MORE than 1,400 guns have been stolen here in the past five years.
Figures just released by Justice Minister Alan Shatter show that 1,451 firearms were recorded as stolen on the garda PULSE computer system in the years 2007 to December 12, 2011.
He said the figures for the individual years were 205 in 2011; 249 in 2010; 350 in 2009; 298 in 2008 and 349 in 2007.
The number of licensed firearms in Ireland is more than 233,000, with most of them being 12-gauge shotguns and .22 rifles.
Many of the shotguns are used by farmers for vermin control, but they are also used by clay pigeon shooters and game bird hunters. Such guns are by far the most common firearms licensed in Ireland, but the minister did not give a breakdown in the types of guns stolen.
Mr Shatter also revealed that 443 Restricted Firearms Certificates had been issued up to December 12 for handguns above .22 calibre.
Semi-automatic pistols in 9mm, .40 and .45 calibre, and revolvers in .38 Special, are used for target shooting by civilian marksmen.
In 2008, then Justice Minister Dermot Ahern moved to limit the ownership of semi- automatic pistols, with nearly 2,000 legally held handguns licensed in the State.
He made a clear distinction between pistols such as the 9mm Glock, used in many gangland murders, and .22 pistols used in Olympic-style pistol competitions.
The number of legally held pistols has declined drastically since then, but there are many challenges before the courts involving different aspects of the law governing firearms.
Court decisions on several licensing issues are currently pending and could have a major impact on the way civilian guns are licensed by gardai.
While organised criminals are believed to be behind several large raids targeting licensed gun dealers, many of the thefts are opportunistic burglaries, gardai believe.
Some of the legally held shotguns stolen by burglars end up in the hands of criminal gangs.
According to gunpolicy.org, the rate of civilian ownership of firearms puts Ireland at number 70 in a table of 179 countries.