to animal diseases infecting humans, resulted in European societies acquiring a much richer collection of dangerous pathogens to which European people had acquired immunity through natural selection (see the Black Death and other epidemics) during a longer time than was the case for Native Americanhunter-gatherers and farmers.

He mentions the tropical diseases (mainly malaria) that limited European penetration into Africa as an exception. Endemic infectious diseases were also barriers to European colonisation of Southeast Asia and New Guinea.

Success and failure[edit]

Guns, Germs, and Steel focuses on why some populations succeeded. His later book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, focuses on environmental and other factors that have caused some populations to fail. It is a cautionary book.

Intellectual background[edit]

In the 1930s, the Annales School in France undertook the study of long-term historical structures by using a synthesis of geography, history, and sociology. Scholars examined the impact of geography, climate, and land use. Although geography had been nearly eliminated as an academic discipline in the United States after the 1960s, several geography-based historical theories were published in the 1990s.[9]

In 1991, Jared Diamond already considered the question of "why is it that the Eurasians came to dominate other cultures?" in The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal (part four).


Guns, Germs, and Steel won the 1997 Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science.[10] In 1998, it won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, in recognition of its powerful synthesis of many disciplines, and the Royal Society's Rhône-Poulenc Prize for Science Books.[11][12] The National Geographic Society produced a documentary of the same title based on the book that was broadcast on PBS in July 2005.[1]

Academic reviews[edit]

In a review of Guns, Germs, and Steel that ultimately commended the book, historian Tom Tomlinson wrote, "Given the magnitude of the task he has set himself, it is inevitable that Professor Diamond uses very broad brush-strokes to fill in his argument."[13]

Another historian, professor J. R. McNeill, was on the whole complimentary, but thought Diamond oversold geography as an explanation for history and underemphasized cultural autonomy.[3][14]

In his last book published in 2000, the anthropologist and geographer James Morris Blaut criticized Guns, Germs, and Steel, among other reasons, for reviving the theory of environmental determinism, and described Diamond as an example of a modern Eurocentric historian.[15] Blaut criticizes Diamond's loose use of the terms "Eurasia" and "innovative", which he believes misleads the reader into presuming that Western Europe is responsible for technological inventions that arose in the Middle East and Asia.[16]

Harvard International Relations (IR) scholar Stephen Walt called the book "an exhilarating read" and put it on a list of the ten books every IR student should read.[17]

Berkeley economist Brad DeLong describes the book as a "work of complete and total genius".[18]

John Brätland, an Austrian school economist of the U.S. Department of the Interior, complained in a Journal of Libertarian Studies article that Guns, Germs, and Steel entirely neglects individual action, concentrating solely on the centralized state; fails to understand how societies form (assessing that societies do not exist or form without a strong government); and ignores various economical institutions, such as monetary exchange that would allow societies to "rationally reckon scarcities and the value of actions required to replace what is depleted through human use". Instead, the author concludes that because there was no sophisticated division of labor, private property rights, and monetary exchange, societies like that on Easter Island could never progress from the nomadic stage to a complex society. Those factors, according to Brätland, are crucial, and at the same time neglected by Diamond.[19]

Anthropologist Jason Antrosio describes Guns, Germs, and Steel as a form of "academic porn". Diamond's account makes all the factors of European domination a product of a distant and accidental history and has almost no role for human agency–the ability people have to make decisions and influence outcomes. Europeans become inadvertent, accidental conquerors. Natives succumb passively to their fate. "Jared Diamond has done a huge disservice to the telling of human history. He has tremendously distorted the role of domestication and agriculture in that history. Unfortunately his story-telling abilities are so compelling that he has seduced a generation of college-educated readers."[20]

Other critiques have been made over the author's position on the agricultural revolution.[21][22] The transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture is not necessarily a one way process. It has been argued that hunting and gathering represents an adaptive strategy, which may still be exploited, if necessary, when environmental change causes extreme food stress for agriculturalists.[23] In fact, it is sometimes difficult to draw a clear line between agricultural and hunter-gatherer societies, especially since the widespread adoption of agriculture and resulting cultural diffusion that has occurred in the last 10,000 years.[24]


Guns, Germs, and Steel was first published by W. W. Norton in March 1997. It was subsequently published in Great Britain under the title Guns, Germs, and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years by Vintage in 1998 (ISBN 978-0099302780).[25] It was a selection of Book of the Month Club, History Book Club, Quality Paperback Book Club, and Newbridge Book Club.[26]

