Firearms Control Bill: public hearings

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Police

16 August 2000
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Meeting report

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

Relevant Submissions
Durbanville Shooting Club
Quaker Peace Centre
Superior Arms
South African Wingshooters Association
Business Against Crime
Alternative to Violence Project
Network for Independent Monitors

SUMMARY
The Durbanville Shooting Club expressed its overall support for the Bill while suggesting certain amendments to accommodate what they view as the right to own a firearm for sport.

The Quaker Peace Centre outlined its principles of pacifism and non-violence and emphasised the importance of human security over military and armed security.

Superior Arms expressed the strong view that the proposed legislation will not achieve the aim of addressing violent crime, in that it would deny access to firearms to economically disadvantaged South Africans, who are in what the presenter called the most obvious need of self-defence. He referred to a lack of police protection and security in the Black communities of South Africa. He warned of the exorbitant costs of implementation, a chaotic Central Firearm Register and the Bill's inadvertent effect of encouraging people to acquire firearms illegally.

Business Against Crime is strongly in favour of the Bill, contingent on the assurance that the legislation is properly implemented and policed.

The South African Wingshooters Association primary issue is that the provisions in the Bill for Dedicated Hunter/Sportsman make no distinction between shotgunners and rifle/handgun shooters. They suggest that an additional category of firearm ownership, Shotgunning, be added.

Alternatives to Violence supported the legislation with the qualification that it be part of a greater plan for ending violence and the Network of Independent Monitors from Kwazulu-Natal also supported the proposed bill.


MINUTES
Durbanville Shooting Club
The Club described the activities of its members. The Club wanted to address specifically what it sees as the right to own a firearm for sport. To this end, it offered detailed and precise comments and recommendations to the Committee so that this right can be accommodated.

Discussion
Ms Jabu (ANC) asked the presenter how he understands the Bill. The Chair said he would not allow the question, since it is irrelevant and not based on the presentation, which was a very specific consideration of the Bill. Mr Swart (DP) commented that he found ambiguity in the Club's submission concerning disarmament and asked that the question be allowed. The Chair conceded and allowed the question. The presenter responded that the Club's perception of the Bill is that the abuse of licences by a few people will affect access to licences for all people. Access to licences should not be denied because of the actions of a few.

Mr Zondo (ANC) asked the presenter to clarify what he meant by "full parliamentary process" in his submission and asked what was actually being proposed here. The question was answered by the Chairperson who said that it referred to the fact that the Minister can make changes by proclamation. The Club's presenter agreed with the Chairperson.

Quaker Peace Centre
Mr Jeremy Routledge stated that Quakers believe that safety and security are ensured by greater equality in society, the promotion of the culture of peace and security, better development policies that place the poor at the centre and address the discriminatory practices of the past. He said that Quakers believe in human security rather than military and arms security.

The Quaker Peace Centre submission made the following points:
- It supports the memoranda of the Firearms Control Bill.
- An Independent Firearms Authority should be set up to implement the Aprovisions of the Act.
- The manufacture and export of firearms should be stopped as there is a surplus of guns in the region.
- The minimum age restriction should be raised to 21.
- It supports the refusal of licences to those who are found unfit to own a firearm, due to their involvement in violence.
- It supports the severe maximum sentences as well as the use of community service as a punishment for law-breaking.
- The needs of hunters and sportspeople should be met within the provision of the law without creating loopholes which can result in abuse.
- A complementary regional approach is needed in relation to the regional export of firearms.

Discussion
Mr Geldenhys (NNP) referred to the statement that in Clause 107 the word 'may' should be replaced with 'must'. He asked if 'may' in other sections should also be changed to 'must'?
Mr Routledge replied that he would have to think about his question and he could not answer it then.
Gen Viljoen (FF) asked if he agreed that non-pacifists who have rights as well?
Mr Routledge agreed and said that he did believe non-pacifists also have rights. He believed that Parliament should offer everyone an opportunity to make his case. He was currently presenting their point of view.

Superior Arms
The presenter, Mr Calvin Stead, said that people who are disadvantaged have an obvious need for self-defence. He defined self-defence as being through firearm ownership. He also asserted that the Bill, if implemented, would mean a chaotic Central Firearm Register and more firearms in South Africa. He predicted that the Bill would not stop violent crime and suggested that the Committee "scrap" the Bill. He complained of minimal consultation in the drafting of the Bill.

Mr Stead called police protection and security in the Black communities of South Africa a "pipe dream" and called a firearm a "dire necessity" for self-defence, but asserted that only wealthy South Africans can afford firearms.

The presenter warned that over-legislation that cannot be effectively implemented will be ignored and may have the inadvertent effect of encouraging people to acquire firearms illegally. He said that the country does not have the resources to police its existing legislation, mentioning non-compliance with traffic laws and television licencing requirements as examples. He complained that the SAPS are 66% functionally illiterate. Mr Stead also warned of the exorbitant costs of implementing the proposed legislation and asked if there was adequate funding and, if so, if this money could not be better used elsewhere.

