Firearms Control Bill: public hearings

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Police

21 August 2000
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Meeting report

SAFETY AND SECURITY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
21 August 2000
FIREARMS CONTROL BILL: PUBLIC HEARINGS

Chairperson: Mr M E George

Relevant Submissions:
RSA Cartridge Collectors Association
The Reverend Greg Andrews
Mr Craig Gadd
Agri South Africa [submission awaited; e-mail info@pmg.org.za if required]
Dr Margaret Nash
Truvelo Manufacturers

SUMMARY
Six parties made oral submissions:
- RSA Cartridge Collectors Association made oral submission insofar as the Bill was relevant to their activities of collecting cartridges. They essentially indicated that the Bill should minimally interfere with their activities of cartridge collecting, outlining that the activity is pursued for historical, scientific, forensic, ornamental or hobby purposes.
- The Reverend Mr Craig Andrews delivered an independent submission though in his capacity as a minister of religion. He indicated his general approval of the Bill which he conceived as having an effective role to play in the total eradication of firearms in our society today.
- Mr Craig Gadd also delivered an independent submission indicating that the Bill is defective in some ways. He believes that a right to self defence has been severely hamstrung. He also noted some objections regarding competency tests.
- AgriSA made their oral submission as an organisation which represents the interests of small scale commercial farmers in South Africa. They noted some objections to a need to re-licence their firearms noting that farmers are generally competent in the use of firearms and technically that there ought to be no limit to the number of firearms a farmer may own.
- Dr Margaret Nash indicated her general welcome to the Bill by indicating that, among other things, it provides for stricter and more consistent regulation of licenced firearms and that it can be used to promote a culture of responsible gun ownership.
- Truvelo Manufacturers noted some objections to the Bill and indicated that if it were made law it would seriously jeopardise the interests and put at stake many job opportunities of people involved in the arms trade. Some objections were made to the idea of a competency test and firearm free zones.

MINUTES
RSA Cartridge Collectors Association
This Association's representative indicated that he would discuss the Bill insofar as was relevant to the collection of cartridges or its components. Their organisation was established in 1977 by South African cartridge collectors and currently has members from 14 countries. He indicated five perspectives which have inspired the organisation: historical, scientific, forensic, ornamental, and finally, passion in collecting these items. Its aims do not include forwarding any political or subversive actions. He noted that most European and North American countries have laws that accommodate the collection of cartridges. The following minor amendments were proposed: - Section 1(xxv) definition of a private collector, to read "means a person who collects firearms or ammunition, who is a member of an accredited collectors association and who is not a public collector".
- Section 4 (1) to read "the following firearms, devices, projectiles are prohibited…."
- Section 21 to include "(2) (c ) despite section 4, a permit in respect of prohibited cartridges or projectiles, to be discharged from a canon or a gun, may be issued to a person contemplated in para. (a) but such cartridges or projectiles may not contain propellants or high explosives and the primers must have been removed or deactivated".
- Section 21 to include "(3) (b) The holder of a permit issued in terms of this section may acquire ammunition, as contemplated in paragraphs (1) and (2) (c), for the sole purpose of collecting".

He then displayed a variety of huge cartridges and said that they are essentially collecto'sr items and that they do not contain any noxious chemicals or substances. He also stressed that these spent cartridges cannot be defined as projectiles as they no longer contained any propellant.

Discussion
Gen Viljoen (Freedom Front) asked for a definition of a collector. The reply was along the lines that any member of the public could be a collector.

The Chairperson acknowledged the Association's contribution and support of the Bill, save the few minor amendments which the organisation desired.

The Reverend Mr Greg Andrews
Reverend Andrews who spoke in his personal capacity and as a minister of religion (Methodist Church of Southern Africa), welcomed the stricter controls imposed by the Bill and saw it as an important step towards the eradication of firearms in society which will make communities a safer place and promote the sanctity of life.

