Firearms Control Bill: public hearings

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Police

18 August 2000
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

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


Relevant submissions
Mr Pansegrouw
Safari Club International
NICRO
De Beers Consolidated Mines
Medical Research Council
Mr Anthony Altbeker

SUMMARY
Mr Pansegrouw felt that it is contrary to the Constitution to make people reapply for their licences where the firearms are legally in their possession. A satisfactory update of the Central Firearms Register can be undertaken through other means.

Safari Club believe that the Bill is highly complex and technically flawed and they are against the Bill as it is unaffordable as a result of the many new administrative actions it introduces. They recommend that the Bill should be simplified, and that the resources which will be used for administration be redirected to the enforcement of the streamlined old Act.

NICRO supported the introduction of competency certificates for gun owners, but recommended that the family of the applicant be consulted before the certificate is issued. NICRO also supported raising the age at which a person is entitled to possess a firearm from 18 to 25 years and only one firearm be allowed for self defence.

De Beers Consolidated Mines looked at the Bill from the perspective of a juristic rather than natural person with both mining and ecological interests.

The Medical Research Council requested that the minimum age for licencing to be raised to 25 years.

Mr Anthony Altbeker, from the Policing Programme at Wits University, was in support of the Bill. He highlighted the need to improve the policy issue of causes of incompetence to possess a firearm and said the real challenge would be in the implementation of the Bill.

MINUTES
Mr Pansegrouw
He outlined his position as being against the proposed Bill (see attached submission).

Questions
Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) asked the presenter whether, in his view, the present Act is adequate to deal with the proliferation of crimes perpetrated by using firearms.

Mr Ndlovu (IFP) asked the presenter for clarification regarding his statement that he did not consider a shotgun an adequate weapon for self defence, and what weapon did the presenter consider adequate?

A committee member referred to the presenter's statement that only people of dubious character should be refused firearms licences. He asked whether the presenter had any suggestions for a test that would indicate conclusively whether a person could be classed "of dubious character". He also asked whether the presented saw a place for being able to conduct searches.

Mr Zondo (ANC) asked the presenter for elaboration on his view that it should not be necessary to re-apply for firearms licences.

Gen Viljoen (FF) asked the presenter to elaborate on his views regarding the buying of 'replacement' weapons, questioning whether the possibility exists that these could fall into the wrong hands.

Mr Ndlovu asked the presenter for clarification of his submission that farmers should not have to re-apply for licences, but that these licences should be renewed through affidavits.

Response:
The main problem with the current Act is the application thereof. The current Act can be made more easily applicable with the rewording of certain sections.

Self defence is a very personal issue, and the presenter stated that he could not presume to be speaking on behalf of all people, but rather only his view - it is the individual's choice whether to use a handgun, a shotgun, a knife or even a garden spade. His personal view is that a shotgun is not adequate as a result of the difficulty in placing shots.

He stated that he accepted that anyone has the propensity for violence. Regarding the ability to conduct searches - the present law already makes place for this.

It is a given that the Central Firearms Register needs to have up-to-date information and figures, but making people reapply for their licences makes out that they have no vested rights as licenced property owners. Should these reapplications not be approved, they will need to get rid of their weapons which would lead to a property loss and an infringement of their rights. The Central Firearms Register should rather be relied on to do checks (through the SAP) on currently registered firearms.

Any weapon can fall into the wrong hands, but with responsible people this should not happen. By way of example, the presenter cited the Practical Pistol Group, who are responsible and ensure good practices are observed.

The presenter felt that it is contrary to the Constitution to make people reapply for their licences where the firearms are legally in their possession. A satisfactory update of the Central Firearms Register can be undertaken through other means.

Safari Club International
Mr Pierre van der Merwe said he represents an international organisation with more than 40 000 members comprising people in the hunting world - hunters, taxidermists and game ranch owners.

