The Committee, together with the Civilian Secretariat of Police (CSP), gathered with many interested parties, organisations, bodies, the media and members of civil society as well as representatives from the SA Police Service (SAPS) to begin a two-day summit on firearm control in SA. The summit was a national dialogue and platform to discuss issues in relation to firearms by looking at the current firearm regime in SADC countries, the state of firearm management in SA and other SADC countries, the debate in civil society and communities on firearms, broader holistic issues of education, the impact of firearms in communities and safety. The tragic killing of the Bafana Bafana captain, Senzo Meyiwa, played a huge role in putting this issue on the national agenda. The summit allowed for discussion prior to the anticipated amendments to the Firearm Control Act, which the Committee would deal with during the middle of the year. The summit kicked off with a presentation on comparative firearms regimes in SADC countries presented by Mr Guy Lamb, Director of the SA Violence Initiative at the University of Cape Town. The interesting presentation looked at the firearm regulatory timeline in SADC countries, SADC legislative dynamics and developments since 2004, common trends in SADC firearm regulations, interesting regulations in other SADC countries and SADC firearm controls. The presentation also covered the impact of firearm control regulations in SA, minimum age licensing requirements, competency testing, safe storage of firearms, background checks, and policing operations in SA before looking at the specific case of the Sao Paulo homicide drop.
Ms Reneva Fourie, Acting Secretary of the CSP, then addressed the summit looking at the role of the CSP in oversight of firearms management. She discussed statistics and figures before looking at the role of the summit, importance of the Firearms Control Act and the role of the CSP in addressing firearm issues, which was largely related to regular quality assurance through monitoring and evaluation/research, policy development and awareness creation.
The floor was then opened for various rounds of questions and comments where there were inquiries around updated research and the need for access to quality, scientific, unbiased and accurate data for an evidence-based approach, disinclination of SAPS to apply the Domestic Violence Act and the effects of this on femicide, researching how firearms for destruction made its way into the illegal pool of firearms, SAPS members not having competency certificates but carrying firearms, the loss of firearms by SAPS members which were simply replaced at great cost without thought of how this fuelled the illegal trade of firearms and the need for a distinction between legitimate and illegitimate killings. Individuals from the floor felt that the focus was on firearm control when it should be on crime control, remarking that firearms did not kill people in as much as pencils did not misspell words. Other questions were around which aspects/clauses of the Firearms Control Act impacted on the reduction of gun deaths in SA, the sufficient use of background checks and the lottery system used in Botswana. Other comments were made on the need to put the police on par with the public in terms of firearms lost where the police simply faced internal disciplinary processes while the public faced a five-year jail sentence; the importance of getting the fundamentals of the Firearm Control Act correct before looking at further measures; and the need to understand the illegal firearm economy as no real studies were conducted on this. Invited guests asked about whether high rates of illegal firearm detection could be attributed to increased police operations and reporting, the motivation for a specialised gang unit given that the Western Cape had the highest rate of illegal guns, the cultural love for guns with some individuals not having a limit of the number of arms carried because of a certain status, the Act countering itself in certain provisions and whether this meant the whole Act needed to be considered, trends in the decrease in homicides and what correlations could be made.
Presentations were then made, the first delivered by Dr Sebastian Van As from the Red Cross Children’s Hospital. He looked at the impact of gun culture in SA, specifically at the effects of firearms on women and children. In terms of women, he discussed trends between owning legal firearms and femicide, suicides and security workers owning legal guns. In terms of children, he looked at some statistics, where the occurrences happened and the circumstances displaying devastating images of how the impact was visible. The presentation then moved onto whether the possession of firearms made one safer both in a global and local context, how violence was the leading cause of death in SA and firearms were the leading cause of non-natural deaths.
Mr Graeme Bloch, an education specialist and visiting Adjunct Professor at the WITS School of Governance, discussed violence in schools, particularly, the unacceptable levels of violence when schools were supposed to be safe havens and not a place for guns and gangs. He highlighted the importance of schools operating smoothly, which meant there was less chance for intervention and disruption. He was opposed to guns or police at schools and problems of metal detectors while concluding with some important questions to ask, including, where did guns at school come from? Where did communities disintegrate? Why did our people who called themselves leaders close schools or make their kids leave school for political ends?
Dr Lane Benjamin, a psychiatrist working in the communities she researched, presented the impact of gun culture in SA explaining generational and continuous trauma from various sources, the effects of this continuous trauma in communities perpetuating violence and resulting in negative resilience as a way of survival before concluding with the different levels of intervention.
The floor then questioned the problem of knives in addition to firearms and whether research was conducted into how the gang and gun violence and trauma created psycho-social disabilities limiting access to education. Comments were made on the need to militate against drawing conclusions that armed victims were much more likely to lose their weapons than use it successfully for self-defence and again the point was raised where the focus was on legal firearm owners instead of addressing the problems of poverty, gangs, the lack of education, trauma and mental illness.
In further discussion questions were raised relating to how gun free zones would work, the extent through which toy guns influenced behaviour later in life, sensationalising matters everyone was aware of through images in a presentation, the role of the criminal justice system and the functionalities to support existing legislation and its roll-out – a full view of this environmental and value chain was critical before developing strategies.
A further three panellists provided input under the theme “strategies for reducing illegal firearms in society”, the first panellist being Ms Adele Kirsten, Director of Advocacy and Lobbying at Gun Free SA. Ms Kirsten emphasised that it was important to address corruption and fraudulent practices along the entire firearm management chain. She turned to solutions in this regard speaking to the importance of having a systems-based approach, good record keeping, good tracking and tracing and good gun laws. She spoke of the importance of having a second-strategy to mop up illegal guns. The input also focused on a fascinating discussion of the importance of gun amnesties with the focus on its primary and secondary objectives, lessons to be drawn from SA’s amnesty in 2005 and factors for a successful amnesty. The presentation was concluded by looking at the “Turnoff the Tap” strategy to understand the movement of legal guns to the illegal pool of arms. The sources of leakages were outlined in the strategy as well as key interventions.
The next panellist was Mr Martin Hood, representing the security industry, who spoke to the need of having solutions. He felt that greater issues in society should be addressed instead of blaming legal firearm owners. He discussed the role of the criminal justice system as a whole in the issue and problems with the implementation of the Firearms Control Act.
The final panellist was Adv Norman Arendse who represented Dr Danny Jordaan on behalf of the SA Football Association (SAFA) and the Senzo Meyiwa gun committee that was established by SAFA following the untimely fatal shooting of the Bafana Bafana captain. Adv Arendse began by talking to the dangers of guns and the lethality of the object whether used discriminately or indiscriminately. He highlighted that football as a sport suffered disproportionately from gun violence because the sport was played in poor and disadvantaged areas and this was compounded by poor standards and under-resourced policing in these areas. He spoke further about the indiscriminate use of guns resulting in the fatal shooting of his 23-year old cousin in Hanover Park shortly after the death of Senzo, how such ordinary people affected or killed by guns did not get justice where even the perpetrators of the death of Senzo had still not been apprehended. Some SAFA proposals included that only accredited and properly vetted law enforcement officers, both public and private, should be permitted to possess handguns or small arms, amnesty for the return on an anonymous basis of all illegal firearms and for those owners of legal firearms to also return them if the weapon turned to disuse because it was evident that it was dangerous to possess a gun. Education was important around the use of firearms, and for all sports venues and arenas to be declared gun-free zones as was done with the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Upon return of guns following the amnesty, SAFA wished to erect a statue to honour the memory of Senzo Meyiwa at SAFA House and all communities should erect their own statues or monuments to commemorate those who had fallen as a result of firearms to serve as a daily reminder of the danger of firearms, the more effective use of laws, reliable and credible data which was imperative in the fight against crime and the use of firearms in particular, and SAFA also called on the Minister and Parliament to declare 9 July 2015, also known as the National Gun Destruction Day through an UN-initiative, Amnesty Day for the return of all illegal firearms and the voluntary return of legal firearms.
The last rounds of discussion on the first day of the summit highlighted the need for stricter gun control, the increase in femicide rates in SA and how this was linked to the patriarchal system of men owning guns for protecting the family when sometimes those very firearms killed the family. Others felt it important to make a distinction between the types of firearms recovered in the 2005 amnesty, squandering of state resources in terms of administering and on legal firearm owners who by definition were law abiding citizens already meeting the provisions of the Firearms Control Act; and strategies should instead address the actual problem in society of illegal guns. Emotions were raised when members from the floor cautioned against jumping on bandwagons when there were hundreds of ordinary people dying every day through various means not just guns (in reference to SAFA calling for a Senzo Meyiwa gun law). An interesting point was raised about the large quantity of unlicensed firearms in communities which were completely not catalogued – these firearms were owned as a means of protection and not to commission crimes because these communities could not afford armed response or to acquire a firearm through a dealer and also did not meet the provisions of the Act for licensed guns to be stored in fixed-place residences and bolted storage devices. Other questions related to SAFA community mobilisation, participation in sector crime and rural crimes forums and the practicalities of sports arenas being gun-free zones.