The Reverend made the following comments and recommendations:
- the age limit for a Competency Certificate should be set at the age of 25 as this would ensure that no learner could carry a gun legally.
- more stringent requirements be imposed in section 11 (3) (c). For example, that a Board be appointed to interview the applicant, members of the applicant's community and the matter be reviewed in detail before the Board refuse or grant the Certificate. He observed that this would be consonant with keeping a closely critical eye on criminal behaviour.
- applicants for competency certificates submit to having their family members interviewed with a view to establishing their character.
- competency certificates expire after a period of 2 to 5 years and must be renewed.
- applicants undergo eye tests including for night blindness and colour blindness.
- applicants must produce proof of having passed an accredited course in the use of a firearm. He said that this would potentially give rise to job opportunities.
- the Bill does not set out a definition of self defence, and that section 15(3) needs to be deleted.
- he was critical of the concept of Firearm Free Zones and did not think that these zones would be free of firearms.

Discussion
Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) said that he has a problem with the notion that the concept of self defence should be defined. South Africans live in a society where crime is alive and well. Therefore, it would be difficult to describe self defence other than saying that a person can use the firearm when necessary.

Ms C Dudley (ACDP) was critical of the Reverend and of the Bill as neither makes reference to the fact that sharp or blunt objects can kill people as much as guns do. She asked the Reverend for his view of international studies which have shown that where there is strict gun control laws, there is more crime and, conversely, where there is lighter gun control laws, there is less crime.

The Chairperson, in dismissing her argument, replied that the floor had been opened not for debate but to ask questions of clarity arising out of the oral submission.

The Reverend, in reply, conceded that his submission may have been inflammatory and responded that the crux of the debate essentially revolved around firearms, not sharp and blunt weapons. He noted that gun control and the issue of crime are inseparable phenomena. He noted that the problem affects the United States in its entirety.

Ms Dudley (ACDP) asked whether the Reverend has considered the scenario of a fully armed state that abuses its military strength and victimises its citizens.

In reply, the Reverend indicated that that would entail states that are fully dictatorial and where the civilians are subject to it. He welcomed the idea that military forces be reduced to some extent and that spending on same be reduced.

Mr Craig Gadd (Independent)
Mr Gadd said that he would address the Committee independently as a civilian who has a passion for firearms and believes in the right of self defence and one's duty towards one's community.

He was critical of the following:
- The opening premise of the Memorandum of the Objects of the Bill where it states that there is a proliferation of firearms in the country. Based on his experiences, he disagrees with this.
- The premise that "the availability of firearms contributes directly to the high level of violent crime in South Africa" as there is no independent study to prove this. It implied that a piece of metal without life or thinking is able to cause violence. He stressed that there are other factors which equally contribute to violence with guns in South Africa such as alcohol and drug abuse and personal value systems.
- Legal firearm owners are labelled the major source of weapon supply for criminals. He pointed out that a large number of firearms have gone missing from state arsenals.
- The penalty for the unlawful possession of a firearm has been increased from 5 to 15 years imprisonment. He cannot accept that possession of a piece of metal should doom a person to 15 years in prison because they omitted to have it registered.
- The power given to the Minister of Safety and Security to declare places such as schools, shebeens and places of worship as Firearm Free Zones. He asserted that such places would be an invitation to criminals as they would have be at liberty to carry on their criminal activities at will.
- The limitation of the amount of ammunition that a licence holder may purchase or store. He said that if the government wishes to deny criminals access to ammunition it must tighten controls at military and police institutions.
- Relicencing as the Central Firearms Registry is at present flooded with a backlog of applications.

He indicated his general assent with the Bill's objective that a person who acquires a firearm must obtain a competency certificate. He believes that the inability to safely operate a firearm or having criminal record should be the core reasons an individual should not be allowed to obtain a firearm. He however noted that the Bill does not state what constitutes a competency test.

Mr Gadd proposed objectives which in his opinion are ideal to the Bill:
- to set minimum standards for the training of civilians in firearms,
- instillation of the knowledge of the law to a firearm owner in order that he may be aware of his duties and responsibilities,
- the establishment of a practical competency test for any person who desires to have a firearm,
- improving and maintaining registry records.

Discussion
Ms Dudley(ACDP) asked for Mr Gadd's opinion on what powers should be granted to the Minister in declaring certain areas firearm free zones, and whether he could comment on the laxity of powers given to the Minister regarding search and seizure.

Mr Gadd replied that he is not qualified to offer a comprehensive opinion in regard to the extent of the Ministers' powers as he is not appropriately legally qualified.