He stated their position as being against the Bill on the basis that it is unaffordable as a result of the many new administrative actions it introduces. He stated that although Safari Club International were in favour of proper firearms control, better register / database maintenance and the controlling of the proliferation of illegal firearms, by their calculations there are 16 times as many administrative functions as are contained in the present Bill. The cost of training, maintenance and implementation of this administration is unsustainable and unnecessary as it will only succeed in regulating licenced firearms owners who are small contributors to crime. They recommend that the Bill should be simplified, and that the resources which will be used for administration be redirected to the enforcement of the streamlined old Act.

Safari Club believe that the Bill is highly complex and technically flawed, and asked members to refer to the submission by the National Firearms Forum for details. They further suggest a clause be introduced to encourage members of the community to report people who should have their competency certificates revoked. A further area of concern for them is the importation / exportation of firearms brought into South Africa by foreign hunters.

Questions
Ms Sosibo (ANC) asked for clarity regarding his statement that the process to this point had not been transparent.

Mr Zondo (ANC) asked whether Safari Club International was affiliated to the National Firearms Forum. Furthermore, regarding the presenter's plea that foreigners be treated with respect, he asked whether it was not the case that socialising after the hunt could lead to irresponsible actions being taken as a result of intoxicating substances like alcohol.

Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) noted that R 127 million had been allocated for implementation over three years, questioning whether the presenter did not think that this was adequate to meet the cost factor.

Genl Viljoen stated that he liked the idea that the community should report people seen as unfit to own firearms, but asked the presenter how he would deal with abuses of this situation. The Chair stated that the situation is made worse by the lack of trust between the community and the police, and asked what the presenter proposed in this regard.

Mr Ndlovu (IFP) asked for elaboration of the presenter's advocating the age of 25 as the minimum age for licencing.

Ms Sosibo (ANC) queried the presenter's statement that as the majority of licence applications are from black people, they should be empowered by being able to receive licences.

Response:
The process is transparent at this point, but 2 ½ years ago Safari Club Informed Parliament that it wanted to aid in the drafting of the legislation. However they have not been consulted properly or enough and could have helped improve the technical level of the document.

The hunt happens during the day, while any socialising is done at night. If the hunters are serious (as they are and considering the amount of money spent) there is no time to drink during the day. Safari Club believe that all their members are responsible, as is evidenced by the fact that prosecution levels for these kinds of crimes are non-existent. The hunters are regulated by the professional hunters associations and irresponsible behaviour leads to expulsion as well as the publishing of names in international journals and newsletters. Nature Conservation can also revoke the licence of the hunter concerned.

Safari Club's calculations show that the R 217 million would not even cover the salaries of the 16 times more staff required, and does not even begin to touch on the computers, training and so on that would also be required.

Mr van der Merwe agreed that the community is scared, but suggested that these kinds of complaints can be directed to the Central Firearms Register and that a firearms unit could be despatched to the area to investigate.

He stated that he had not intended to advocate the age of 25 as the minimum age to own a firearm, but was using it as an illustration of the age at which most people are able to afford to own a firearm.

In response to Ms Sosibo's question, he explained that legislation should not be created that is so complex that it prejudices previously disadvantaged communities by entrenching prejudices of finance and hierarchies and inequalities among groups.

The Chair thanked Safari Club International for their input and welcomed their further input on the technical aspects of the Bill.

NICRO
See their attached presentation.

Questions
Gen Viljoen asked whether they were not trying to solve all the problems through the Bill, and questioned whether they did not see more benefit in an approach focussed essentially on control of firearms.

He also asked whether it would be wise to forbid a policeman from carrying their weapon, questioning whether it is not better to concentrate on better selection, discipline and training of SAPS members.

Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) stated that NICRO endorsed the right to life, but asked whether this does not contain the right to self defence?

He also asked whether their contention that "may" be substituted for "must" could not be extended resulting in the situation that certificates of compliance would have to be issued if all stated criteria were fulfilled and left no room for discretion.

Nr Ndlovu (IFP) asked whether the logistics of implementing gun free zones in all the areas suggested by the presenters did not make this task impossible.