Chairperson's Introductory Comments
The Chairperson reminded everyone that a new Committee was introduced in May 2014 with three Members retained from the previous Committee. As per the Constitution, the National Assembly was there to represent the people and ensure government under the people, inter alia, by providing a national platform for the discussion of issues. This was precisely the goal of the Summit – a national forum for public consideration of issues with relation to firearms. The Committee already had various meetings on firearm management, the role and capacity of the Central Firearms Registry (CFR) and the Firearms Appeal Board. The Committee received a briefing from the SA Police Service (SAPS) management on 3 September 2014 regarding the action of the CFR. The Committee also visited the CFR on 22 September 2014 and resolved during this visit that SAPS should provide the Committee with special timelines in terms of the execution of action plans. – National Commissioner, Ms Riah Phiyega, would talk to this tomorrow. The Committee also adopted a report on this visit, which would be debated in the National Assembly during the next parliamentary term beginning mid-April. On 5 November 2014, the Civilian Secretariat (CSP) briefed the Committee on the Firearms Control Amendment Bill. It was at this meeting that the Committee resolved to host a national dialogue or summit on firearms in SA looking at the current firearm regime in SADC countries, the state of firearm management in SA and other SADC countries, the debate in civil society and communities on firearms, the broader holistic issues of education, the impact of firearms in communities and safety. The tragic killing of the Bafana Bafana captain, Senzo Meyiwa, played a huge role in putting this issue on the national agenda and he appreciated the role of the SA Football Association (SAFA) in this regard. The Committee felt it important to review this environment for gaps in the current legislation, gaps in the CFR, SAPS capacity and budgetary provisions to ensure the effective implementation of legislation. In the Budget Review and Recommendations Report (BRRR) of the Committee, dated 31 October 2014, the Committee made a number of recommendations including:
- The Committee recommended that the SAPS implements anti-corruption measures at the CFR and provided it with a full report on the implementation of those measures
- The Committee required an updated document on the progress of the turnaround strategy for the CFR
- The Committee recommended that the Department reviewed its IT systems with respect to firearm licence applications and report back on a quarterly basis. The Committee scheduled a hearing on this matter for 3 June 2015 and invited interested parties to participate in this process.
The summit was not only to discuss the Firearms Amendment Bill – this was a separate process where interested members could make comments by the end of March to the CSP. The comments would be incorporated before going to Cabinet, after which the Bill would be formally tabled in Parliament for processing by the Committee, hopefully by mid-June. During the latter process, ample time would be given to interested parties for written and oral submission. The summit was to promote a national dialogue on the SA envisioned for 2030, which included a society where everyone felt and was safe. A position paper from Gun Free SA (GFSA) based on SAPS Annual Reports, data from the CFR and parliamentary questions, found that in the last three years, civilians lost between 15 and 28 guns every day and SAPS between two and five daily. He trusted that discussion would be productive and fruitful.
Mr Eldred de Klerk, Facilitator, felt the right people were in the room to address the questions from the Chairperson’s introduction and welcome. 2030 was the milestone in terms of planning and government’s effort. Today, leadership was expected along with insight, experience, understanding and knowledge particularly of the firearms environment and its impact on society. The summit was an opportunity to listen and be heard, build mutual understanding, knowledge and insight, to educate each other, build broad consensus and exercise example and leadership. Over the two days there would be various inputs regionally and nationally. Firearms, legal or otherwise, had an impact on society. The panels would look at the impact of guns and the gun culture on society and strategies to reduce illegal firearms in society, as this was a key concern. Tomorrow there would be much more discussion and the Minister and Deputy Minister would attend. The focus was not on the talking heads on the platform but the richness in the room. The ultimate aim was to reach broad agreement, consensus and targeted outcomes.
A comparative analysis of firearm regulation in Southern Africa and beyond: practice and impact
[Mr Guy Lamb worked at the Centre for Conflict Resolution and had been working on the issue and impact of small arms throughout Africa and elsewhere for over 20 years. He was now Director of Safety and Violence at the University of Cape Town after it was launched a few years ago in an endeavour to get scholarship increasingly more engaged in social issues such as safety and violence, climate change, education and poverty. There was an attempt to do interdisciplinary research to bring together all parts of the university to focus on a crosscutting issue to get the best possible perspective. Before joining UCT he was at the Institute for Security Studies where he ran the arms management programme with a focus on implementation support to governments across Africa on firearm regulations, legislation and policy. He was involved in the UN negotiations and processes of firearm control].
Mr Lamb began by looking at SADC timelines in terms of firearm regulations, pre-2001 there was a diversity of regulatory controls throughout Southern Africa (mostly outdated). In 2004 the SADC Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and other Related Materials came into force, which aimed to promote cooperation between states and coordinate small arms and light weapons activities aimed at curbing and preventing the illicit manufacturing of firearms, ammunition and other related materials, as well as their excessive and destabilising accumulation, trafficking, possession and use. In 2008 the Southern Africa Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (SARPCCO) standard operating procedures were approved.
In terms of SADC legislative dynamics and developments since 2004, outside of SA there were low levels of legal firearm possession, no production and low firearm violence rates but there was also a slow track record of finalised legislative reform. Some practical progress was made in Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Tanzania. SA had been the legislative champion and innovator and made the most progress in legislative reforms and implementation.
Turning to common trends in SADC firearm regulations, Mr Lamb outlined that18 years was the most common minimum licensing age, background checks of varying degrees of rigour were conducted and there were some limitations on the number of licensed firearms. Competency testing was increasingly being considered, marking and record keeping was prioritised and surplus and obsolete firearms were destroyed.
After looking at some comparisons, some interesting regulations in other SADC countries included Botswana, which issued a maximum of 400 licenses each year (shotguns and hunting rifles) via a lottery system, handguns were banned and background checks were conducted for domestic violence and hunting offences. In Mauritius +/- 25 licenses were issued each year (mainly for hunting) and rarely for handgun licences.
SADC firearm controls, excluding those of SA, were marked by a lot of talk of reform but limited quantifiable change and implementation. No studies were conducted on the impact of firearm controls but homicide rates had remained relatively constant, while SA’s firearm homicide rate had declined dramatically.
On the impact of firearm control regulations in SA, researchers and gun control activists noted the reduction in homicide was due to more rigorous firearms control policy and legislation. SAPS (2012) noted “tougher controls on the ownership, possession and use of firearms had seen a marked reduction in the incidence of gun related crime in recent years”. Recent studies had shown correlation and suggested a positive regulatory effect, but what about the impact of specific regulations?
With the minimum age licensing requirements, some US studies suggested the minimum age licensing reduced access of children and youth to firearms, which then reduced possible suicides, homicides and unintentional shootings but there were no studies in SA to support or refute this. In terms of competency, only a very limited number of countries required firearm licence applicants to undergo a competency or safety test. There was no uniform approach and no rigorous studies had been undertaken on its impact (including in SA).
Turning to the safe storage of firearms, US and Canadian studies indicated that safe storage of firearms in homes can reduce firearm homicides, suicides and injuries. There were no specific recent studies of the impact of safes on firearm violence in SA. There were no studies on the impact of background checks in SA. In the USA there was the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993), which prohibited former felons, adjudicated mental defectives, former mental patients, juveniles, illegal drug users and addicts. In 2013 US President Barack Obama claimed that 1.5 million “wrong people” had been prevented from acquiring a handgun.
In terms of policing operations, studies of a select number of policing interventions suggested they can reduce firearm crime but this was largely limited to the US, namely, Kansas City, New York City, Indianapolis, Richmond, Boston and Pittsburgh and involved hotspot policing, targeted patrols, roadblocks, search-and seizure. Rigorous reviews of research said hot spots policing can result in a noticeable reduction in crime particularly where more problem-oriented policing approaches were pursued. In SA, from 2000, there was targeted policing operations and flagship intervention like Operation Sethunya (2003), which involved roadblocks, inspection of premises and ‘stop and search’ actions (hotspots). 14,000 firearms and 1.5 million rounds of ammunition were confiscated, 3,000+ arrests for illegal possession of firearms and/or ammunition and the destruction of large numbers of firearms. The 2005 amnesty encouraged the hand-in of unlawful/unwanted firearms - 104,000 firearms were handed-in.
With the specific case of the drop in homicides in Sao Paulo, Goertzel and Kahn (2009), Hartung (2009), Cerqueira (2010) and Risso (2014) showed a 70% reduction in the homicide rate between 2000 and 2010. This was attributed to more effective policing methods, including the better enforcement of strict gun-control legislation.