The Chairperson asked if Mr Gadd was aware of the fact that there already exists firearm free zones in South Africa, and whether he has any statistics as to the number of firearm related cases that have occurred in firearm free zones.

Mr Gadd conceded that he is aware that there are already established firearm free zones in this country. However, gun-toting criminals have access to these zones and carry firearms within those designated areas. Thus the presence of these zones does not operate as a deterrent to criminals.
He acknowledged the right to life that is embodied in the Constitution but he is equally an ardent proponent of the idea of protection of human life through the exercise of a right to self defence.

Mr Swart (DP) asked for further clarity regarding the issue of firearm free zones, and asked whether Mr Gadd would agree if persons were to leave their firearms at specially designated areas on entrance to the firearm free zones.

Mr Gadd replied that he agreed with the idea of setting up of specially designated areas except that the financial resources expended in their establishment could fruitfully be utilised elsewhere.

Agri-SA
This organisation represents small-scale commercial farmers in South Africa. The Agri-SA representative emphasised the importance of agriculture to the South African economy and that it makes a substantial contribution to the country's gross domestic product. He invited the Committee to consider security in farming areas, highlighting that the incidence of violent crime on farmers, farm workers and their families in South Africa is a matter of grave concern. There had been a sharp incline in the number of attacks on farmers from 1991 to 1999. The problem is exacerbated by the remote areas in which farmers live. Further it is difficult for the police to provide a rapid response when a crime had been committed.

He appealed to the Committee to acknowledge the existing legally licenced firearms held by farmers under the current Act, and that such licences should remain valid for an indefinite period, excluding firearms prohibited by section 4 of the Bill.

Agri-SA proposed that a separate category for existing legal licences of farmers to possess a firearm be introduced into the Bill. Additional proposals for farmers are:
- to determine the number of legally licenced firearms in possession of farmers by doing a national audit of these firearms,
- after this has been completed, the owner of the legally licenced firearms obtain a competency certificate to possess a firearm,
- that Agri-SA, through its provincial structures, must issue a certificate in terms of this category to a farmer who is a member of organised agriculture,
- that the licences should not be terminated after a certain period or be subject to relicencing,
Further proposals to amend the Bill to accommodate particular circumstances of farmers can be found in their submission.

Discussion
Mr Zondo (ANC) asked for further clarity on the issue of licencing and that licences should not be terminated after a certain period

Adv Swart (DP) asked for clarity on whether the exemptions and/or changes proposed should apply to other category of farmers, what number of firearms would AgriSA want farmers to possess, and the requirements regarding licencing

Gen Viljoen (FF) asked how representative is the organisation of the whole agricultural society. Why have they not included training in the use of firearms for farmers as a recommendation?

AgriSA replied that:
- they represent 80% of the farmers. They said that it is important to point out that no organisation represents 100% of the people. AgriSA also represents small-scale rural farmers, hence the presence of one African farmer in their delegation who was from the Eastern Cape.
- farmers do not have a problem with regard to the proper use of firearms.
The question regarding the number of firearms a farmer may be allowed was not answered.

To elaborate further, the African farmer from the Eastern Cape indicated that the delegation present at yesterday's hearing was representative of the farming community in South Africa. The fact that there are few black farmers was as a result of the country's past historical circumstances. He indicated that certain black farmers have been killed in the past. With regard to training of farmers in the proper use of firearms, he said that accredited shooting ranges are far from the rural areas. He suggested that farms can be utilised for training purposes.

The Chair repeated the question regarding the representivity of small scale farmers from the rural areas in Agri-SA, emphasising that it was not a matter of whether they were black or white. The reply was that Agri-SA had not prepared exact figures to that enquiry.

Dr Margaret Nash (Independent)
Dr Nash supported and welcomed the Bill as it provides for stricter, more consistent regulation of licenced firearms and that it restricts people with a track record of anti-social behaviour from being able to own firearms and it can be used to promote a culture of responsible gun ownership.

She proposed the insertion of a new section 125 of the Bill to deal with "restorative justice" to the effect that "any person under the age of 21 who pleads guilty to the offence under Sch. 4 may be offered an alternative of a restorative justice programme designed to ensure that she accepts responsibility for the offence and agrees to an approved community service or reparation process that will have a positive outcome for the victim or the victim's family'.