Response:
They did not view this as an attempt to solve all problems, but underlined that domestic violence constitutes a serious problem and is not being adequately dealt with.

Training and selection are necessary, but are not the whole solution. Administration is excessive and the Bill is currently not being implemented correctly.

A distinction must be made between the right to self defence from outsiders and the right to life within the family, and would have to be weighed up on an individual basis.

On Dr Geldenhuys query regarding "may" be substituted for "must", they said that this has not been considered.

The more areas that are designated as gun free zones the better. Guns can be locked in safes when entering the area.

De Beers Consolidated Mines
Mr H Sweetnam introduced himself as a representative of the company and outlined their problems with the Bill from the perspective of a juristic rather than natural person with both mining and ecological interests.

Questions
General Viljoen (FF) asked, relating to foreign hunters, whether it was not feasible for foreign missions to issue licences / permits as well as at the port of entry to streamline the process.

Mr Ndlovu (IFP) asked whether the presenter was suggesting that a competency certificate be issued to the company rather than to individual persons.

Response:
De Beers would be happy to submit further suggestions at a later stage should parliament wish, and it may well be helpful if foreign missions could issue permits. This should also be able to be done at the port of entry as more than one solution would expedite the situation.

It is requested that competency certificates be able to be issued to more than one person within the company and not one to the company or to only one representative of the company.

Medical Research Council
Dr Rachel Jewkes presented their submission.

Questions
On the MRC's request that the minimum age for licencing to be raised to 25 years, Gen Viljoen commented that although it can be accepted that people below this age are in a specifically high risk category, it can also be said that their personal safety is in considerable danger. Are guns therefore really a luxury?

A member (ANC) asked whether the 'period of grace' as mentioned is not too long, and asked for elaboration on the suggestion that licences be renewed every three years.

An ANC member commenting on the subject of rape, asked whether other solutions such as chemical castration are not more appropriate.

Regarding the accessibility of guns to children, Mr Zondo (ANC) asked if toy guns should therefore be banned?

Response:
Having a gun does not equal not being attacked, or even being safe in the event of an attack. In fact legal guns get into the pool of illegal guns by being stolen from their legal owners - fewer legal guns therefore mean fewer illegal guns.

In the same way that driver's licences were changed over a period of time, firearm licences could be changed through a roster system over a period of three years.

Guns help rapes take place. Rape is indeed a problem, but without them the means for raping may be limited.

Banning toy guns will indeed help re-socialise children in a less non-violent way.

Mr Anthony Altbeker
See the attached presentation.

Questions
Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) stated that the general opinion is that South Africa is not a responsible gun-owning society. But when statistics are given that show that the 30 000 guns which are stolen annually are only 1% of the legally owned firearms, can it not be said that we are a responsible gun-owning society?

He also asked that in light of the fact that the simpler current Act is not implemented correctly, what evidence leads us to believe that the more complex Act will have any better success?

General Viljoen (FF) asked whether it is fair to call all firearm owners irresponsible?

Ms van Wyk (UDM) asked what percentage of the firearms reported lost/ stolen are actually reflected in the statistics as presented.

Response:
30 000 is indeed 1% of legally owned firearms, but these 30 000 guns are being used over and over in the commission of more than one crime. These guns make up a significant number of the weapons used in violent crime. South Africa remains the third worst country in the world for numbers of stolen weapons.

There are no guarantees for implementation, and it is true that the Act is complex and difficult. The challenge is to SAPS management and it may also be a while before there is strict compliance. But a message needs to be sent about the seriousness with which these matter are being viewed. This needs to be the first of many steps in the right direction.

Most firearms are lost in situations beyond a firearm owner's control which illustrates the fact that people cannot ensure the safety / security of their firearms. There is also a significant amount of firearms lost due to negligence.

It is true that there are significant levels of underreporting as it is considered adverse to report that a firearm owner negligently lost his firearm as this could lead to a loss of their licence.

The meeting adjourned.

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