Firearms Control Bill: public hearings

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Police

17 August 2000
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

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

Relevant Submissions:
RGA Lewis
Neil Jones
Roux Wildenboer
Women Against Community Abuse (WACA) Advice Centre
Child Accident Prevention Foundation of Southern Africa
Disabled People of South Africa

SUMMARY
The first three submissions were from sports and hobby hunters who had specific recommendations on how to draft a more efficient legislation that will not impact adversely on their activities as sports hunters. The Women Against Community Abuse Advice Centre spoke of the realities of armed violence in the townships of South Africa, based on its experiences as township residents and community leaders. The Child Accident Prevention Foundation gave a slide presentation that used statistics to make the point that firearm injuries to children are on the increase and that ownership of a firearm for self-defence is no guarantee of safety. Finally, Disabled People of South Africa sought to make the Committee aware that guns not only kill, but can also leave gunshot survivors with permanent disabilities, such as paraplegia. This group offered its support to Gun Free South Africa.

MINUTES
RGA Lewis
Rather than reading his submission aloud, Mr Lewis chose to expand on two technical points from his presentation. He suggested that the terms "Accredited Association" and "Organisation", as used in the Bill, were unclear. This could have consequences for an individual's eligibility for a firearm licence. Mr Lewis asked that these definitions be made more inclusive.
In addition, he was concerned that, according to the terms of the Bill, a shotgun with two barrels would require two licences, even though the Bill only allows for ownership of one handgun. A two-barreled shotgun, therefore, would amount to a technical violation of the Bill. Mr Lewis asked that this problem be corrected.

Discussion
There were no questions for Mr Lewis. The Chairperson thanked him for his presentation and technical recommendations.

Neil Jones
Mr Jones described his activities as a sports hunter and the different kinds of firearms he needed to enjoy his sport. For example, it would be unethical to shoot a large animal with a small gun. He went through his submission in some detail and claimed that he kept no handguns for self-defence, but for sports hunting only.

Discussion
Adv Swart (DP) noted that, according to his memory, Mr Jones was the first sportshunter presenter to say he kept no firearms for self-defence. Adv Swart said the Bill was an attempt to balance the right to self-defence with the problem of illegal firearms and asked the presenter why he did not keep a gun for self-defence.

The presenter answered that he did not feel the need of a gun for self-defence and noted that, under the proposed legislation, he would be in violation of the law if he were to acquire a handgun in addition to his five hunting rifles.

Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) reiterated his colleague's question, saying that the presenter fell into the category of "dedicated" hunter and so asked him why he did not apply for a handgun licence.

Mr Jones re-asserted that, according to the proposed legislation, as the owner of five hunting rifles, he was not eligible for a handgun licence. He added that the Bill demanded much more paperwork for a "dedicated" hunter to acquire a second firearm than for an "occasional" hunter.

Mr Ndlovu (IFP) asked how gun-free zones could be maintained.

Mr Jones agreed that these would be hard to police and mentioned the incongruity of metal detectors at a place of worship. He also wondered how effective such measures would be in deterring criminals.

Mr Booi (ANC) commented on the speaker's objection to the requirement of an affidavit for accreditation and asked the presenter what alternatives he suggested.

Mr Jones admitted that it was the legality of the term "affidavit" that made him uncomfortable and added that he thinks the current system of accreditation works well and is not in need of improvement.

General Viljoen (FF) asked if handguns were ever used for hunting, or if it is mostly rifles. He asked the presenter if he saw a need for restricted handgun control and also noted that the speaker had indicated that he possessed no handguns.

Mr Jones responded that, whereas he himself does not hunt with a handgun, some hunters do. This activity requires the hunter to shoot from a very close range and Mr Jones says he admires those who are willing to take the risk of shooting dangerous animals in this way. He added that handgun hunting is not illegal or unethical, so long as the hunter is qualified.

Roux Wildenboer
This presenter also made specific suggestions to the Bill to allow for sports hunters to continue to enjoy their activities and questioned the efficacy of the Bill as a deterrent to violent crime.