She also proposed an amendment of section 126 to create an Independent Firearms Authority that would be able to work in collaboration with the SAPS and SANDF in the control of firearms.

Discussion
Adv. Swart (DP) asked for Dr Nash's opinion on the suitable age for persons to own a firearm. The reply was that the age of 25 years was probably the most suitable age to own a firearm, but that a person's unique circumstances, whether he had any previous convictions for firearm related offences, and whether he had any history for substance abuse clearly were all relevant factors to be taken into account. She further submitted that the Independent Firearms Authority should be an independent body with experience ideally drawn from other authorities of a similar nature.

Truvelo Manufacturers
This company is a firearms and sport gun manufacturers. Its representative, Mr Welch, said that the Bill must be user friendly and must not seek to criminalise certain conduct such as the bona fide possession of firearms by those who have inherited them, bought them as investments or for collection purposes and those who take part in a range of sporting activities but are not necessarily not members of any firearm club or association. He expressed his concern for the loss of jobs in the firearms trade if the Bill were to be passed. He noted that the majority of South Africans have been "rifle persons" from time immemorial. He stated that guns are purchased for self defence and the majority of these buyers are non-white. There are people involved in firearm sporting activities and hunting who need to use guns and that such activities need to be encouraged. He noted that licenced firearm owners are generally law-abiding citizens.

Truvelo Manufacturers finds the Bill's provision to relicence firearms unacceptable. The basis for this objection is that a considerable amount of human and financial resources would need to be expended and that relicencing would generally not be viable. He stressed that there was no need to do a periodical licencing. He said that the audit which needs to be done in firearm relicencing needs to be clarified. The Bill requires that an owner of a firearm has to be relicenced which implies that a gunowner is unfit to own a firearm.

Truvelo Manufacturers do believe that in order to be competent to possess a firearm a person must not have a previous conviction in a firearm-related offence, must not have a history of drug dependence nor a violent disposition. A competency test implies that an individual is unfit to handle a firearm. Truvelo Manufacturers stress that the need for personal defence is the essential test. He asserted that the Bill violates some of South Africa's constitutionally entrenched freedoms when it stipulates that an individual may not own more than four firearms. Section 150 of the Bill (providing for regulations which may be made by the Minister) does not provide for "parliamentary scrutiny" of such regulations which was a flaw. He concluded that the Bill is a disarmament Bill.

Questions
Adv Swart (DP) remarked that he agreed with the speaker's assertion that a firearm could be a useful self-defence tool in the hands of a responsible person and that it could be a dangerous instrument in the hands of a criminal. However a firearm could be a dangerous instrument in the hands of any person if he is not competent in its use.

Mr Maziya (ANC) asked whether Mr Welch had carefully read the Bill because some of the issues he had raised are addressed in the Bill. He asked if the community whence he came were subject to much questioning about whether they knew how to use a gun and whether they had any previous convictions for firearm related offences.

Ms van Wyk (UDM) asked whether officials such as the police should be made to undergo competency tests on their appointment to the force.

Mr Ndlovu (IFP) asked whether firearm free zones should be allowed to exist.

Response
Mr Welch conceded that Adv. Swart had raised an important point: if a person purchases a firearm, he must have a sound knowledge of how to use that gun and of safety standards. There must be rules with which a person must comply to eliminate the likelihood of firearm accidents.

In reply to Mr Maziya's question, Mr Welch contended that the issue of privileges which only one section of the society had enjoyed is a phenomenon of the past. All people are treated equally nowadays in regard to gun ownership. Questions as to whether a person has any previous convictions is a question that every person making an application for a gun licence is asked. Fingerprints are taken across all sections of the society these days. Once a licence is guaranteed it becomes a right but it is dependant on certain limitations as are all rights in South Africa. He reiterated that he had read the Bill.

In reply to Ms Van Wyk's question, Mr Welch indicated that not only should officials be competent but they must also be deemed fit and proper to use a firearm.

Mr Welch indicated that he is not in favour of firearm free zones. If the parameters of a firearm free zones are defined where would you draw the line? Would it be a 100 metres from a school? Obviously a firearm-carrying person would be contravening the law if he dropped off his children at school within the 100 metre line. One clearly has to balance the competing factors.

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