Briefing by Institute for Security Studies on Circulation of Illegal Firearms in South Africa & Contribution to Crime Levels

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14 August 2002
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

14 August 2002

Chairperson: Mr ME George (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Presentation on the Impact of Firearms in South Africa
SA Crime Quarterly
Attitudes to Firearms and crime in Nairobi: Results of a city survey
Focus On Small Arms in Africa

The non-governmental organisation, the Institute for Security Studies, briefed Members on statistics showing the impact that firearms were having on the crime levels in South Africa.
On South Africa's response to the problem the speaker applauded the new Firearms Control Act of 1996 but noted that only a few provisions had since been implemented.

The speaker used statistics and research conducted by ISS to show that in 2000 approximately 49% of murders were committed with firearms. It had been established that people killed with firearms was the highest cause of unnatural deaths in South Africa.

Most SADC countries had a much stricter control over individual possession of firearms than South Africa did. There also seemed to be a trend in most countries of public support for the limitation of access to firearms There was also much more co-operation amongst the police forces of the various countries and South Africa to combat organised crime and the trafficking of arms.

The Chair noted that they were expecting the new Explosives Bill to be planned and certified this week. It intended for the Bill to be passed by the end of the year. They would therefore have a briefing from the Secretariat, as there were a number of stakeholders involved.

The Chair then extended his welcome to the representative from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and requested her to begin her presentation.

Ms Sarah Meek: Head of Arms Management Programme ISS, pointed out that she would be making extensive reference to the Firearms Control Act and the impact that it should have on South Africa. She further stated that in her briefing an overview would be given on firearms, crime and violence in South Africa; public opinion on firearms; comparison with international trends would be made; South Africa's response to the ways of combating the illegal use of firearms and finally she would pose the question as to whether South Africa could be gun -free.

Firearms, crime and violence
Firstly on the issue of firearms, crime and violence she stated an overview of the use of firearms in South Africa revealed that the 3.76 million licensed firearms were for private use, excluding the firearms owned by government. There were approximately 500 000 illegal firearms in circulation. Statistics further revealed that at least 82 privately owned guns were lost or stolen everyday and that there was a continuous leakage from the licensed, privately owned and state- owned pools of firearms into illegal circulation.

With respect to the statistics on the use of firearms in crimes and robbery she stated that their findings were based on police records which listed the firearms used in robberies. There was an increase in the number of firearms used in robberies from the period 1996-2000. In 2000 approximately 49% of murders were committed with firearms. It had been established that people killed with firearms was the highest cause of unnatural deaths in South Africa.

She gave an overview of the use of firearms and sharp objects in crimes stating that the statistics had been broken down according to the Provinces. It had been revealed that guns were more likely to be used in Gauteng, whereas sharp objects were commonly used in the Western Cape.

She further commented that a further survey had revealed that there was a noticeable drop in the total number of police killed by guns. Evidence had shown that a number of police deaths by guns had been mainly due to the police's negligent handling of the firearm.

Ms Meek stated that the ISS had recently done a research in Hillbrow, Johannesburg to ascertain how firearms were affecting this small community. From interviews with the local residents it was found that 97% of the time guns were used in hijackings, 84% stated that they had witnessed firearms being used in murders, 55% stated that they had witnessed guns being used in robberies, 34% stated that they had witnessed firearms being used in assaults and 32% stated that they knew of guns being used in burglaries when people were at home.

She further illustrated that over 50% of the suicides were executed with the use of a firearm, young white males being more at risk and Gauteng and Northern Cape leading in firearm suicides. Firearms further contributed to 16%of the non-fatal injuries.

She referred to graphs firearms and illegal use in her presentation (please see the attached document) and noted that statistics showed a substantial number of people were being prosecuted for the illegal use of firearms. There had been a substantial increase in offences of pointing a firearm. In 2000, 15000 cases had been opened for the illegal use of firearms, but this was normally a difficult area in which to prosecute as it formed a series of charges and would fall away as it would be difficult to prove.