In 2003 and 2007, the author published new English-language editions that included information collected since the previous editions. The new information did not change any of the original edition's conclusions.[27]

See also[edit]


Books and television:

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ abLovgren, Stefan (July 6, 2005). ""Guns, Germs and Steel": Jared Diamond on Geography as Power". National Geographic News. Retrieved 2011-11-16. 
  2. ^ abcdeDiamond, J. (March 1997). Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-03891-2. 
  3. ^ abcdMcNeill, J.R. (February 2001). "The World According to Jared Diamond"(PDF). The History Teacher. 34 (2). [dead link]
  4. ^Ross, R.; MacGregor, W. (January 1903). "The Fight against Malaria: An Industrial Necessity for Our African Colonies". Journal of the Royal African Society. Oxford University Press. 2 (6): 149–160. JSTOR 714548. 
  5. ^The origin of syphilis is still debated. Some researchers think it was known to Hippocrates: Keys, David (2007). "English syphilis epidemic pre-dated European outbreaks by 150 years". Independent News and Media Limited. Archived from the original on October 15, 2007. Retrieved September 22, 2007.  Others think it was brought from the Americas by Columbus and his successors: MacKenzie, D. (January 2008). "Columbus blamed for spread of syphilis". news service. 
  6. ^Diamond, J. (July 1999). "How to get rich". 
  7. ^Blainey, Geoffrey (2002). A short history of the world. Chicago: Dee. ISBN 978-1566635073. 
  8. ^"Smallpox Epidemic Strikes at the Cape". South Africa History Online. 16 March 2011. 
  9. ^Cohen, P. (March 21, 1998). "Geography Redux: Where You Live Is What You Are". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-09. 
  10. ^"1997 Phi Beta Kappa Science Book Award". Phi Beta Kappa. Archived from the original on January 24, 2006. Retrieved February 16, 2014. 
  11. ^"The Pulitzer Prizes for 1998". Columbia University. Retrieved February 15, 2014. 
  12. ^"Prizes for Science Books previous winners and shortlists". The Royal Society. 
  13. ^Tom Tomlinson (May 1998). "Review:Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies". Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 2008-03-14. 
  14. ^Jared Diamond; Reply by William H. McNeill (June 26, 1997). "Guns, Germs, and Steel". The New York Review of Books. 44 (11). Archived from the original on May 27, 2008. 
  15. ^James M. Blaut (2000). Eight Eurocentric Historians (August 10, 2000 ed.). The Guilford Press. p. 228. ISBN 1-57230-591-6. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 
  16. ^Blaut, J.M. (1999). "Environmentalism and Eurocentrism". The Geographical Review. American Geographical Society. 89 (3): 391. doi:10.2307/216157. JSTOR 216157. Retrieved 2008-07-09. full text
  17. ^Johnson, Matt (April 9, 2009). "My "top ten" books every student of International Relations should read". Foreign Policy. Archived from the original on 2014-12-25. Retrieved 2016-01-02. (Registration required (help)). 
  18. ^J. Bradford DeLong. "Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel". Retrieved August 23, 2016.  
  19. ^John Brätland. "An Austrian Reexamination of Recent Thoughts on the Rise and Collapse of Societies"(PDF). Retrieved January 9, 2017.  
  20. ^Antrosio, Jason (July 7, 2011). "Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond: Against History". Living Anthropologically. Retrieved November 20, 2017. 
  21. ^J. Bradford DeLong (June 6, 2016). "Agriculture the Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race?: Today's Economic History". Retrieved May 3, 2017. 
  22. ^O'Connell, Sanjida (June 23, 2009). "Is farming the root of all evil?". The Telegraph. Retrieved May 3, 2017. 
  23. ^Lee, Richard B.; Daly, Richard, eds. (1999). The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-60919-4. 
  24. ^Hayes-Bohanan, Pamela (2010). Birx, H. James, ed. "42: Prehistoric Cultures". 21st Century Anthropology: A Reference Handbook. 1: 409–418 – via Gale Virtual Reference Library. 
  25. ^Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: A short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years, London: Vintage, 2005 [1997], ISBN 0-09-930278-0
  26. ^"Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies", Publishers Weekly, December 30, 1998, retrieved October 7, 2012 
  27. ^Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. Retrieved September 21, 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Gun FactsFull Article