Mr Stead asked why, if the goal of the legislation was to get illegal firearms off the streets, did the legislation target legal firearm ownership? Mr Stead suggested that the current Bill be researched and revised.

Discussion
Mr Zondo (ANC) accused the speaker of "riding a high horse" and challenged Mr Stead's capacity to support his contentions.

Mr Qalashe (ANC) similarly asked for more information to support the speaker's assertions.

Ms Sosibo (ANC) asked the presenter to elaborate on his claim of "minimal consultation" and asked what he would consider to be maximum consultation.

Adv Swart (DP) asked what percentage of second-hand weapons are being sold and also asked what the presenter saw as the costs of the Bill's implementation.

Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) asked Mr Stead to elaborate on his assertion that the Bill's implementation would leave the "industry in chaos".

Ms Jabu (ANC) quoted the presenter as saying that the proposed legislation was not a priority for him. She asserted that, whereas this may be true, the Bill is a priority for the Committee. She asked Mr Stead how he views the Bill.

Dr Pheko (PAC) asked the presenter how he responds to the fact that people are killed with guns every day in South Africa.

Ms van Wyk (UDM) pointed out that Mr Stead had been inconsistent in both condemning the accuracy of statistics and also using them himself. She asked him what the truth is about statistics and also asked him not to try to mislead the Committee. She asked him to clarify his comments. She also asserted that unpaid television licences cannot be compared to the cost of lives lost from firearm use.

Finally, the Chairperson asked Mr Stead if he was suggesting that a priority of Black South African people is to own firearms?

Mr Stead answered the above questions together.

Mr Stead said he did not mean to make such a suggestion and apologised to the Chairperson for any misinterpretations. He said his comments were based on his perceptions of the plight of his customers and what he sees as their "desperation".

He said that the Bill does not claim to be a "disarmament exercise" but that he feels this is the Bill's hidden agenda. He fears the Bill's implementation will stop people from defending themselves against crime. His opinion is that the problem of crime is not being addressed. He agreed that the problem of television licences is insignificant when compared with loss of life.

He said information concerning second hand weapons cannot be extracted from the Register so he cannot respond to that question.

Mr Stead said the Bill is a priority for him but that, in his opinion, other priorities are more pressing since this Bill addresses legal firearms rather than legal ones. He suggested that effective policing reduces crime, not new laws.

The Chairperson asked Mr Stead what he thought could be done about the problem of police understaffing and challenged the idea that the possession of a firearm makes one able to defend oneself. The Chairperson said, in his opinion, the opposite is true.

Finally, the Chairperson said the presentation was based solely on assumptions.

South African Wingshooters Association
Mr Barry Kraut said that the Wingshooters Association primary issue is that the provisions in the Bill for Dedicated Hunter/Sportsman make no distinction between shotgunners and rifle/handgun shooters. They suggest that an additional category of firearm ownership, Shotgunnig, be added.

Discussion
Gen Viljoen (Freedom Front): Are you advocating that the amount of guns, in general, owned by one individual should not be limited?

Mr Kraut: No. I am only speaking of shotgun ownership. I am not qualified to speak for the practitioners of rifle/handgun sports.

Mr George (Chair, ANC): Do you have age restrictions on the members of The Wingshooters Association?

Mr Kraut: No. But a young child (under 6) does not handle a shotgun well. I do believe though that I should be able to take my son shooting to teach him a respect and knowledge of shotguns.

Mr George: So you do believe that this type of exposure makes youths more responsible?

Mr Kraut: Yes I do believe that. We do believe in the need to impress upon youth the respect and responsibilities of owning and handling a gun. I think children need to be educated properly to ensure safety and responsibility.

Business Against Crime
Mr Graham Wright stated that this organisation stated that it is strongly in favour of the bill, contingent on the assurance that the legislation is properly implemented and policed.

Discussion
Dr Geldenhuys (NNP): You mentioned that legal firearms are the source pool for illegal firearms. This statement does not comply with my understanding that only 1% of illegal arms were stolen or loss property. Could you please comment on this?

Mr Wright: I do not have the statistics in front of me. We are sure there are a portion of illegal stolen firearms on the streets. Some additional control over this would be beneficial in adding the fight against crime.

Mr Masithela (ANC): Could you clarify "lost opportunities"?

Mr Wright: Many businesses feel the loss of foreign investment and this is devastating to our various industries. That is what I meant by lost opportunities.

Mr George: What would you say to those in the arms and ammunition companies, who have presented before us, when they insist that the regulations that this bill proposes will result in loss of jobs and will be a detriment to their business?