Discussion
Mr Booi (ANC) asked the presenter from what premise he was approaching the Bill i.e. does he see the purpose of the legislation to fight crime? Mr Booi asserted that this was only one goal of the proposed legislation.

Mr Wildenboer responded that his impression had come from the press that presents the Bill as an attempt to fight crime. He added he sees the Bill as threatening his legal firearm ownership and takes that as his premise in approaching the Bill.

Mr Zondo (ANC) asked Mr Wildenboer if he was affiliated with Neil Jones. Mr Wildenboer answered that he was not.

Ms Sosibo (ANC) asked the presenter about his claim that the South African Police was too "thin" to protect all South Africans and so the people must protect themselves. She reminded the presenter that self-defence depends on how quickly you respond, not on how many guns you have.

Mr Wildenboer agreed that self-defence is a big responsibility and that those who keep guns for self-defence must be well trained.

Advocate Swart (DP) commented that the speaker had asked the Committee to take him 'seriously" while, at the same time, objecting to the anti-gun lobby. He asked the presenter why he should be taken seriously and not Gun Free South Africa.

Mr Wildenboer answered that when he is hunting, he is not interfering with the rights of any other citizens. He asked, then, why does Gun Free South Africa want to challenge his right to firearm ownership?

The Chairperson, Mr George, asked the presenter from where he got the notion that firearm ownership is a right?

The presenter responded that firearm ownership is a right when it is held responsibly. He said that this right follows from the right to life and the right to self-defence.

Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) asked the Chairperson if the right to own property includes the right to own a firearm?

The Chairperson answered that it does not and asked the Members not to engage in debate. He added that if firearm ownership were a right, applicants who were denied licences could sue.

Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) argued that the refusal of a firearm licence only indicates a limited right, not the absence of a right.

This retort was followed by a subdued uproar, at which the Chairperson repeated his admonition that the Members refrain from debate.

Women Against Community Abuse (WACA)
This group described itself as a community organisation that works for the well-being of women, their families and communities, in the townships of South Africa. Essentially, the group does not advocate against firearm ownership, but wants such ownership to be strictly controlled. For example, they advocate that the age for legal firearm ownership be raised to 25 and that competency certificates be required. They raise the issue of safe firearm storage. They also recommend a "place of safety" where illegal firearms can be handed in.

One presenter said that the group speaks from its experiences in the townships where gunshots are so common at night that children are used to the sound. Many rapes and robberies take place at gunpoint and this is unacceptable to these communities. In addition, children can take their parents' licenced firearms and cause fatal accidents, as a result of simple negligent storage.

WACA advocates for the implementation of gun-free zones, such as churches, schools and sports playing fields. They ask that the government be strict on firearm ownership and minimise the numbers of firearms in South Africa.

Discussion
Mr Ndlovu (IFP) asked if he should bring his gun when he is travelling through a dangerous township at night to attend overnight church services.

WACA answered that travel with registered guns was acceptable so long as the owner declared herself in the gun-free zone.

A Committee Member commented that there were no statistics on how many killings were perpetrated with illegal firearms and asked the women if the problems they spoke of were not a result of illegal gun possession.

WACA answered that they support mandatory licence renewal so that the government can know how many people have legal guns. They further commented that there was now less crime than before in the townships and that it is no longer necessary to be armed at all times. They asserted that people who respect one another have no need to feel threatened and also pointed out that there is no link between firearm ownership and personal safety.

Ms Sosibo (ANC) asked if the women support Gun Free South Africa or the particular legislation currently under review.

The group responded that they support the legislature they were addressing.

Advocate Swart (DP) asked about the practicability of bolted and secure safes for gun storage in informal settlements. He next asked what would be more efficient, a Central Firearms Register, or de-centralised firearm registration at individual police stations. He also asked the women for more specific crime statistics.

These questions were not specifically addressed.

Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) commented on the group's advocacy of raising the age for legal firearm ownership from 18 to 25 by asking if they thought the legal age for a driver's licence should be similarly raised.

The group asserted that their views are based on experience and that most perpetrators of violent crimes are between the ages of 18 and 25. This is not comparable with driver's licences. The speaker added that if guns are obtained legally to protect one's property, young people, who have little valuable property, have no need of guns.