Guns in the Republic of Ireland

Ireland has some of the least permissive firearm legislation in Europe. In order to possess a limited range of hunting and sport-shooting firearms,1 gun owners must renew their firearm certificates every three years.23 Although small arms-related death, injury and crime remain relatively low, rising rates of gun violence and firearm ownership in the Republic ― in particular the possession and misuse of handguns ― have become sources of national concern.4 In 2009, the private possession of handguns was curtailed. Licensing of all pistols and revolvers using centrefire ammunition was capped through 'grandfathering,' with new licences restricted to a limited range of small-calibre .22 rimfire handguns and .177 air pistols.35 The possession and use of realistic imitation firearms in a public place is prohibited.67 Ireland is an active supporter of the United Nations process to reduce gun injury (UNPoA).8

Civilian Possession

In the year to 31 July 2008, the number of firearm certificates on issue in Ireland was 233,120.9 Each certificate qualifies its holder to possess a single, specified firearm, along with a maximum quantity and described type of ammunition.10 The number of certificates has risen slowly since 2000, when 207,000 were on issue.1112131415169

Almost all registered civilian firearms in Ireland are sporting shotguns (177,000) and hunting rifles (54,000).17 In 2004 a successful private challenge to Irish gun law allowed handguns to be registered during what became a four year ‘window.’ The number of lawfully held private pistols and revolvers in Ireland shot up from a single legal handgun in July 2004, to 1,842 in July 2008 ― at which point prohibition on further centrefire handgun licensing was reinstated, and the licensing of other short firearms limited (see Handgun Licensing). 918

With a confirmed firearm possession rate of 5.6 private guns per 100 population,19 civilian gun ownership in Ireland has yet to reach one-third the rate of 17.4 firearms per 100 people calculated across 15 countries of the European Union.20 In a 2007 UN survey, 12.4 per cent of Irish respondents reported that they, or someone else in their household owned a firearm or an air rifle.21

It has been estimated that as many as 150,000 unregistered firearms might also be in private possession in Ireland,22 suggesting a total civilian stockpile of 393,000. If true, this would yield a rate of 9.1 private firearms per 100 population, both legal and illegal.19

Government Guns


Approximately 8,500 men and women serve in the Irish Army, supported by 12,000 reserve personnel.23 The Irish Defence Force armouries are estimated to hold between 42,984 and 71,64024 small arms and light weapons, or 4 to 7 weapons for each member on active service.


According to An Garda Síochána (the Irish police force, or Garda), the nation maintains a force of 15,355 sworn and trainee police officers.25 Gardaí are routinely unarmed, with only 20-25 per cent qualified to deploy a firearm. Those officers issued with a firearm authorisation card must complete a weapon training course and earn a certificate of competency. Approximately 3,000 officers are authorised in this way to carry small arms.2627 A published estimate of 14,390 firearms held in Garda armouries28 could overstate the number of guns available to police.

Gun Death, Injury and Crime

Gun Homicide

Of the 84 homicides reported by police in 2007, 18 (21 per cent) involved firearms ― eight fewer than the 26 gun homicides in 2006.29 Although the rate of firearm homicide in Ireland remains comparatively low (0.61 per 100,000 population in 2006, and 0.41 in 2007),3031 gun killings have increased markedly since 1991, when the rate was 0.03.32 From 1995 to 1999 the firearm homicide rate averaged 0.28.3334

Gun Suicide

Of 8,547 suicides recorded in Ireland from 1980-2003, 725 (8.5 per cent) were completed with a firearm.35 In the years 2001-05, the proportion averaged seven per cent.36 If the average number of firearm suicides reported in 2001-07 (33 per annum) remained steady during 2008, the annual rate of gun suicide in Ireland that year would be 0.74 per 100,000 population,3631 down from 0.94 in 1991.37

Gun suicide is six times more common in rural areas than in cities, and 94 per cent of victims are male.38 Although total suicides (all methods) rose in Ireland from 200 per annum in 1980 to nearly 500 in 2003, gun suicides remained relatively static, averaging 31 self-inflicted shooting deaths each year over 23 years, with an annual high of 50 and a low of 14.39

