Firearms Control Bill: public hearings

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15 August 2000
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

15 August 2000

Relevant Submissions:
Coalition of Defence Alternatives
South African Arms and Ammunition Dealers Association
Mr Dierk Luthi
Gun Control Alliance
South African Council of Churches
The Diocesan Synod of the Diocese of Cape Town (CPSA)
South African Air Rifle Association
Independent Complaints Directorate
Harold J. Drinn

The Coalition of Defence Alternatives was mainly concerned with South Africa's export of ammunition, over which it advocated a complete ban. The South African Arms and Ammunition Dealers Association suggested practical amendments to the proposed legislation that would reduce its unfavourable consequences for arms dealers such as the suspension of licences and matters relating to export permits. Mr Dierk Luthi, speaking as an individual in an unaffiliated presentation, made specific suggestions for amendments to the Bill that would bring it in line with his own personal vision of the role of firearms in society.

The Gun Control Alliance expressed its support for the Bill which looks beyond individual interests and aims for what is good for South African people as a whole.

The South African Council of Churches, drawing on its experience as community leaders, fully supported the Bill but raised its concerns and recommended some amendments surrounding the criteria for issuing competency certificates, minimum age restrictions, export controls, declaration of unfitness, firearms permits for employees of official institutions.

The Diocesan Synod was in favour of the proposed legislation and requested that the centralised database be watertight efficient. The South African Air Rifle Association and Mr Harold Drinn had reservations about certain sections of the Bill as affecting the ability of sports shooting enthusiasts to pursue this activity properly. The Independent Complaints Directorate requested the specific inclusion of their policing powers in the Bill and made certain proposals in this regard.

Coalition of Defence Alternatives
The presenter was Mr Terry Crawford-Browne and his submission focused on Chapter 8 of the proposed legislation, pertaining to the export of firearms. Mr Crawford-Browne argued that further proliferation of arms within Africa must be stopped, that South African export regulations to date have been inadequate. Consequently, he called for the establishment of a monitoring committee of the NCACC pending the conversion of Armscor and Denel to "peaceful purposes" and a "total prohibition on the export of armaments".

The Chairperson, Mr George, commented that Mr Crawford-Browne's presentation was beyond the scope of the Safety and Security Portfolio Committee and had more to do with Defence.

General Viljoen (FF) commented that the presentation was relevant only to Chapter 8 of the Bill and not applicable to the Act as a whole. He asked about the control of arms within South Africa and wondered how local crime was to be controlled without the availability of arms

The Chairperson said that the Committee would accept the invitation to look more closely at Chapter 8 of the proposed legislation and agreed with the presenter that South Africa needs a responsible arms trade policy, as well as responsible firearms use.

South African Arms and Ammunitions Dealers
The South African Arms and Ammunition Dealers Association did not clearly express any objection to the Bill as a whole but objections to the following aspects of the Bill were raised by Ms Nadine Prior:
Technical aspects - It claims that the Bill contains too many errors, most of which are a reflection of the lack of technical knowledge of the drafting team and lack of consultation with the organisations that possess the necessary expertise.

Suspension of a dealers' licence - It objects to the Bill's provision that the licence of the dealer be suspended for a certain period of time on the basis of a sworn statement and suggests a similar process to that used for issuing a search warrant. It also argues that the provision dealing with the suspension of a dealers' licence be restricted to avoid possible abuse and financial harm to the dealer.

Termination of the licence - It argues that the period of 14 days' notice regarding the termination of a dealers' licence is far too short and suggests it be extended.

Definition of a firearm - It disagrees with the proposed definition of a firearm on the basis that it is problematic and impractical.

Central Firearm Register - It contends that the Central Firearm Register needs an urgent update and cannot cope with its current load. The massive workload generated by the Bill will make the situation even worse.

Online reporting by dealers - It objects to the proposal that dealers be linked directly to the CFR and that all transactions be recorded live on the basis that currently the CFR is often offline. The Association believes that this will make it hard for dealers when they have to complete their legal transactions.