On the issue of the loss of firearms she stated that she had statistics up to 1998. From 1994 - 1997 there had been an increase in the theft of firearms which peaked in 1997 and then declined in 1998, though lost or stolen firearms were not always reported.

On the issue of firearms and legal users, she stated that the purpose of that survey was to establish who had the firearms and how were they using them, of the 3.75 million firearms licensed to individuals 2.2 million of them were licensed to a small number of people which meant that one individual was the registered holder of more than one gun. An amount of 500 000 firearms are licensed to government departments and 95 000 to other service institutions. Firearm applications peaked from 1994 due to the increase in crime and the change from the legacy of the apartheid era, which denied access to firearms to a class of people. She commented that in 2000 there seemed to be an overall drop in applications. On the type of firearms in circulation, handguns were the most used, 42% of the licences issued were for pistols and 18.5% for revolvers. Under the new Firearms Control Act individuals were now restricted to one single handgun, the challenge was therefore, now on the government to recall firearms.

Public opinion
On the issue of public opinion she said that the research done showed that 59% of South Africans supported the policy of restriction of firearms to security forces. On investigation as to why people owned firearms, the majority had stated for self-defence or to protect themselves and family.

A survey done by the HSRC on public opinion as to who should own a gun, either any adult, the police and army or should guns be banned, there was majority support for putting control of firearms into the hands of the police and army. This survey was conducted by age and also by province. There was a strong support for an adult retaining a firearm in Kwazulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and weakest in the Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga. She commented that the overwhelming support for having control of firearms in the police and army was surprising.

On the survey as to the use of firearms for self defence she stated that they had been conducting studies on a community level to see people's attitudes to the use of firearms. These studies had been done in Eastern Cape, Kwazulu -Natal and Gauteng: 40% had stated that they would consider owning a gun for purpose of self defence, and security. 80% had further stated that if security improved in South Africa they would encourage persons they knew who owned guns to get rid of them.

On the question of what should be done to gain control of firearms, she stated that the public opinion had been that there should be more community involvement and police assistance.

International trends
On the issue of international trends she said that she would focus on how South Africa fits in with the rest of the world. Globally, between 1970 and 1990, there had been an increase of firearms in committing crimes, but there had since been a stabilisation as most countries were beginning to respond by looking into the legal and illegal use of firearms and implementing legislation. Most SADC countries had a much stricter control over individual possession of firearms than South Africa did. There also seemed to be a trend in most countries of public support for the limitation of access to firearms There was also much more co-operation amongst the police forces of the various countries and South Africa to combat organised crime and the trafficking of arms.

She further looked at four countries namely, Brazil, Canada, England and Wales and stated that in comparison with these South Africa had the highest level of firearm crimes than any of them. Though in comparison Brazil had a higher rate of murders by firearms: 90% compared to South Africa's 49%.

On South Africa's response to the problem she applauded the new Firearms Control Act of 1996 but stated only a few provisions had since been implemented. She noted the benefits of the new Firearms Control Act and the challenges that it may bring. In conclusion she outlined the pros and cons as to whether South Africa could go gun -free. (for the full presentation, please refer to the attached document).

The Chair stated that the problem in South Africa as identified from the presentation was that there were illegal firearms and a number of these firearms were in the possession of individuals who should not be in possession of them. He asked the presenter what she thought should be done about this. He also asked what would be done about the people who were not qualified under the new Act to own firearms but were presently in possession of them. He asked why the number of murders committed by youth was presently on the increase.

Ms Sarah Meek stated that he had raised some fundamental issues. On the point of the youth being able to access firearms to commit crimes she stated that the responsibility or burden to curb this should not always be put on the State, but the parents should also take responsibility. She felt that a lot of education needed to take place on awareness as to the safe keeping of firearms.

Furthermore, she stated that guns seemed to be readily available. If a teenager wanted a gun they could get it from one source or the other. There seemed to be a trend of circulating a firearm and it would be found that the same firearm had been used in a series of different crimes committed by different people. She felt, though, that under the new Act it would be easier to identify who the legal owner of the firearm was, as the ability to possess was now restricted.