Gun Crime

In the five years from 2001-2005, the Garda reported 1,690 robberies and aggravated burglaries committed with firearms, for an average of 338 per year. A peak year was 2004, with 428 armed robberies and burglaries.40 In the years 2003-2007, fewer than one in five gun crimes resulted in a conviction.41 In 2009, the Department of Justice reported a 31 percent decrease in crime involving discharge of a firearm, while the number of firearm possession cases increased by 8 percent.42

Gun Control Law

The regulation of privately held small arms in Ireland is ranked as restrictive, rather than permissive.43 Gun control primary legislation includes the Firearms Act 1925 with amendments; the Criminal Justice Act 2006; the Criminal Justice Act 2007; the Control of Exports Act 2008 and the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009.  Secondary legislation includes the Control of Exports Order 2005; the Firearms (Restricted Firearms and Ammunition) Order 2008 with a 2009 amendment; and the Firearms (Secure Accommodation) Regulations 2008.444546

The original Firearms Act 1925 was implemented in the years following the Civil War, when a large number of guns were in private hands. In the 1970s, Ireland effectively banned handguns, high-calibre rifles and repeating shotguns; regarded as a policy decision rather than a legislative one. 447 In 2006, prison terms for some firearm-related offences were greatly increased (see Penalties).

Gun Owner Licensing

It is illegal for any civilian to use, carry or possess a firearm or ammunition without a valid firearm certificate which correctly specifies the owner, the weapon, the ammunition and its maximum permitted quantity.48 Certificates are issued by a police Superintendent of the Garda for a maximum of three years. Certificates for restricted firearms are issued by a Chief Superintendent of the Garda and carry the same duration.4950 Although Irish law allows a firearm to be carried subject to a permit,48 no evidence could be found of such permits being issued.

The minimum age to obtain a full firearm certificate is 16 years.51 With written consent from a parent or guardian, applicants aged 14-15 may be issued with a firearm training certificate for hunting or target shooting only while under the supervision of a licensed adult.52

Genuine Reason

Applicants must prove ‘good reason’ for ownership of the firearm applied for, and the Garda must be satisfied that the applicant can be permitted to possess, use and carry the firearms ‘without danger to the public safety or security or the peace.' If the ‘good reason’ for firearm possession is target shooting, the owner must belong to a police-approved rifle or pistol club. 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.'53

Background Checks

An applicant must provide proof of identification and age, proof of competence with the firearm concerned, and proof of secure storage for weapons and ammunition while not in use. Potential gun owners  must, when making an application for a firearm certificate, give written permission for the police to consult a doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist to confirm the applicant’s good physical and mental health, and must nominate two additional referees to attest to the applicant’s character. Minimum qualifications for character referees are set out in the Garda Commissioner's Guidelines as to the Practical Application and Operation of the Firearms Acts, 1925-2009.535455

Firearm certificates should not be issued to an applicant who: is known to be of ‘intemperate habits’ or of ‘unsound mind’; has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to imprisonment for certain firearm-related or terrorist offences; is bound to keep the peace or to be of good behaviour.5657 Although Irish mental health legislation defines those of ‘unsound mind’ as patients involuntarily committed to psychiatric care for six months or more, the term in this context was rendered defunct by subsequent reforms, leaving no legal definition of ‘unsound mind’ applicable to the firearm certification process. The firearm certificate application form introduced in 2009 requires the applicant to make a declaration on any medical condition, physical or mental, that may affect his or her ability to possess, carry or use firearms safely.58

There is no official ‘cooling down’ period between the time of application and any granting of a firearm certificate.59  In practice, and particularly in regard to handgun certificates, procedures at Garda headquarters appear to have institutionalised sufficient delay to serve this purpose. The Criminal Justice Act 2009 states that all certificate applications must be decided upon within 3 months. If 3 months are exceeded, the application must be considered declined.49

Handgun Licensing

Although Irish gun control law has been called the most restrictive of any Western country,60 until 2008 the nation lacked an accurate legislative description of permitted or banned weapon types. Those definitions which did exist in law6162 left loopholes and grey areas which firearm enthusiasts turned to their advantage.