In SA, there was likely a combo effect. The CDC review of US studies (2005) found the evidence available from identified studies was insufficient to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed singly or in combination. A finding that evidence was insufficient to determine effectiveness meant that we do not yet know what effect, if any, the law had on an outcome—not that the law had no effect on the outcome.
The Role of Oversight in Firearms Management
Ms Reneva Fourie, Acting Secretary: Civilian Secretariat for Police, noted this Firearm Summit was viewed so seriously that Cabinet requested a report on its deliberations. The stubborn prevalence of high levels of violence was displayed in the crime stats released in September last year where:
- Incidents of murder increased from 60 259 in 2012/13 to 70 668 in 2013/14
- Murder rate increased from 45 per day in 2012/13 to 47 per day in 2013/14: five times higher than the global average of 6 murders per day
On 16 and 17 April the national dialogue on crime and violence would take place as per the Minister’s request but area specific dialogues had already taken place. The first was on police conduct and now there was the summit on arms. The debate on police conduct called for demilitarisation of the service and a humanised approach to policing but this was juxtaposed that crime was increasingly violent in SA and the lives of policemen and women were in danger. The question today was how to exercise better control of firearms in society, reducing levels of violence juxtaposed against the reality of a very well controlled use of guns in sporting and hunting that contributed significantly to tourism and the economy. This was a complex debate. A third of all homicides were as a result of the use of firearms. According to SAPS stats, the use of illegal firearms and ammunition occurred at a rate of 29.1 per 100 000 people in 2013/14 – this rate was largely stable over the last 10 years but was still alarmingly high. The Western Cape had the highest use of illegal firearms and ammunition at 46.7 per 100 000 people while the Northern Cape had the lowest at 8.1 per 100 000. Over the past 12 years, there had been significant changes in the firearm control regime in SA, which impacted on both the use and distribution of firearms, and there were advancements in understanding the nature of gun-related deaths through innovation of the national injury and mortality survey. Studies showed the number of registered firearms and gun owners decreased from 3.5 million guns amongst 2.4 million owners in 1994 to approximately 3 million guns among 1.8 million owners in August 2011. This was matched by a massive 90% reduction in gun dealers from 2000 – 2006. While some would say this was laudable it also said something about the efficiency of the CFR, which also needed to be debated in terms of the speedy and effective licensing of legal guns.
The Firearms Control Act established a national firearms control and management system to regulate the supply, possession, safe storage, safe transfer and use of firearms to prevent the criminal or negligent use of weapons. The Act significantly strengthened regulation over the possession and use of firearms. It introduced a two-tier licensing system – a would-be owner’s first application to be deemed fit to obtain a firearm license was issued with a competency certificate. Then there was the application for a firearm licence to license the person but not register the gun. Whilst the Act did much to reduce the pool of legal firearms that flowed to the illegal pool, last year’s figures showed 5194 privately owned firearms were stolen and 233 private firearms were lost. Firearms stolen and lost from state officials including the police, defence and correctional services also remained too high – 1769 sate owned firearms were lost and 199 stolen from state officials in the past year.
There was some resistance to the amendments to the Firearm Control Act but the figures showed there was definitely a need to introduce the concept of biometrics. Another challenge in SA was the cross-border trade and contraband firearms smuggled into the country.
Ms Fourie then discussed the role of the CSP in addressing all these issues, noting the change of social attitude to the possession and carrying of firearms and violent crime in general was important. Included in this were various components of demilitarising the police. Some of the matters invited for debate included, should police be allowed to take guns home? Who in the police should be allowed to carry a gun? And the same applied to society. Legal firearms entering the illegal pool were in need of stricter regulations hence the amendments including the management of state owned firearms through negligence and corruption and the reconsideration of control over which private citizens could have licensed firearms and the number of firearms allowed to private owners. Amnesty encouragement to reduce the number of legal and illegal guns, public awareness and education campaigns around gun laws and the health risks associated with poor firearm management was necessary. Amnesty should be followed by the destruction of collective guns and ammunition. Gun amnesties had yielded successful results in Brazil. Another role for the CSP was to provide for regular quality assurance through monitoring and evaluation/research and policy development - the CSP was currently undertaking research on collating and analysing all firearm related data from the year 2000, which would help to identify to what extent and how the CFR and Act contributed to changing the dynamic environment. The aim of the study was to ensure accurate data on the supply, possession, safe storage, transfer and use of firearms. It also aimed to explore the number of firearm applications made at police stations per year, per province, to determine the process of destruction of firearms at each province and identify which parts and related mechanisms of the Firearms Control Act contributed to the reduction in gun deaths and gun-related crime. It was important to develop a comprehensive understanding of the illegal firearms market, and ensure quality data and access to police data for analysis and efficient management of resources. At present, the data linked to legal and illegal firearms, was available in a very disparate manner so it was important to collate the data to demonstrate where the linkages existed. The CSP hoped to create awareness among judges and magistrates as to who could retain firearms upon conviction of a violent offence and the rapid implementation of the border management agency (with the Department of Home Affairs) to ensure the movement of cross-border arms was addressed in the immediate term. The NDP recognised active citizenry and coordinated partnerships for citizens’ safety. All state parties should work together with non-state bodies to establish safety needs and develop strategies to fulfil them. Addressing violent crimes remained a priority for the CSP.
Ms D Kohler Barnard (DA) was concerned the research highlighted from Mr Lamb’s presentation only went up to 2007 – why was this so? Things had changed dramatically since. The disinclination of many SAPS stations to write up domestic violence issues when looking at femicide meant someone could apply for a firearm licence and the name would not be in the domestic violence register. The Committee had torn its hair out at the disinclination of stations to apply the Domestic Violence Act. Had the handing in of firearms for destruction then becoming a source of illegal firearms been researched? Currently 27 000 SAPS members did not have competency certificates yet carried firearms – if these members shot someone it would be a big issue in court because they carried firearms illegally – what was the CSP doing about this? Lost firearms in SAPS were simply being replaced at enormous cost, according to her calculations, R6 million a year. Basically SAPS was fuelling the illegal firearms trade but not a single member had been dismissed because of lost firearms. There were reports that firearms were lost in restaurants, toilets, all over the place and nothing was done. She had asked the Minister whether there were serial offenders in SAPS but there was no idea.
Mr Lamb explained the various sources of data he drew on where some data was segregated provincially and said it was difficult to get a national picture post 2007. He was not in a position to answer questions on the Domestic Violence Act. With the destroyed firearms finding their way to the illegal pool, this was very concerning but he had seen no studies on it apart from media analyses. It was certainly something to be addressed in terms of corruption and management of certain stations.
Ms Fourie said from the side of the CSP there were two interventions hopefully to assist in tightening accountability mechanisms for SAPS members who misplaced or lost firearms and ballistics sampling; and biometric marking to start with SAPS so that of if a firearm was lost and recovered, the person in question could be better held responsible.
Mr John Welsh, SA Gun Owners Association and the National Collectors Federation of SA, observed that stats were not up to date and those that were available were not truly indicative of the current situation in SA. For example, to sate how many homicides occurred per day in SA was a blunt but wrong statement, as it did not distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate killings when there was a major difference between the two. The Constitution stated the right to life that ensured one had the right to defend one’s life. Unfortunately little or no emphasis was placed on this and no reference had even been made to this in the first presentation. The summit placed emphasis on firearm control where it ought to be placed on crime or people control because at the end of the day, people who committed crimes were civilly irresponsible and disobedient to the laws of the country. Ms Fourie highlighted the Northern Cape had the lowest illegal firearm rate but she did not say the province had the highest homicide rate in the country – sharp instruments, mostly, were the cause of death to those people and this indicated the complexity of the problem. Firearms by themselves were not the problem but were merely an issue and government and instruments of government needed to look at the real problem rather than the symptoms.
Mr Lamb said there were no good studies on legitimate killings so it was difficult to draw conclusions on this. There was a study in the USA by John Lott that was quoted a lot but when asked for the data, the author could not provide it or the names of the research assistants leading to the Journal of Science, one of the biggest journals in the world, accusing John Lott of research fraud. There were other studies in the USA but it was difficult to draw conclusions. In SA there was anecdotal evidence but the real impact could not be stated from a purely scientific point of view. With the advanced statistical models available, the availability of firearms changed dynamics in certain areas and made the potential for lethal violence much higher. Firearms were not neutral objects and had increased lethality – people and firearms should be looked at for control.
Ms Fourie thought it was quite correct to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate killings. Multiple variables contributed to violence in society and gun control was just one aspect. Sharp objects were significantly linked to homicides throughout the country not just in the Northern Cape. This did not negate the need for a discussion on arms; the summit allowed for to hear the views of all sides to come to an amicable solution to capture in policy interventions to make SA a safer and less violent country.
Ms Adele Kirsten, Gun Free SA, was interested, from the first presentation, in the aspects/clauses of the Firearm Control Act that impacted in reducing the number of gun deaths in the country. One way to deal with it was to use the Frank Zimring standard to regulate the type of weapon, use of the weapon and user. It was used in other countries as well and could be a useful framework to see what was effective.