Compensation - It raises concerns that the compensation for certain types of firearms prohibited by the provisions of the Bill will be too costly.

All transactions through dealers - It objects to this requirement of the Bill and claims that it will not benefit society in any way.

Airguns - It strongly supports the proposed deregulation of airguns but however objects to the way this has been done. It suggests that airguns be classified by kinetic energy as it will be difficult to police them if classified otherwise.

Antique firearms - It supports the deregulation of antique firearms but has problems with the Bill's definition. It argues that the proposed definition of antique firearms will restrict the very type of firearm it seeks to permit.

Work on firearms - It calls for the expansion of the definition of "work" and suggests that dealers be excluded from the prohibition.

Administrative offences - It objects to the whole system of proposed administrative penalties on the basis that is unacceptable.

Export Permits - It argues that the requirement that all export permits be approved by the NCACC will be time consuming and will discourage clients. It proposes a system similar to the one used in the USA for exports to dealers in other countries because of the efficient way in which it claims to work.

Statutory powers - It raised its reservations regarding the provisions of the Bill.

Mr Geldenhuys (NNP) asked the organisation if they would support the deletion of the clause which says that a weapon can only be disposed though a dealer.
Ms N Prior replied that they would welcome it.

Mr Zondo (ANC) asked if they had considered the age restriction.
Ms Prior said that the age restriction should remain at 18. There is no reason not to teach young ones how to use firearms. They object to the raising of the age restriction.

Mr Dierk Luthi
Mr Dierk Luthi, speaking as an individual in an unaffiliated presentation, made specific suggestions for amendments to the Bill that would bring it in line with his own personal vision of the role of firearms in society. He drew on his experiences of growing up in Namibia and, later, living in Switzerland.

Mr Luthi was asked how he would define a stolen firearm.
He responded that, indeed, when a firearm is stolen it becomes illegal, but it is not the fault of the legal owner that the firearm has been stolen.

Ms Jabu (ANC) asked Mr Luthi his opinion on the motive of lowering the legal age of firearm ownership to 16, adding that she thought this was young.
Mr Luthi responded that he himself had used a gun at the age of seven or eight and was now teaching his own young children to be responsible firearms users.

The presenter was asked how many licences a firearm owner should be allowed.
Mr Luthi answered that there should be no set limit but that it depended on the differing capacities of the individuals in question. For example, just as a person can own as many cars as she can afford, so should it be with gun licences.

Gun Control Alliance
Ms Sheena Duncan, Chairperson of Gun Free South Africa, said she encouraged efforts to arrive at the source of the problem of possession of illegal firearms. She welcomed the integration of the responsibilities of the Customs Union and South African Police Services (SAPS) in an attempt to curb the smuggling of firearms.

In 1999 it was found that about 80% of illegal firearms had been stolen from their legal owners. Ms Duncan emphasised that the implementation of the proposed legislation will be much cheaper than the present inefficient, overburdened system. She welcomed the outsourcing approach by the Minister in the gun control system.

The presenter suggested that the legal age for the ownership of firearms be left to the discretion of the Registrar. This is based on the point made by many young people their organisation has encountered through workshops who even in their early twenties feel unprepared to own firearms.

Ms Duncan submitted that the renewal of licences be done in an efficient manner where the taking of fingerprints should be applicable to all aspiring firearms owners regardless of race. The presenter remarked that currently in most cases the taking of fingerprints is racially biased, and has been required of Africans only.

The Alliance argued strongly that the carrying of guns in back packs, rucksacks, handbags or brief cases in public places should be discouraged. as the firearms are not attached to the person and can be easily stolen. In this regard they propose the deletion of Section 87(1)(a)(ii).

Adv Swart (DP) asked how they view the arrangements for the safekeeping of firearms by their owners.
Ms Duncan responded that the police should be able to inspect how safe the place is where firearms are stored by their owners.

Mr Ferreira (IFP) asked the organisation's view on what constitutes a special need to own a firearm in the South African context.
Ms Duncan mentioned personal safety as well as for sport and hunting purposes.