The Firearms (Temporary Custody) Order 1972, which in the context of IRA para-military acivities in the country, required all handguns and rifles in excess of .22 calibre to be surrendered to the Garda Siochana. The order was to remain in force for one month only, but the handgun aspect loosely remained in force, effectively banning handguns until 2004.63

In July 2004, shooting enthusiast Frank Brophy challenged a Garda decision to refuse him a firearm certificate for a Toz-35 ― a sport shooting pistol allowed by the International Olympic Committee. The High Court quashed an earlier finding, and Mr. Brophy was granted a firearm certificate for the handgun in question.64 His win sparked a four-year firearm licensing ‘window’ in which the number of registered handguns soared from a single weapon in 2004, to 1,842 in July 2008.918 Responding to a backlash of legal and public opinion, the Irish government invoked the Criminal Justice Act 2006,65 mainly to limit the private ownership of readily concealable handguns.66

Restricted Firearms and Ammunition

In the resulting Firearms (Restricted Firearms and Ammunition) Order 2008, Ireland more clearly defined restricted and prohibited weapons. Automatic firearms and their ammunition were declared to be prohibited firearms under the EU Directive on Control of the Acquisition and Possession of Weapons; military-style semi-automatic firearms and semi-automatic firearms which resemble automatic firearms are considered restricted.50 Shotguns with a magazine capacity of more than three cartridges, long guns over .308 (7.62mm) calibre, rimfire rifles holding more than 10 rounds, all handguns other than air-operated firearms of 4.5mm (.177) calibre and those using .22 rimfire percussion ammunition and designed for use in connection with competitions governed by International Olympic Committee regulations as well as penetrating, explosive or incendiary ammunition, shotgun slugs and sabots were also declared restricted.567

In 2009, Ministerial powers were introduced to prohibit particular firearms or categories of firearms in a precise manner. Practical and dynamic shooting, a 'self styled extreme shooting activity' was banned, and the possession and use of realistic imitation firearms in a public place was also prohibited. The new law made possession of a realistic imitation firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse an offence. Dealers in realistic imitation firearms are obliged to register with the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and their premises must meet prescribed security standards.67 A third of a century after enacting its main firearm legislation, Ireland empowered its Gardaí to enforce one of the most restrictive gun control regimes in Europe.

Weapon Storage

The original Firearms Act 1925 was silent on secure storage requirements for private guns before being amended in 2006 to include private storage provisions. In 2000, the Irish High Court heard that many of the country’s more than 200,000 legally-held firearms were insecurely stored in cars and outhouses, in wardrobes and under beds. As a result, hundreds had been stolen or otherwise diverted to criminals, with some later used in armed robberies.68 Amid increasing reports of weapon theft from houses and unattended vehicles, the Garda Síochána revised the storage conditions needed to comply with Ireland’s gun owner licensing system.{qxxx}

As Gardaí could refuse a licence if denied access to the applicant’s dwelling or premises to inspect firearm storage,53 the Irish gun lobby successfully appealed against the new security measures on constitutional grounds.{qxxx} The Supreme Court found that the directive from Garda Headquarters imposing a storage pre-condition interfered with the status of its Superintendents as issuing officers. Superintendents, by imposing such a condition would be acting outside the legal powers, given the lack requirement for secure storage in the legislation.69

In the four-year period 2005-2008, 31 handguns and 1,236 other civilian firearms were reported stolen. Only 373 of these had been recovered.70 After amendements in 2006, the minimum levels of security vary according to the number and type of firearms owned.53 Gun owners are required to report lost or stolen firearms to Gardaí within three days of becoming aware of the loss.67

Record Keeping

In effect, the Irish firearm certification process rolls gun owner licensing and the registration of all privately owned firearms into a single system. The unrecorded transfer of any firearm from one person to another is prohibited, and gun dealers are tightly regulated.71 In 2008, Ireland had 319 licensed firearm dealers ― a 27 per cent decline since 2000, when 440 arms traders were in business.727374757677787980 80 of these 319 dealers are authorised to trade in restricted firearms under the Firearms (Restricted Firearms and Ammunition) Order 2008.80

Within 24 hours of any transaction, firearm dealers must record all purchases, hires, sales and repairs relating to guns and ammunition, and retain all records for at least five years. The dealer’s register may be inspected by any member of the Garda or officer of Customs.8182

Marking and Tracing

Irish law requires that every firearm be marked with ‘a number or other prescribed mark of identification’ which is also recorded on its firearm certificate.83 When asked in writing to do so by the Garda Commissioner, a gun owner must produce a firearm for inspection and ballistic testing, to allow its ‘distinctive characteristics’ to be recorded.84