Mr Lamb argued that quite rigorous framework was needed in countries of high violence as seen in studies in Brazil, which had better data to look at a longitudinal study of the impacts on people. The point was to look at what was being done well and what was not, particularly with controls, and which would allow for more responsible firearm use. Increased firearm losses did mirror increased violence and a framework was needed to explore this further. Conclusive answers would not be found.
Ms A Molebatsi (ANC) asked Mr Lamb about the decline in homicides attributed to good legislation and tougher control, but there were still homicides, what could be done to increase this decline? She sought more information on the lottery system used in Botswana. Were background checks sufficiently done in the case of SA?
Mr Lamb indicated that it was important to look at the places which had particularly high levels of firearm violence, in the short to medium term, for focused policing to collect and confiscate illegal firearms in these particular areas. This was happening in many respects but the outcomes were not studied in an effective way. The lottery system was fairly unique to Botswana where government officials, police and the public who wanted a personal firearm licence, the application was put in the lottery with 200 licences for hunting rifles and 200 for shot guns, after which a background check was done and if one did not qualify one did not get the licence. It was difficult to determine the impact of the system but it seemed to work well for Botswana although the hunting industry was concerned about the effect on tourism. SA probably had some of the most rigorous requirements when it came to background checks if the letter of the law was followed. When effectively done, background checks could make a major difference in ensuring individuals who should not have firearms did not get them. He provided some anecdotal remarks from the studies on youth violence he was involved in where youngsters low down on the criminal chain said they did not use guns because it was more difficult to access an illegal firearm than say, 10 years ago. It was important to understand the nature of the illegal firearm economy and how gangsters and criminal groups actually acquired firearms. SAPS probably had some intelligence on this from recovering weapons.
Mr Martin Hood, representing the security industry, said a basic fundamental was that with better policing came lower levels of crime – this should be kept in mind throughout the discussion. He wholeheartedly endorsed the policy of licensing the person and registering the gun. With the amendments, he saw some good things and some very bad things. He had a fundamental problem with greater discipline of the SAPS over their firearms in that a policeman would only be subjected to an internal inquiry for loss of a firearm while everyone else faced up to five years in jail if convicted of the offence of losing a firearm. He suggested the police officers be brought on par with the public or vice versa. He agreed there was not a great deal of scientific or unbiased data and something the Committee needed to look at was the mechanisms in the Firearms Control Act for police to make their actions known through submissions of annual reporting – he was not aware that annual reports were submitted at all or on a regular basis. The fundamentals of the legislation needed to be addressed first before new tiles were laid.
Ms Fourie agreed that getting the fundamentals of the Act for compliance was the first priority and with competency certificates, the processes needed to be tightened up. There was an issue with data gaps in terms of collation and quality – the CSP was currently doing research on collating and analysing all firearms related data since 2000, including death and injury, to allow for accurate data on the supply, possession, safe storage, transfer and use of firearms including destruction and gaps in this regard including gun sales.
Mr P Groenewald (FF+) said it would be beneficial if the police were brought on par with the public in terms of lost firearms. Guns did not kill people as much as pencils did not misspelt words. One should be very careful using stats because one could say 95% of people died in a bed so stay away from the bed because it was a dangerous object. He asked Mr Lamb if he made a distinction about stats on homicides occurring from state departments and those from the public.
Mr Ken Daniel, Special Adviser to SA Gun Owners Association, thought Mr Lamb was 100% correct in saying there needed to be an evidence and data- driven approach and it was also dangerous to extrapolate studies from the US for a SA situation – these were two different societies grappling with different issues. He was concerned that there were no studies on the use of firearms for self-defence in SA when there was a section in the Act that permitted licensing under this. It was important to understand the extent to which firearms were used in self-defence and for this to be balanced against the broader issues. There needed to be a better idea of the sources of illegal firearms and this needed to be understood in order for it to be tackled bearing in mind we live in a country with very porous borders. It was also a misconception that firearms were difficult to manufacture. The competency process also needed to be considered and whether it was being adequately implemented. Background checks were not being done or not being done properly and this was a significant concern. He was totally opposed to illegal firearms and background checks not being adequately done. It was not so much the number of firearms but who was in possession of them, which came back to the competency issue. Firearms were also only a part of the problem – Stats SA showed that for the last 10 years at least, for every assault related death that occurred with a firearm, more than 50 people had been murdered with sharp objects. This was less a firearm crisis and more a social crisis although firearms played a part and an appropriate framework was needed.
Ms Fourie agreed there was a social crisis with many people in SA being too violent. Even with protests, people destroyed things and injured others. There were high levels of domestic violence and child abuse when we should be nurturing, building and protecting the future. This social crisis needed to be acknowledged and confronted with all organs of civil society and state. There would be an opportunity to debate the White Paper on Safety and Security to provide a framework.
Mr Z Mbhele (DA) referred to the first presentation and asked about the impact of targeted policing interventions. He was struck by the stats highlighted by Ms Fourie that the Western Cape had the highest rate of illegal firearms. Such stats were reliant on police work and police detection which allowed for the stats to be turned into data to report on. An increase in domestic violence figures could be indicative of more reporting and police work rather than an actual increase in the crime. Were the high rates of illegal firearms detected the result of higher rates of police operations? If the Western Cape had the highest rate of illegal guns, he imagined this was gang-related but was there data to back this up? Would this not be a strong basis to motivate for a specialised gang unit in the Western Cape? He was concerned about the basic fundamentals of operations not being addressed by the CFR for optimal implementation of the current regime. This was seen in the Committee’s oversight trip with records piled in corridors because there was no space, defective windows with wind blowing in, pigeon excrement seeping in through the windows and bird lice causing some staff to take off sick because of these conditions, fire hazards with wood lice and rats also being a problem.
Mr Patrick Mongwe, Chairperson of the Firearms Appeal Board, noted it was clear that, in comparison to other SADC countries, SA was experiencing a high volume of firearm possession both legally and illegally. Was this a cultural problem of the love of guns? Not very long ago there was a culture where people carried spears and knobkerries in the name of culture. This culture was no longer seen because it was discouraged. This was replaced with the love of firearms and this was the norm. Was it not an option to look into whether this culture was sustainable? He had no doubt that in certain communities and with individuals of a particular status there was no limit on the amount of firearms owned. This status was based on associations and aggregations as an individual. He agreed that doing background checks was good and helpful but provisions in the very same Act also defeated it. For example, those convicted of an offence, such as domestic violence and assault, did not qualify for a competency certificate but the very same Act said if the option of a fine was paid, one qualified. After five years, someone convicted of murder or domestic violence, qualified as well. He felt the Act needed to be reviewed.
Mr Lamb replied that within in SA, culture was a loaded term and there might be micro cultures such as sport shooters, hunting communities, collectors and enthusiasts and there were certainly changes in how weapons were carried and where they were carried in terms of restrictions of the law. The violent culture in SA cut across races and age groups and violence was used to resolve conflict. This was a complex problem to be understood. An ethnographic study was done last year on the youth gang phenomenon in Soweto, which was very different to what was seen in the Western Cape. Where young boys engaged in armed conflict in a battle kind of sense going at each other with pangas, golf clubs and knives, the anecdotal evidence shown was that the youth said no firearms were used because they wanted to get close where firearms created distance. This showed the complexity of the concept of violence and understanding masculinity even though the case was quite isolated. Studies looking at domestic and child violence also explored why more men perpetrated violence.
Mr L Ramatlakane (ANC) asked Mr Lamb why there was a lack of data and evidence-based approaches, was it because of issues of capacity in terms of collaborating? What was the barrier to obtaining this information? Were there any comprehensive evidence-based studies on minimising the issue of crime especially homicides in the context of SA because the environment in which it occurred was important?
Ms Fourie added there were challenges related to access to information but it was improving and she was certain it would improve for the CSP to analyse the data and present it in a way that was palatable to the public.
Mr Lamb answered that pervious management of the CFR was not willing to part with any data due to concerns of accuracy, security and criticism with court cases on this right up at the level of the Constitutional Court. Because the data was not released, there was not a great level of understanding and it was a welcome trend that SAPS and the CSP was being much more open in sharing information.
Ms P Mmola (ANC) asked who must ensure that firearms submitted in an amnesty were safe.
Mr Paul Oxley, Sport Shooters Forum, was troubled for many years by the rate of decrease of firearm homicides, which was steadily declining since 1994 almost to the present. The rate of decrease slowed down in 2004/05 when the Firearms Control Act began to be implemented, which seemed to indicate the Act actually inhibited the rate of decline or decrease in firearm-related homicides. The rate picked up again slightly in 2009 when the processing of licensing civilian firearms increased, which seemed to indicate that the much discredited John Lott study was closer to the mark in the experience of SA. He asked if there was an explanation for this showing the contrary. On intimate femicide studies, the datasets of updated studies were removed so one did not know where the information was coming from. The update reiterated the original study fascinatingly showing that in communities where access to firearms was easier, it strongly correlated with the lowest rates of intimate femicide. Conversely in those areas where firearm access was more restricted, the rate of femicide increased – this seemed to indicate the wrong end f the problem was being looked at. However, correlation did not always equal causation.