Dr Pheko (PAC) asked if a gun-free zone would not attract criminals, and doubted that criminals would respect a gun-free zone.

WACA pointed out that enforcement is needed to make gun-free zones a reality.

General Viljoen (FF) asked if rifles were a problem in the townships.

The women responded that only handguns presented problems and added that they had no complaints with sports hunters.

Mr Southey
The presenter is a Karoo sheep farmer. He spoke of the problem of fatal attacks on farmers and the irresponsible mixing of firearms and alcohol by some sports hunters. He said that four rifles are sufficient for a serious sports hunter and that rifles are not effective for self-defence. He added that safes for storing firearms are easy to break into.

Discussion
General Viljoen (FF) asserted that one who is not prepared to use a gun, should not own one.

Mr Southey agreed that training in firearm use is a necessity, but added that one must also look at other aspects of security, such as fencing. He commented that the purchase of a handgun is no guarantee of safety since criminals have the advantage of surprise and victims are, understandably, too nervous to shoot straight when attacked, even if they do have access to their self-defence handgun.

Mr Booi (ANC) thanked the speaker for his honesty in presenting another side of sportshunters, referring to drunken hunters who abuse their firearm licences. The Chairperson asked that only questions, and not praise, were permitted.

In response to a broad question, the speaker said that firearms acquired through inheritance may have great monetary, as well as sentimental, value and that firearm inheritance should be allowed for.

Child Accident Prevention Foundation
This group, Ms Du Toit, Dr Van As and Professor Rode, gave a slide presentation, featuring a variety of statistics that shed light on the effects of firearms on children and challenged the efficacy of handguns as tools of self-defence. The Foundation offered strong support for the Bill, but raised concerns about its implementation. It supports the creation of gun-free zones, as well as strict and limited firearm licencing.

Discussion
Dr Geldenhuys (DP) asked what percentage of children's injuries are gun-related and if these injuries are always a result of non-compliance with the current legislation.

The Foundation agreed that all accidents that affect children are a concern but that firearm accidents are easily preventable; for example, whereas the sea cannot be tamed, firearms can be eliminated. The Foundation advocates that it should be more difficult to obtain a firearm.

Advocate Swart (DP) challenged the reliability of the statistics used by the presenters and statistics in general.

Mr Ndlovu (IFP) asked how criminals could be prevented from entering gun-free zones.

The presenters asserted that, in their opinion, gun-free zones are an excellent idea. Offices can assure that no guns enter the zone. They also noted, however, that staff at such offices could be threatened.

Mr Booi (ANC) asked what types of firearms are used in rural areas and what kind of violence tends to be perpetrated there?

The group responded that the majority of violence in rural areas is with handguns and not AK47s, as is commonly believed.

Mr Qalashe (ANC) asked why the Foundation advocates that the age of legal gun ownership be raised from 18 to 25.

The group asserted that there is proof that teenagers are more violent than adults.

Ms Van Wyk (UDM) commented that the Committee is concerned with the costs of the Bill's implementation and asked the Foundation for figures of the costs of victim treatment, adding that the Committee should also consider what costs might be saved by more effective firearm control.

Disabled People South Africa
This group sought to draw attention to the disabilities that can and do result from firearm wounds. Both presenters have paraplegia and use wheelchairs as a result of such wounds. The first presenter explained that she was shot in 1991 deliberately by a policeman after she had refused his proposal of love.

Both speakers asserted strongly that they are not statistics and that what happened to them continues to happen to many South Africans every day. They added that the majority of people with disabilities are dependent on disability grants in order to survive economically.

Discussion
Advocate Swart (DP) asked the presenters if they had any specific suggestions for the Bill or if they were there to offer their support for Gun Free South Africa.

The women responded that they support Gun Free South Africa.

Mr Ndlovu (IFP) asked how they would prevent criminals from entering gun-free zones.

The group responded that this is difficult since anyone can be a criminal at anytime.

The Chairperson expressed the collective shame at what a police officer had done to one of the presenters. He asserted that competency certificates must be held by police officers and that the police are not above the law.

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