A LETTERKENNY man is closing down his gun business which grew out of a sport he has enjoyed for almost 60 years.
John McCrossan returned from working in London in 1960, built his own home and joined Letterkenny Gun Club where it was mostly pheasant they shot on farms belonging to local farmers.
Speaking to the Donegal News as he prepares to sell what guns he still has, John recalled that back in 1960 buying a gun and getting it licensed was a lot simpler. Trading in firearms through the Troubles required increased security but John was well known as a competitive shooter and dealer, regularly crossing the border for competitions.
“I bought my first gun from Jack Doherty in Convoy almost 60 years ago. I picked up the gun, notified the gardai and they wrote you out a license. We did try to breed pheasant locally for shooting but without much success so we changed to clay pigeon shooting.
“I crossed the border one day and was stopped by soldiers along the Foyle. I told the soldier I had a firearm in the car and he made a fist at his colleague, who I discovered had bet him a pint my car would have a gun in it. They knew me well enough,” he explained.
In 1970 they formed the Three Counties Target Club of which John was secretary and with land owner Ian Stevenson’s permission they leased part of the land near the air strip at Dromore. They registered with the Ulster Clay Pigeon Shooting Association and held regular competitions some of which they won with John taking the top score at one.
John was shooting 100 targets a week and going to different events across the north.
“I used to buy my cartridges from Speer’s in Letterkenny maybe 1,000 at a time so I looked for discount but they said no, that there was no money in cartridges.
“It was then I decided to look for my own dealer’s license. Alan (Speer) reckoned I would not get it and I decided to try. The Garda Station back then was at Lower Main Street. I completed my application and explained why I wanted a dealer’s license and I got it in 1973,” he said.
John recalled people coming to his home at College Farm Road at all hours. One man on his way home from the pub came looking for a box of cartridges near midnight and it was then he decided a shop down town would be better.
“Benny Sweeney had a hardware shop on Main Street below Kelly’s. I went down to buy a vacuum cleaner and bought the shop and opened my own gun shop.
“Security was incredibly tight with a manned presence 24/7 at the shop and I still might have sold guns from the house on a Sunday. One Sunday I took two men from Derry I knew down into the basement at home but I forgot the alarm and it went off. When we exited the house there were gardai armed with sub-machine guns at the gate. They thought I was being held up,” he recalled.
Over the years John has attended shooting competitions here and in Northern Ireland where creed or politics never came into it. It was a sport everyone enjoyed.
At any given time John might have had 30 to 40 rifles and shotguns, some of which were stored for other people who were awaiting a license.
“Sometimes it could be years before they came back but I had to impose a charge of €25 per annum for the storage.
“Guns in storage which do not have fees paid will be sold or cut up. The owners of guns in storage with fees paid will have to apply for a license as these will have to be removed from my premises by the end of December.”
After six months running the shop which also sold fishing tackle and hand crafts, John got fed up and rented the premises to a jeweller and later sold it, going back to his core building business. He continued the gun trade from his home.
When Dessie O’Malley was Minister for Justice he changed legislation meaning high calibre rifles could not be licensed here. His thinking was they might do the same in Northern Ireland but it didn’t happen.
“They took them in for 30 days and some of them were there for 30 years.
“It should normally take around six weeks to get a gun license here if everything is in order. You now have to present two photographs to get a gun license but the image doesn’t appear on the actual license the purchaser has to show me, which is a bit strange.
“I think generally gun licensing in this country is good although when there are inordinate delays in issuing licenses it kind of makes the applicant almost feel like a criminal.
“I definitely would not like to see gun laws here relaxed the way they are in the USA,” he concluded.