Mr Lamb stated enough of the decline was not understood but some of the answers lay in policing and soaking up firearms in areas of high violence. It was useful to look at areas of high violence such as Nyanga to ask the extent where the use of a firearm helped in protecting oneself in terms of self defence because there were more than 300 homicides in a year in a place like Nyanga compared to somewhere like Claremont. The issue was about micro-studies and context because sometimes looking at things in an aggregate way lost the detail. Contexts varied and some police stations were better than others – the Khayelitsha Inquiry into Policing showed the problems of general police response to crimes vs. Claremont or Mowbray.
Ms Fourie said, in conclusion, she was a policy analyst by background and had come to the summit to listen. Cabinet instructed the CSP to come up with solutions to this policy problem, drawing on the expertise in the room. Primarily the role of the CSP at the summit was to present some of the facts but more to listen and absorb and interpret the discussions for processing and designing policy solutions around this. The CSP was not present to impose their views on anyone but to listen.
Impact of Gun Culture on Society
Dr Sebastian Van As began by noting violence was a leading cause of death in SA and firearms were the leading external cause of non-natural deaths. With gunshot statistics (in 2000), more than 800 children were killed with firearms, total homicides amounted to 25 000 per year, over 50% of these homicides were due to gunshots and there were 22 000 attempted murders with firearms per year. Guns in society affected men, women and children.
There were particular effects of guns on women where a national femicide study 1147 (one of every three) women were shot by firearms and nearly half were killed by intimate partners. With legal firearms, ownership of legal firearms was strongly associated with women killed – there was a seven times greater risk of being murdered by an intimate partner if he owned a legal gun. In terms of suicides, one in five of the perpetrators committed suicide after killing a partner where most of them had a legal gun – 80% of these double murders could have been prevented. With security workers and legal guns, 10% of the men who killed their partners were employed as security workers – 89% of these security workers used legal guns.
In terms of children and gunshot-related injuries in children, a systematic review was conducted over 20 years (1991 – 2010) and there was the Childsafe SA Database which presented numbers on all child injuries treated at Red Cross since 1991 i.e. over 160 000 children including all firearm-related injuries to children. Most of the occurrences occurred not far from the children’s home in informal settlements/townships, 50% occurring in and around the home and 40% in the road or pavement. The Red Cross trauma unit only treated children under the age of 12 years and was seeing over 10 000 patients a year. With the circumstances of children (476) being shot, 43% were caught in cross fire, 9% deliberately shot by an adult, 3% deliberately by a child, 2% were playing with a gun, 5% were shot by gangsters and 14% of cases were accidental.
Dr Van As then discussed the Firearm Bill, of which the biggest impacts for him, were to raise the minimum age to own a gun from 16 to 21 years old, introduce competency certificates, where previously anyone could buy a gun and made provisions for gun free zones in places of worship, schools and hospitals. The first parliamentary hearings were held in 2000 before the Bill was adopted in 2002 and it was adopted in 2004.
Did the possession of a firearm make one safer? Studies in the USA showed that from all shots fired in the home or yard, only 3% were in self-defence of which nearly half were in self-defence against a family member. Only 1.5% of shots fired were in self-defence against a stranger. Studies in SA showed 84% of violent crimes involved firearms. Of people in possession of a firearm for self defence purposes, only 8% wore it at the time of the attack. People who possessed firearms for self-defence were four times more likely to have it stolen than used.
Violence in Schools
Mr Graeme Bloch, visiting Adjunct Professor, WITS School of Governance, said it was unacceptable to have the level of violence we have in our schools. School should be a safe haven where you felt loved and going to school was not a place to be raped. Bullying should stop and at school, gangsters had no place while guns had little or no place at schools or at home.
It was important to feel safe at school especially given the terrible home circumstances of many kids. Often just a hug or some love what was got students through the day or year of achievements. Teachers can hardly tackle the inequalities that made poverty or hunger so much a reality for our young. Teachers were hardly to blame for these issues although they tended to be. While we as the public had much to blame them for, many teachers put their hands in their pockets to feed or transport youngsters in their charge or to make sure that school was a place for them to feel safe. He felt for teachers who dealt with gangs in school.
Heads of school, or officials, had much to do to make sure school ran smoothly. The more smooth the school, the harder to intervene and disrupt. The better departments were run, the easier to devise strategies to combat what was now a national problem, not just in the Western Cape. This needed to be discussed with learners who also hated disruption and this was the bottom line.
Mr Bloch was opposed to guns or police in schools so it did not help, mostly, to have metal detectors or cops at the gates – the lessons were too problematic. Where did guns at school come from? Where did communities disintegrate? Why did our people who called themselves leaders close schools or make their kids leave school for political ends? These questions needed to be asked and they were being asked. While we wanted parental involvement in schools, often they got it wrong. Yet guns in the hands of young people were even worse than guns in the hands of older people - where did they get them from? They got them from guns in the hands of their elders (or from the militarised police if they supplied a gang). There was much to do to end inequality and poverty, remove violence from our communities and schools, remove guns and knives from the hands of kids and thus free our schools.
Impact of Gun Culture in SA
Dr Lane Benjamin said it always got bandied around in the discussion that firearms did not kill people – people killed people. Today she would be speaking of the people who killed people sometimes with guns. She would be speaking from her experience in communities she worked in (in the Cape Flats), looking more specifically at the illicit use of guns and the effects of trauma, which was her specialised field of work. The problem was that most issues tended to be looked at in a silo when so many things were intrinsically connected. It might be overwhelming to look at everything at the same time but at some stage we needed to get messy. She would bring in the mental illness of violence.
At the heart of many issues lay generational issues of continuous trauma because people were living in violence daily. This had impacted society, communities, families and individuals in a multitude of systemic ways – this was mirrored in the trends seen elsewhere in the world such as in Australia with the Aborigines, in Latin America and India where over generations there was an increase on interpersonal violence, domestic violence, child abuse and substance and alcohol abuse. She saw this in Hanover Park where over time the intensity of violence increased and much younger children were involved in violence.
Violence affected everyone and becoming a perpetrator of violence was not determined by race, gender or economic status but in SA we knew violence was disproportionate to lower income areas geographically and among black men and boys. With the rate of exposure to violence, looking at a polyvictimisation study from Hanover Park, from 617 adolescents aged 12–15 years, it was found that:
- 98.9% had witnessed community violence
- 68.9% had seen someone get shot in the neighbourhood
- 41.3% had witnessed someone threatening another with a gun
- 76.9% had witnessed domestic violence
- 47.7% seen a dead body in the street, excluding funerals
- 93.1% of participants had experienced more than one type of violence
- 55.2% had experienced four or more types of violence.
These stats were what she witnessed working in the communities and the continuous exposure to violence desensitised these children in some way preparing them to kill. Two major effects of this continuous trauma meant that people became neuro- psychologically programmed for violence where the brain was actually changed based on experience and exposure to the environments which would influence human behaviour and reaction ultimately. In this kind of environment, the brain’s main function was to keep one alive because safety was the main priority. When violence was an everyday experience, the brain became incubated in terror, threat orientated and aggressive so the child’s brain became wired for danger that danger would be seen even where it did not exist. There was often a disconnection between the child’s own feelings and the feelings of others and this limited the capacity for rational thinking. Operation of the primitive survival brain was depended on which was impulsive, aggressive and reactive. This pattern was seen constantly in children, youth and their parents. Families were not able to provide nurturing safe spaces for kids to grow because many of the parents themselves functioned on the primitive survival brain and there were no good healthy parenting examples in the community to emulate. Children then learnt they could not trust adults and their parents and the continuous exposure to violence and trauma completely shattered their ability to trust. When you could not trust you could not easily trust human beings and this reduced the capacity for empathy, which made it much easier to kill or harm someone else. Drugs also played a role in coping with all the overwhelming negative emotions and they were easily available. Drugs, however, escalated impulsivity and the ability to control one’s own emotions.
Dr Benjamin explained that in such environments, people often felt powerless and this was not addressed enough. Violence was modelled as the solution to achieving power and control and children who witnessed violence in the home continuously, eventually internalised it and then used violence later to resolve everyday types of conflict. Authority figures, other than parents, reinforced trauma in the way they disempowered, humiliated and disrespected the youth in poor communities often pushing them into becoming perpetrators. In a background of injustice in the country and all forms of racial and other prejudice, this created a toxic combination for legitimising aggression and violence. Society then made it easier for young boys to join gangs and own guns. Owning a gun gave a boy access to the things he needed – power, safety, control, brotherhood, family and a means to generate income. Violence was seen as morally acceptable for when one felt disrespected and threatened but such messages were learnt in the family and reinforced through the culture of the community still being ignored by society. Pulling the trigger of a gun in this context was dangerous because it was so quick, efficient and required little social investment. She had come to see that violence was never senseless given the psychological states of these families and communities – the impact of this trauma was termed negative resilience because it as a way of surviving a dangerous environment. This did not mean the acts were condoned but we needed to reframe the conceptualisation.