Mr ET Ferreira (IFP) stated that it seemed like the criminal in South Africa now almost had no choice but to use a firearm as it was now more difficult to commit crimes due to the increase in security measures that people were implementing. A criminal would rather kill a person to get what they wanted, as the security measures would alert security guards or the police. He wanted to know whether she felt this could also be a reason for the increase in firearm usage.

Ms Sarah Meek responded that what now seemed to be prevalent was that because people assumed a criminal to be armed they did not put up a fight and merely surrendered the goods.

Mr T Maserumule (ANC) stated that he was always surprised by the findings of surveys, as they always seemed to concentrate on four major urban areas and then give the impression that it was a study of the whole of South Africa. He was therefore not too happy about this type of research as in most cases it would not reflect the situation of the whole country. He further stated that the presentation seemed to give an impression that crime did not have a history in South Africa, as all surveys seemed to start from 1994. There is a great deal of background in South Africa, more in regard to firearms, which he felt they should have gone into.

The Chair stated that the point of all this was that South Africa was a democracy and as such they must fight against crime, irrespective of who was responsible.

Mr MS Booi (ANC) queried the correctness of the statistics: how did they arrive at them and whom had they interviewed in Hillbrow? He further asked why they had compared South Africa with stable countries. He asked what effect the private security companies have had as a deterrent to these crimes.

On the question of drawing up national conclusions Ms Meek stated that the Human Sciences Research (HSR) survey was a national survey with representation on gender, age and race. She also stated that she had tried to show some community level surveys to give an illustration as to what was coming out in the surveys. The reason why they did not have statistics for before 1994 was because those statistics did not reflect the country as a whole. She stated that she had attempted to give patterns and approaches, and that on the Hillbrow survey it had been people's perceptions that had been collected from those willing to participate in the survey.

On the question of the countries they used as a comparison she stated that unfortunately not many countries kept such data, so they were limited on the countries they could compare with. In Africa public access to this type of information without having to go to the police was not available.

Mr AM Maziya (ANC) stated that he had expected in the research undertaken by ISS that they would have indicated the number of guns confiscated from farm murders. About six to twelve months ago there had been a surge in the number of killings and robberies of farmers, one would have expected a number of guns to have been confiscated.

On the question of failure to include the statistics of the weapons confiscated from farm murders Ms Meek stated that farm murders counted for 3% of the total crimes committed in South Africa the contribution of the number of firearms taken from farmers was therefore, not so significant.

Ms JE Sosibo (ANC) asked whether the 2.2 million firearms that had been licensed to the 600 individuals had been licensed before or after the passing of the Firearms Control Act. She further wanted to know what the ISS felt would be the stumbling block in implementing the Act.

Ms Meek replied that since only three provisions of the Act were operational all licensing was done before the enactment of the Act.

Mr K Meshoe (ACDP) stated that an indication had been made that due to increasing regional co-operation such as Operation Rachel, that had been a co-operation between Mozambique and South Africa to stop the trafficking of firearms from Mozambique into South Africa, which was a success. It had been reported that firearms were now leaving South Africa and going into Mozambique. He wanted to know whether the weapons were manufactured in South Africa or was South Africa becoming a conduit.
He further wanted to know the extent of the loss of firearms by the police.

On the question of firearms going to Mozambique she stated that according to the report from the police there was an almost complete stoppage of firearms coming in from Mozambique to South Africa. Except that the weapons going to Mozambique had been traced back to South Africa, so it could not be said whether they were manufactured here or elsewhere.

Ms AJ Botha (DP) asked what had happened to all the weapons because previously every government Department had weapons.
She asked what the biggest source of illegal firearms in South Africa was, and whether they had done any research on the SAPS stores and the source of those stores to illegal firearms.

On the issue of firearms lost by police Ms Meek commented that South Africa was the only country that had this on record and the audit of firearms seemed to have been left to die a quite death.

She further stated that police are saying that the biggest source of firearms was within South Africa itself.

The Chair stated that they should invite the police to one of their meetings, to tell them what they felt would be the best method to solve the problem of illegal arms, and further ascertain when the Act would be implemented. On that note he adjourned the meeting.


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