Mr Wright: Business Against Crime does not represent firearms dealers. We mobilize resources to fight against crime. I do not represent their views here today.

South African Wingshooters Association
Mr Barry Kraut said that the Wingshooters Association proposes that there should be a distinction in the Bill between dedicated hunter/sportsman and rifle/handgun shooters.

Discussion
Gen Viljoen (Freedom Front): Are you advocating that the amount of guns, in general, owned by one individual should not be limited?

Mr Kraut: No. I am only speaking of shotgun ownership. I am not qualified to speak for the practitioners of rifle/handgun sports.

Mr George (Chair, ANC): Do you have age restrictions on the members of The Wingshooters Association?

Mr Kraut: No. But a young child (under 6) does not handle a shotgun well. I do believe though that I should be able to take my son shooting to teach him a respect and knowledge of shotguns.

Mr George: So you do believe that this type of exposure makes youths more responsible?

Mr Kraut: Yes I do believe that. We do believe in the need to impress upon youth the respect and responsibilities of owning and handling a gun. I think children need to be educated properly to ensure safety and responsibility.

Business Against Crime
Mr Graham Wright stated that this organisation stated that it is strongly in favour of the bill, contingent on the assurance that the legislation is properly implemented and policed.

Discussion
Dr Geldenhuys (NNP): You mentioned that legal firearms are the source pool for illegal firearms. This statement does not comply with my understanding that only 1% of illegal arms were stolen or loss property. Could you please comment on this?

Mr Wright: I do not have the statistics in front of me. We are sure there are a portion of illegal stolen firearms on the streets. Some additional control over this would be beneficial in adding the fight against crime.

Mr Masithela (ANC): Could you clarify "lost opportunities"?

Mr Wright: Many businesses feel the loss of foreign investment and this is devastating to our various industries. That is what I meant by lost opportunities.

Mr George: What would you say to those in the arms and ammunition companies, who have presented before us, when they insist that the regulations that this bill proposes will result in loss of jobs and will be a detriment to their business?

Mr Wright: Business Against Crime does not represent firearms dealers. We mobilize resources to fight against crime. I do not represent their views here today.

Alternatives to Violence Project

Mr Andrew Shackleton, the co-ordinator of the Alternatives to Violence Project, gave the presentation. See submission.

Discussion

Adv. PS Swart (DP) asked how the Project would solve the many intricate problems relating to gun-free zones, such as teachers who have to drive through dangerous areas to get to school but who then cannot bring their firearms into the school for safekeeping.

Mr Shackleton answered that that was really a regulatory issue but that there were solutions available such as a car safe in this instance.

Adv. Swart then commented on Mr Shackleton's comment in the presentation about the five-year registration period as being inordinately long. The member defended the clause by stating that five years was the necessary length of time needed to adequately register the firearm.

Mr Shackleton replied that if five years was the time needed, then it might be worth looking into the processes involved as five years is an overly long period of time.

Mr M A Mangena (APO) asked about the South African Police Service (SAPS) needing competency certificates as was suggested in the submission. Was this necessary as they were trained?

Mr Shackleton replied that if the SAPS were trained adequately than they should all pass. If they did not pass then that raised other issues about the competency of the policing of the nation.

The Chairperson asked what would happen if the police failed the competency tests.

Mr Shackleton responded that if the police cannot pass a firearm competency test thean they should not be carrying such weapons. On the other hand, it would be unwise to disarm all those who fail at the same time, but exceptions could be made within the regulatory framework to accommodate such situations.

Dr. B L Geldenhuys (NNP) asked Mr Shackleton to elaborate on the style of workshops that the Project uses to combat violence, especially within the education system.

Mr Shackleton discussed briefly the benefits and the successes of their programme. He stated that the workshops are highly successful as they use both cognitive and experiential training.

Gen C L Viljoen (FF) asked whether the organisation targets, in terms of acceptable ammunition amounts for citizens, considered that to properly self-defend oneself practice is needed.

Mr Shackleton replied that while he did not want to debate the notion of guns as a crime deterrent, the Project had failed to include practice in their estimates regarding the amounts of ammunition citizens require.

Network for Independent Monitoring (NIM)
See submission for content of presentation.

Discussion

Adv. Swart (DP) asked about the relationship between NIM and Gun Free South Africa. He then asked about the interpretation of some of the statistics given by NIM, particularly those that illustrated that KwaZulu Natal has the highest level of firearm murders in South Africa but the third lowest level of registered firearms.

NIM responded that they did in fact maintain a relationship with Gun Free South Africa, and as for the statistics, it may indicate a correlation between the number of registered firearms and violent crimes committed in the same area. He commented that most of the deaths are committed using illegal firearms, often stolen from their legal owners.


[Mark Jensen and the Friends of Legal Gun Owners appeared on the hearings programme but did not present]

 

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