Dr Benjamin said there were different levels of interventions like dealing with corruption at international and local spaces especially with facilities that placed illegal guns back into circulation. Dealing with this would place trust in the system. It was important to have competent, effective and trustworthy criminal justice processes. It was one thing to get rid of guns but we also have to disarm people’ minds of people living with aggression. Without this, the aggression would remain and people would find other ways of acting out this aggression through making zip-guns, which she saw a lot of in communities, knives, fists, bricks and sexual violence. Glasgow was the knifing capital of Europe but it was said that if the city had the rate of gun availability as in the USA, it would be the most violent nation in the world. Assault stats were also the real data and less so mortuary or death stats. There needed to be real solutions to a much broader set of problems of which gun violence was one. To take it more seriously, mental health needed to be made a priority in SA. Too often trauma was not addressed because it was ugly, complicated and messy but we needed to. Civil society had taken the brunt of the work on itself with very few resources. It was not the responsibility of one sector to provide solutions but concerned education, health and social development, as the effects of trauma were pervasive. Interventions could not have a stop and start but solutions required relationships and process of integrity otherwise the trauma of violence would continue to affect society. Everyone in the room needed to take responsibility as a parent, teacher, policeman or woman, as a government official and as an adult taking responsibility for oneself and the role played in the perpetuation of violence in society.
Someone from the floor, representing a Facebook group in his personal capacity, thought that knives were a major problem from the research he had done. He asked Dr Van As how many of the cases mentioned resulted in deaths or were not even admitted to hospital.
Mr Johan Schoeman, Gun Owners SA, representing 1.8 million South African’s most law-abiding section of society, noted that Dr Van As highlighted a gun in the house was four times more likely to be used against the owner than in self defence. This came from a study conducted by Mr Altbekker which stated that the methodology of the study militated against drawing conclusion that armed victims were much more likely to lose weapons than use them successfully. He sought Dr Van As’s comment on this. The golden thread running through issues of violence in society was poverty, gangs, and lack of education, trauma and mental illness. This was what needed to be addressed but instead, efforts were being focused on legal gun owners and this was not addressing the problem at all.
Ms Valdi Van Reenen – Le Roux, Director: Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture, asked if there were any stats that spoke to children who accessed health facilities specifically for mental health. There was a right for learners to access education and she saw gun and gang violence as part of psychosocial disabilities given the effect on a learner’s right to education. Was any research done on the rights of children affected by psychosocial disabilities of this particular nature in SA?
Mr Bloch said schools could do some things but not all things. For a child we had half a chance to join a gang or no chance to get beyond matric, why not join a gang. Gangs provided respect and many other things including guns. This was a multifaceted issue involving gangs, trauma, mental health, education, knives and guns. He was happy one of the issues was being tackled. With poverty and inequality, it was known that living in a lousy area meant going to lousy schools so poverty and inequality was a big issue to address as a nation.
Dr Benjamin added that students in universities were also pretty traumatised from family breakdowns so it affected everyone even if it was geographically skewed. Part of the lack of ability to deal with this was because everyone was affected by it and there was a disconnection because nobody wanted to look at it- this needed to be addressed.
Mr Tebogo Kwape, representing the Sports Shooters Forum, said the most important thing when a doctor saw a patient was to diagnose the problem and to arrive at the correct solution to that diagnosis and unless the problem was diagnosed correctly, nothing would be solved. There were potential pitfalls in misdiagnosing the kinds of social problems SA had. He did not hear Dr Van As speak on knife-inflicted wounds, which was some of the most severe wounds a doctor in SA would pick up on. He asked if Dr Van As familiarised himself properly with the problems in SA and the implications of each and every specific amendment sought in the Act.
Dr Van As said there was no doubt that knives contributed to violence in society but the Red Cross Children’s Hospital only cared for kids under the age of 12 when most attacks with knives occurred among teenagers and adolescents. Although some knife wounds were seen they were not as serious as gunshot wounds – knife wounds seldom caused permanent damage like paralysis or death like guns did.
Ms Adri Kitshoff, representing the SA Hunters Forum, which was a forum for accredited hunting associations with thousands of members, thought the emphasis should be placed on the impact of societal problems as opposed to the impact of guns and a gun culture. She asked Dr Van As why he supported the idea of increasing the minimum age for owning a firearm from 21 to 25. Was he saying that most murders took place between the ages of 21 and 24? In the bigger debate, she thought both sides needed to be looked at. Children who grew up in households with guns ended up using them but mostly in a responsible manner having learnt that in the home – it was not only negative.
Dr Van As replied that most violent people were those who were young with perpetrators of rape and murder being as young as 20 years old. The brains of these youth were not fully matured and they had not yet learned to control all brain activities. There were even international calls for the child justice age to be raised from 18 to 25 because it was unfair to put an 18 year old in jail for the rest of his life owing to the brain not being fully matured. The point was that if a young person could be prevented from owning a firearm, a lot of violence could be prevented.
Mr Hood was interested in the scientific research, not the conclusions of what someone thought. Dr Van As stated that “one in five of the perpetrators committed suicide after killing a partner where most of them had a legal gun – 80% of these double murders could have been prevented” – how could these murders have been stopped? And how was this conclusion reached?
Ms Kohler Barnard noted that Dr Van As said that firearms were the leading killer in SA but looking at Stats SA figures, this was not the case. She asked about the prevalence of knifing and sharp instruments.
Dr Van As said he saw a dramatic increase in children being admitted from gunshot wounds following 2010 – around the time when one million licences were issued by SAPS. This was a direct correlation and in speaking to other trauma surgeons they all agreed they saw an increase in the numbers over the past few years.
Mr Sam Chauke, CEO: Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority, thought solutions needed to found to disarm the minds of people living in traumatic situations as stated by Dr Benjamin. Given the findings, what could be used to influence legislation to resolve the issue of violence in society?
Dr Benjamin felt the emphasis should be on respect for self and others, in other words, humanity and respect. It was hard to implement this but consistency was needed because everyone had his or her own baggage and defence but it was important to address the matter. In training teachers to teach kids suffering from trauma it was found the teachers themselves as well had issues of power and control. At the heart of the matter was taking responsibility for oneself. Another intervention was to make people at community-level role models and to make these people visible. The legislation should also look at porous borders and the lack of research around illegal guns and not be afraid to hold people to account.
Ms Molebatsi questioned the gun-free zones and how they would work. She asked Dr Van As if his suggestion was to implement such zones on hospitals and schools where there could be a drop off area. She also questioned the extent to which guns were bought for small children and playing with guns and being hailed as heroes influenced them to real firearms later in life.
The Chairperson picked up on the glaring data gap from this morning’s discussion. He asked what the advice of researchers, research groups and institutions would be to the Committee going forward to get a comprehensive view of the stats on guns illegal in SADC, as a lack of qualitative research was problematic to reach certain solutions. It was important to have stats that stood the test of time.
Someone from the floor attempted to provide an answer to these questions stating that the problem was that goals behind research were often defined by whoever commissioned the research, which pointed to a need for more objective research. Research studies were often subjectively inclined which undermined the intelligence of Committees and Members. While he was sensitive to gun wounds and suffering, sensationalising it through images in a presentation did not help anything - everyone was adult and knew it. It was totally untrue that someone who grew up in a house with guns was prone to violence and there were numerous examples to support that this was not the case. There was a need for better research and more objective studies and analysis so the Committee was better informed in guiding the country in a direction to ensure a safe environment for children to grow up in.
Mr De Klerk requested that people refrain from casting aspersions, this was not the place for that. The forum was to exercise leadership for dialogue in a respectful and dignified manner.
Dr Van As asked the person from the floor to look at a scientific journal where he would find the publication in which his presentation was rooted. There was a significant increase in the number of children admitted to the Red Cross Hospital from 2000, and then there was a significant decrease of about 70% after the release of one million licences. The figure increased since then not only at Red Cross but also at Groote Schuur and Tygerberg Hospitals.
Someone from the floor representing the SA Hunters Forum, noted the role of the CSP, in terms of the CSP Act section 6 (1) (f), for the Secretariat to conduct research, and proposed the CSP did this in partnerships in order for there to be buy-in. It would not be difficult to put together a committee to oversee the research done.
Someone else from the floor added it was important for the research conducted to be handed in to allow for a clearer view and for the conclusions reached to be questioned.