Collection and Seizure

In the lead-up to enacting firearm amendments to the Criminal Justice Act in 2006, the Garda instigated a firearm collection amnesty.85 Gun owners had two months in which to surrender illicit firearms, ammunition and offensive weapons. Although no penalty was imposed for unlawful possession, surrendered weapons were forensically examined, and owners could still be charged if linked to a criminal offence. In all 816 firearms, including 217 shotguns, 125 rifles and 157 handguns, were surrendered to Gardaí nationwide.86

As a result of police raids, criminal investigations and voluntary hand-ins during 2005, Gardaí collected 939 prohibited weapons, silencers and magazines. These included 216 shotguns, 69 rifles, 60 pistols, 34 revolvers, eight machine guns and 314 airguns/pellet guns.87 In 2006 the tally was 1,009,88 while in 2007, of 886 prohibited weapons taken out of circulation, ten were machine guns.89 'Operation Anvil', since 2006, has been a nationwide police operation to disrupt serious organised crime activity. Up to January 2009, 2,281 firearms were seized or recovered by the Operation.90


The Irish Criminal Justice Act (2006) introduced some of the toughest penalties for firearm offences in the nation’s history. These ranged from mandatory minimum sentences of five years’ jail for carrying a gun or ammunition, to between ten years’ jail and life imprisonment for gun violence.91 On entering a conviction under the Firearms Act, a court may order all weapons or ammunition involved to be destroyed, and revoke any firearm certificate held.92


The terms ‘firearm,’ ‘ammunition’ and ‘prohibited weapon’ are defined in the 1925 Firearms Act.61 Added in 2008, Ireland’s legal definition of ‘assault rifles’ includes rifles capable of functioning as semi-automatic and automatic firearms, and firearms that resemble such rifles.93

Production and Trade

Ireland does not manufacture firearms.94 It is illegal to do so without being a licensed firearm dealer.

Arms Imports

With the exception of temporary firearm imports for visiting hunters and sport shooters, only registered firearm dealers are licensed to import firearms.95 The Minister for Defence may licence occasional or continuing firearm imports.96 In the eight years 2000-2007, the annual number of import licences rose 71 per cent, from 1,085 to 1,523, an average increase of nine per cent each year.979899100101102103104

Arms Exports

The export of military goods, including small arms and light weapons, is governed by the Control of Exports Act 2008. This introduced controls on arms brokering and technical activities, on goods in transit and on ‘intangible transfers.’105 All private firearm and ammunition exports must be authorised by a Garda District Superintendent.106 Exports to, and imports from, EU member states are licensed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is responsible for issuing export authorisations for all military items listed in the Control of Exports Order 2005. Exporters must complete a military export licence application form to be accompanied by either an International Import Certificate or an End Use Certificate.107 The Control of Exports Order 2005 allows for unlicensed firearm imports or exports with an intent to stay, or duration of absence, of less than six months. This supports the Firearms Act 2000 (Firearms Certificates for Non-Residents), allowing visitors to bring permitted firearms into Ireland for hunting or competitive sport shooting.108

Arms Brokering

The 2008 Control of Exports Act also introduced licensing controls over brokering activities, whether undertaken inside or outside Ireland, or by an Irish citizen or company.109

Smuggling and Trafficking

Although in recent years Irish authorities have detected relatively few examples of firearm smuggling, in 2008 there was a notable seizure of 27 handguns related to the drug trade. Intelligence from Gardaí and the Police Service of Northern Ireland led to follow-up operations in the Netherlands in which 181 firearms were seized and four people arrested in connection with gun trafficking.110

Most gun running interdictions and intelligence reports in the region relate to the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. In 2006, the Irish Customs service reported an increase in seizures of illicit, imported firearms, ammunition and parts, which they attributed to rising violence related to drug trafficking. Detected firearms included large-calibre automatic weapons, laser night-sights and equipment for manufacturing or modifying ammunition. Most cases involved illicit firearms, ammunition or equipment arriving from the United States.111

An investigation into Dublin's underground firearm dealers by the Sunday Times (UK) newspaper in 2009 found high-powered handguns, machine pistols and AK-47 assault rifles to be on offer in the criminal underworld, but at considerable cost. One military analyst believed most were smuggled from Russia and Eastern Europe. Senior Gardaí declined to guess at the number of illicit firearms in circulation.

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