Mr Viljoen (FF) asked the following questions:
- Whether the organisation has thought of farmers as a special category?
- What happens to a sixteen-year old who leaves school and becomes a farmer?
- What is the point of gun free zones in the light of attacks carried out at schools?

Ms Duncan replied:
- It might be advisable that a particular section in the proposed legislation look at farmers as a special category.
- The onus should rest with the Registrar to decide at his/her discretion.
- There is a need to deepen a culture of responsibility in our society not to carry firearms in places like schools. Parents should be able to bring up their children in a safe environment.

South African Council of Churches
The SACC registered its full endorsement of the Bill. It maintained that the indications were clear that the vast majority of violence was committed by guns and this was on the increase. The SACC argued that current national data indicates that firearms kill 33 people daily. Poor communities continue to experience high death tolls. The SACC believes that the answer lies in keeping track of the legal owners and police confiscating the illegal weapons. It labeled the previous Act regarding firearms control as racist and discriminatory against Black people as opposed to the way it treated Whites.

In its endorsement, the SACC expressed its uneasiness with some aspects of the Bill:
The criteria for the issuance of a competency certificate - the SACC believes that it is not unreasonable to refuse a new permit to someone whose permit has been suspended for domestic abuse and violence, particularly when the victim has been threatened with a firearm. It proposed that the declaration of unfitness should also include domestic abuse and asserted that a five year ban on gun ownership was too short a duration for a finding of unfitness. The Council asked that the time be changed to a lifetime ban on being eligible for a licence. It further suggested that the designated firearms officer should acquire information from those close to the applicant, such as religious ministers, and that family members of the applicant should be informed about the applicant's application for a firearm.

The SACC also proposed that the employees of official institutions should be held to high standards of competence and that requirements of competency should also strictly apply to them as well.

Firearms for self-defence. The SACC challenged the fact that two guns were to be allowed in self-defence and argued that licences issued in self- defence be limited to one per person. In addition, in order to be granted such a licence, an applicant should give reasons for needing it.

It challenged critics who have argued that people are vulnerable to violence regardless of gun-free zones and who refer to the St James Massacre. It argued that this incident happened during the apartheid era and that it was not enough reason to object to gun-free zones.

The Council proposed the following:
- The minimum age for an individual to have a gun be raised to 21.
- The NCACC should have veto power to suspend the licences of those violating gun rules.
- Section 80 (3) of the draft Bill should be reinstated.
- Current gun owners who have more than the required number of guns be allowed the excess guns.
- The use of alternative language for certain sections of the Bill without being bogged down by the political semantics of "may" (which gives much discretion to administrative clerks) and "must'' . It specifically referred to Section 123(2)

Mr Pheko (PAC) referred to the claim that 33 people are killed every day and asked how many of these guns used to kill these people were legal or illegal.
Rev Masango replied that this was a non-issue because illegal weapons start as legal weapons.

Mr Geldenhys (NNP ) asked whether gun-free zones do not become soft targets for criminals.
Rev Masango replied that arming people with guns will only lead people to retaliate and thus take violence to extremes.

Mr Ndlovu (IFP) referred to the proposal that the five year ban be made indefinite. He asked, "Do you mean that a person stripped of their gun licence cannot repent?"
Rev Masango said that repentance should be left to the Lord. Society should be concerned with changing people so that they behave in a socially acceptable way.

The Diocesan Synod
The Reverend John Oliver stated that they fully embrace the proposed Bill as the existing Arms and Ammunition Act is dangerously outmoded. Noting that an average of two hundred lives are lost to gun violence weekly, the Reverend supported the proposed competency testing and the regular renewal of licences.

He emphasised the need for a centralised database and registration procedure. This he felt could only be achieved once government has made the required resources available. The Reverend concluded that the Diocesan Synod would formally declare all their churches as gun-free zones.

The Chairperson asked the Reverend why he supports a centralised database when in fact the South African Council of Churches of which he claims to be a supporter, is in favour of a decentralised database. The Reverend answered that it does not matter whether it is centralised or decentralised, whichever one works best. His only concern was that it must be watertight.