Mr Bloch felt that research was problematic but everyone needed to work together because he would hate to see guns left in communities just because there was a concern about research.
A comment from the floor was that there were a number of commentators not aligned to either group but suggested there was a clear relationship between crime and illegal guns but the relationship was partly inverse i.e. that it was crime driving illegal firearms. This dynamic needed to be explored further because at the moment there was just a lot of anecdotal evidence.
A representative from the SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association felt that society in SA was allowed to develop where there was little respect for rules, the law and regulations. This lack of respect for others and law and order was the cause of the problem. Guns could be removed but then one might as well remove used tyres, rocks and bricks. To identify the cause of the problem we needed to look at what went wrong in society with the lack of respect for law and order – this was the root cause of the problem.
Adv Simi Pillay-van Graan, CEO Business Against Crime SA, agreed that a study would take time but it was imperative to conduct because there was a lot of valuable input coming from the room that needed to be coordinated. The study would need to be scoped properly beyond firearm control but to look at the issue of the criminal justice system being used effectively to remove firearms from society. The study should include functionalities of the criminal justice system to support existing legislation and its rollout. Stats placed too much emphasis on numbers when the study should understand the environment and value chain before developing strategies.
Mr Hood added the issue was not only about guns but the causes of ills in society and the prevalence of guns and alcohol. Dr Van As did not answer his question and he took this to mean the Doctor could not answer. The information circulated to the Committee was scientifically flawed and the same debate was being had when the Firearms Control Act was first debated in Parliament. The answer was that more children were being shot because of more crime and not more firearms and there should be a distinction in this regard between licensed and unlicensed and legal and illegal firearms. To say that there were more injuries because guns were bad was a flawed conclusion. More research was needed to lay a foundation and this would also address the serious problems of the criminal justice system as a well.
Strategies for Reducing Illegal Firearms in SA
Ms Kirsten said the key issue was to address corruption and fraudulent practices all along the firearms management chain. She spoke directly to solutions which included developing a systems-based approach for possibilities of points of diversion, the need for good record keeping which gave rise to accurate data to know who was owning which gun for which purpose, to identify loopholes and leakages and to know which stocks were in which state institutions because it was not only the military, SAPS and correctional services who had firearms – all state departments had stocks. Good record keeping also allowed for good analysis of the data to identify trends. Other solutions involved good marking and tracking and tracing – useful guidelines were provided by the UN international tracking instrument. Good tracking and tracing was critical for reducing leakages and in preventing the circulation of illegal guns. The final solution she identified was to have good gun laws. Ms Kirsten emphasised that the public needed to see the report of the commission of inquiry set up by the Minister, in particular, key findings and recommendations. Another area of focus was the second strategy to mop up illegal guns. There had been special police operations in this regard and usual police operations and crime recovery also assisted in this sense.
Ms Kirsten then turned to look specifically at the idea of amnesty where Brazil and Columbia were good case studies. In the space of a year, Brazil, through an amnesty, removed 460 000 weapons off the streets which resulted in an 8% reduction in firearm homicides over the year. The Firearms Control Act gave the Minister of Police the power to declare an amnesty and determine the conditions of that amnesty for approval by Parliament. An amnesty was an effective tool or mechanism of government to control legal stocks and mop up illegal stocks. The primary aim of an amnesty was to recover illegal guns but the secondary objective was the disposal of unwanted or unused guns not only from civilians but also from state institutions as was seen in international examples. SA had had several amnesties over the years with the one in 2005 being the most successful by yielding just over 100 000 firearms.
Some lessons learnt from the 2005 SA amnesty included that an amnesty was most successful in conjunction with stricter gun laws as seen with the renewals introduced in 2005 and in terms of a new provision in the Firearms Control Act combined with special police operations. An amnesty was an opportunity for the fundamental strengthening of the amendments coming before Parliament. It was the specific call of Gun Free SA for the Minister to declare an amnesty to maximise the passage of the Bill. Another possibility was to have a “no questions asked” amnesty where the detail of the gun was recorded but the identity of the person was not. This was a key provision for a successful amnesty but for many reasons government was reluctant to go this route. Amnesties worked where there was strong partnership between government, police and civil society, which required excellent communication strategies. It also provided an opportunity to provide education on the risks and dangers of gun violence. Another idea was to destroy the gun at the point of hand in, for the hand in centres to be in neutral venues or for a public destruction soon after the guns were handed in. The success factors of an amnesty related to timing, duration of the exercise, partnerships and communication strategies.
A particular strategy to look at was to “Turnoff the Leaking Tap” to know what, who, why, where and how around gun management where the “where” and “how” were of particular importance for understanding the leak from the legal pool of firearms to the illegal pool. Once this movement was understood it allowed for the development of interventions to at least reduce the risk of diversion and to ultimately stop the leakage if that was at all possible. She highlighted the three sources of leakage from the legal to illegal pool – (1) cross border trade and conflict zones (2) corrupt practices across the firearms control chain both at a systemic and individual level and (3) loss and theft of previously owned firearms whether from the state, individuals or private security industry. In this last point it was critical to understand the connection between people licensed to possess a firearm and how weapons moved to feed some criminal violence. Key interventions to the turn off the tap included the availability of accurate data. Right now, not much was known about loss and stolen firearms except for what was contained in the 2011 affidavit of the previous Minister who stated that 18 000 firearms were lost annually by civilians and 2000 from SAPS. Last year, Minister Nhleko said the number had changed to 8000 overall (highlighted further in Ms Fourie’s presentation) but the number was still significant. Another intervention was to strengthen the firearm control regime to allow for the effective implementation of the existing framework and to allow for regular review of the law to see if it was meeting current needs. There was an incredible opportunity over the next few months to help make this happen.
Strategies for Reducing Illegal Firearms in SA
Mr Hood emphasised that he would be talking about solutions but in order for solution, the problems needed to be identified. A serious discussion on society was needed particularly why people did not obey the law. He was concerned that no one was present who represented the criminal justice system because the exact perspectives of different parts of the value chain were needed for the solutions to work to identify where the flaws were and for resources to be allocated there.
The criminal justice system began with someone laying a complaint to lead to investigation after which it may result in arrest and a court appearance if a prosecutor looked at the docket. This process, which was supposed to be simple, was in fact problematic. Detectives were under resourced and over worked and expected to investigate and prosecute hundreds of dockets to present cases in court where there may not even be a vehicle to go and interview witnesses. One of the flaws in the system was that it took so long for a matter to come to court that witnesses became frustrated and simply did not come with all the postponements. Prosecutors were also overworked, under-staffed and under resourced with many unable to access the Firearms Control Act or even being aware that the Act had regulations, so it was difficult for prosecutors to make head or tail of the law. This resulted in criminals getting off when they should be out of society in jails for rehabilitation or to remain there.
The criminal justice system was not only dealing ineffectively with firearm offenders but the implementation of the Firearms Control Act was also problematic. Some examples of this:
- There was a provision that allowed the registrar of firearms to issue a certificate confirming the information on the database as correct. He never saw such a certificate and if he did in all probability he would be able to prove it was incorrect. The data was seriously flawed and everyday that went by meant the data became more and more corrupt and the problem faced became bigger and bigger.
- Problems with data processing. He echoed calls for the details of the commission of inquiry to be made public. With inaccurate records, it was impossible to properly trace and track firearms and this was a fundamental problem with the implementation of the Firearms Control Act.
Firearm owners should not be blamed for the situation today – it was not that simple. There were far bigger social issues not limited to firearms that needed to be addressed. This piece of legislation had been tested over ten years where it was found to work in some respects and lacking in many others. Unless the fundamentals were right – resourcing the police and holding them to account, the bad foundations that continued to be built on would not stand.
Strategies for Reducing Illegal Firearms in SA
Adv Norman Arendse, representing Dr Danny Jordaan from SAFA, who was not well, noted that he was a practising lawyer, member of SAFA, member of the National Executive Committee and the chairperson of the Legal and Constitutional Committee. He was representing SAFA and the Senzo Meyiwa gun committee established by SAFA in the wake of his untimely death last year. He proposed the title of the discussion be changed to “strategies to reduce firearms in SA” because even if Mr Hood had his legal firearm in his possession but dropped it and Adv Arendse picked it up, it was now an illegal gun. Legal or illegal, firearms were lethal weapons that killed and maimed many thousands of young men and women, children, the elderly and disabled. Human beings propelled guns and its analogy with any other inanimate object was entirely misplaced and quite absurd. A gun, more often than not, killed or caused other kinds of irreparable and irreversible harm. Legislation was designed to regulate human behaviour, the use, possession, control and ownership of guns but not the gun itself, whether legal or illegal. As much as legislation continued to be important, society was complex where SA had a world-class Constitution, first-world laws but many third-world woes, and political and social problems rooted in apartheid would take many than 20 years of democracy to eradicate or resolve. We could not wait for this while soccer heroes and heroines were being killed by the use of legal and illegal firearms, whether Senzo Meyiwa or Reeva Steenkamp.
