THIRTY-ONE handguns have been stolen by criminals -- including the gangster's favourite weapon, a Glock semi-automatic pistol -- since the law on licensing was relaxed four years ago.
New official figures show that a variety of pistols, revolvers, air pistols and starting pistols and revolvers have been taken from the owners' homes. A breakdown of the figures show that the haul included one Glock, two Webley revolvers and a Beretta semi-automatic pistol.
Apart from handguns, a further 1,236 firearms have been stolen since 2005 and only 373 have been recovered.
The statistics have stiffened the determination of Justice Minister Dermot Ahern to press ahead with new legislation to seal off legal loopholes that have resulted in a huge increase in the number of legally held handguns since 2004.
A total of 1,600 pistol licences were granted by the courts last year, and it was estimated that the number could have risen to more than 4,000 in three years time if no action was taken to sort out the legal mess.
Mr Ahern has been signalling a crackdown since the summer following remarks by High Court judge Peter Charleton, who said reasonable people were entitled to feel alarmed about the large increase.
He felt there was a pressing need for drawing together the multiple "piecemeal" rules into a clear law. Since Mr Ahern announced his plan to ban handguns, which will exclude small calibre sporting pistols, he has been subjected to an intensive campaign from the gun lobby.
However, Mr Ahern is urgently preparing the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous) Provisions Bill, which will be brought forward shortly.
He said: "While I am aware that the vast majority of persons with licensed firearms pursue their interests legitimately, public safety has to be the paramount consideration and I will take whatever action is necessary to ensure that it is put beyond doubt in our laws."
The growth of gun culture in this country is also illustrated by the fact that since the setting up of the garda's anti-crime drive, Operation Anvil, in late 2005, more than 1,200 firearms have been recovered in Dublin and almost 1,000 across the rest of the country.