South African Air Rifle Association
Mr Morris Corthots stated that their main concern was that the new regulations might negatively impact on their sport as many of their members participate in more than one discipline. He stated that airguns come in various calibres and are either propelled by spring, gas or compressed air. In addition he stated that airguns up to 4,5mm calibre are allowed in their competitions and that most airguns fall below the 8 Joules Muzzle Energy as is specified in the proposed Bill.

He proposes that all airguns below 5,56mm calibre should be exempted from licencing. Mr Corthots asked that in the event that the previous proposal lacks in viability, would the committee be willing to consider increasing the Muzzle Energy limitation to 10 Joules. This would be well within their match airgun limit.

Adv Swart (DP) asked Mr Corthots that if the committee allows airguns of 4,5mm calibre to be unlicenced would this satisfy him and he responded in the affirmative.

Advocate Swart (DP) asked him whether he only refers to airguns. He replied that smallbore arms have very different categories.

Independent Complaints Directorate
Advocate Karen McKenzi and Mr Johan Snyman felt that the ICD should be specifically mentioned in clause 98(a) of the Bill. Furthermore the declaration of unfitness to possess a firearm as set out in Chapter 12 should apply to official institutions like the South African Police Services (SAPS) as well.

Clause 112 should specifically state that ICD officers have the same policing powers which members of the SAPS enjoy with regard to inspection of premises. Their reasoning behind this is that it will prevent any misunderstanding during an inspection (ICD investigators are empowered in the same way as the SAPS in the South African Police Services Act, 1995).

Adv Swart (DP) asked why the ICD wanted to be identified by name as "a substantive organisation". Is it because they want the Registrar to give notice to them of any inspection, if so then why do they want no similar notice to be given to the SAPS of an inspection undertaken by the ICD.

Mr Snyman stated that they were actually arguing with tongue in cheek, but given their statutory mandate, their powers and the facts at their disposal they need to investigate the misuse of firearms by SAPS members. This not only applies to the commission of crimes but also to instances where SAPS members were negligent.

Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) asked what the reaction of the SAPS was to ICD's proposal regarding inspections of the SAPS. Mr Snyman stated that they have had discussions with the SAPS, and any issues not covered will be dealt with in regulations.

Adv Swart (DP) asked the presenters whether there is really a need for S112 or is it not preferable (in terms of inspecting for negligence) not to give notice. Mr Snyman stated that in the final stages no notice will be given, but the need for S112 is perhaps for security purposes.

Harold J. Drinn
Mr Drinn enquired as to why government is trying to ban legally owned sporting shotguns and bolt action rifles of owners, considering that they play no role in crime in South Africa. He felt that the shooter should be the focus of attention, not the type and amount of firearms owned by the person. A proper background check would be sufficient to ensure eligibility for firearms ownership.

Another point of concern to Mr Drinn was the provision relating to the restrictions on the amount of ammunition to be used per annum. This he felt was totally impractical especially to one who understands the spors-shooting discipline. He felt that the Firearms Registry is swamped with work as it is, so the question arises as to who will be keeping detailed records of ammunition usage. Mr Drinn stated that not only does it create unnecessary administrative work but it also lacks financial viability.

Furthermore he was shocked at the proposed forced sales of excess legal firearms. His primary concern was compensation. He proposed that compensation be paid by government at realistic market prices as in England and Australia. Mr Drinn concluded that instead of the government taking away firearms from legal owners, resources would be better spent on improving existing policing methods.

The Chairperson asked Mr Drinn to specify what his stance on legal firearm's ownership was. Mr Drinn answered that if a person has met with the licencing requirements and possesses a good enough safe, then there is no need to limit the number of firearms an individual may want to own.

The Chair asked Mr Drinn if he is suggesting that the problem of illegal firearms may be due to insufficient policing by SAPS. Mr Drinn stated that problem lies with insufficient manpower within the police service.


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