SAFA was the most broad-based organisation in the country represented in 52 regions across SA and covered every corner of the country. Out of a population of approximately 50 million, two million boys and girls, men and women, played football. Football was the one sport that suffered disproportionably as a result of gun violence because it was the sport of the poor and disadvantaged. They lived in the most depressed areas of the country where policing was generally of a much lower standard and under resourced than in the urban areas. Because he represented the police in the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry, he could not say much more than that. It was in fact dangerous to play football in the townships of the country. Often matches did not take place because of gang violence and matches were even settled by the use of guns.
Adv Arendse said the death of Senzo, in October 2014, highlighted the indiscriminate use of a gun. It was not known whether this was indiscriminate or deliberate because SAPS had given no indication that the killers or perpetrators would be or were likely to be apprehended despite being gunned down in front of three or four eyewitnesses, this was extraordinary. There were no gun residue tests, no forensics and no arrests other than the false one. What chance did ordinary people face if they were gunned down and killed that their perpetrators would be brought to justice? What chance was there that his cousin, killed last year shortly after the death of Senzo in Hanover Park at the age of 23, the killers would be apprehended? What chance was there of the perpetrators or killers of six young footballers in Lavender Hill who were gunned down in their car after coming from soccer practice apparently a case of mistaken identity would be brought to justice? What chance was there of the killers of the chairperson of the Hanover Park cricket club and his brother, who were also recently shot down in a case of mistaken identity being brought to justice? In the case of his cousin, he was 23, unemployed and probably on tic – just another statistic. What about the gun used to kill Senzo Meyiwa? Was it a legal or illegal firearm? Did this matter because he was killed anyway? SA was robbed of its best goalkeeper just before the African Cup of Nations (Afcon), arguably his death being the reason SA lost Afcon. Mr Jordaan was asked at Afcon when the killers of Senzo would be apprehended and brought to justice. Many there found it extraordinary that he was killed in front of what appeared to be eyewitnesses yet no one was brought to justice yet.
Some SAFA proposals included:
- SAFA maintained that ultimately only accredited and properly vetted law enforcement officers, whether public or private, should be permitted to possess handguns or small arms, and those defined in categories of the Firearms Control Act. Civil society needed protection against all forms of firearms. Dr Van As demonstrated that using firearms for so-called self-defence was either a myth or alternatively, was overstated or exaggerated. The most recent example of Oscar Pistorius demonstrated that even if he was to be believed, the use of a legal firearm could have fatal consequences. By contrast, it was shown where it was known that someone owned a legal firearm, the higher the chances of a burglary or robbery in an attempt to steal the firearm. This placed many at risk. One of his advocate colleagues, also a police reservist, had a break in at his house and he was apprehended at knife or panga point where he was asked first if he had a gun in his house. With his training and bravery to protect his family, he managed to overcome the intruders and to call the police.
- SAFA called for an amnesty for the return on an anonymous basis of all illegal firearms and for those owners of legal firearms to also return them if the weapon turned to disuse because it was evident that it was dangerous to possess a gun. If stolen, the gun would be used to kill or maim its very owner.
- Education around the use of firearms was important.
- For all sports venues and arenas to be declared gun free zones as was done with the 2010 Soccer World Cup – why was it done for FIFA when it could be done for our own citizens?
- Upon return of guns following the amnesty, SAFA wished to erect a statue to honour the memory of Senzo Meyiwa at SAFA House and all communities should erect their own statues or monuments to commemorate those who had fallen as a result of firearms and to serve as a daily reminder of the danger of firearms whether it was discriminate or indiscriminate as its use did kill and maim.
- SAFA continued to support the passing of progressive legislation to reform and regulate the possession and use of firearms and there was a call for the more effective use of laws. This could not be done if there was a lack of capacity and if there was corruption. It was disconcerting to hear the recent amnesty in Gauteng and firearms handed in then they landed up in the Western Cape – clearly there was a problem of corruption.
- The provision of reliable and credible data, which was imperative in the fight against crime and the use of firearms in particular. Reliable and credible data was the basis of evidence and he dealt with that as in his living as a forensic lawyer. Statements needed a factual basis with supporting empirical evidence. Problems would continue if there was a lack of transparency and credible data
SAFA intended to continue with its campaign through the Senzo Meyiwa committee by highlighting the issue of firearms and its disastrous effects and consequences. He called on the Minister and Parliament to declare 9 July 2015, also known as the National Gun Destruction Day through an UN-initiative, Amnesty Day for the return of all illegal firearms and the voluntary return of legal firearms.
Ms Thoko Mpumlwana, from the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) and a representative from the Senzo Meyiwa committee, supported the campaign of SAFA because it was not really about Senzo as a person but that Senzo represented what happened in society as a result of guns. The CGE conducted a study that showed that femicide was increasing in SA – the matter of killing women and children by guns was a matter of concern to the Commission. The time had come for the gun laws to be stricter to protect the lives of those who would not normally own a gun. There was a patriarchal syndrome where a man owning a gun was seen as protecting his family but sometimes this was the same gun that killed families.
Adv Arendse agreed with Ms Mpumlwana entirely.
Mr Hood cautioned against emotional generalisations saying that women who were less likely to own a firearm lacked thought and analysis of the facts. Many women in the room were firearm owners, his wife was a firearm owner and a female associate in his practice was a firearm collector and this was just what he could remember off the top of his head. There were a lot of female firearm owners so to say this was a male dominated or macho phenomenon was incorrect and proved again that data was needed for informed analysis. These generalisations took the focus off the real situation and this should be avoided.
A member from the floor from Gun Owners of SA asked Ms Kirsten, of the 2005 amnesty she spoke of, how many of the weapons were obsolete from SAPS and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), how many were lawful weapons never used in the commission of offences and how many were actually weapons handed in that had been involved in illegal activities. He told Adv Arendse that when he made reference to a study that a legally owned firearm was more likely to get used against the owner, which came from research that was largely discredited as outlined earlier in the day – surely the Advocate, being a forensic lawyer, should review some of those facts.
Adv Arendse was quite comfortable to stick with the premises outlined by Dr Van As and he remained unconvinced about the people trying to say the stats of legally owned firearms being more likely to be used against the owner than in actual self-defence was not that high.
Mr Hood highlighted that any amnesty must be unconditional even though he personally did not believe a criminal would hand in the tool of his trade. In the last amnesty, certain records were taken which, in his view, served as a disincentive. He was given the opportunity by SAPS to inspect some of the firearms being sent for destruction in Van der Byl Park and was very concerned to note the manner in which firearms were recorded. Parts of firearms were being recorded even when it did not constitute, in a law, a firearm in itself. This then skewed the stats and inflated the number of firearms. This should be cautioned because it created the incorrect impression. Of the firearms handed in, AK47s and some rifles were very much in the minority – the predominant type of firearms handed in were old, obsolete heirlooms for which people had no use. In his view, criminals in the desire to become rehabilitated handed in very few firearms, which was why he thought amnesties were ineffective.
Ms Kirsten said that 100 066 firearms were handed in and the others were firearm parts i.e. not a whole firearm. The amnesty targeted illegal weapons as well as an opportunity to generally hand in guns. Of the 100 000, 53 435 were illegal weapons and 46 631 were unwanted legal firearms. Many of the guns were recovered in police operations and from people holding weapons that they were not licensed to hold such as if the gun was inherited but the individual did not go through the licensing procedure. Technically, in terms of the Act, this was a weapon without a valid license. This component also needed to be understood. The 2005 amnesty was significant because of the just over 100 000 weapons recovered and handed in, over 70 000 were handguns. This was a significant withdrawal of handguns in circulation given that 85% of handguns were used in crimes as the weapon of choice for criminals. Another significant point from the amnesty was that just over 200 000 rounds of ammunition was also recovered – often ammunition was forgotten in the firearm discussion but it was a critical. In Brazil there was a move toward the individual marking of cartridges and it was seen as a potential norm. One of the weaknesses of the 2005 amnesty was horizontal communication with civilian populations. A lesson to be drawn from Brazil was segmenting target constituencies with a massive communication strategy aimed at women and there was a famous story of a woman in Sao Paulo who rounded up and handed in 1700 guns in that amnesty. Brazil also made provision for cash incentives with a maximum limit paid into the bank account 30 days after hand in. Out of the USA, research showed cash incentives fed the illegal market but it was something for detailed discussion. She worried sometimes about the overemphasis on data but the evidence of people’s lived experience as highlighted by Dr Benjamin was as important. This should not be forgotten. Not having enough data should not stop one from acting or knowing where to prevent gun violence.
Mr Hood added Brazil, in a national referendum, rejected gun control and this was one of the biggest disappointments in recent times for the gun-control lobby.
A member from the floor from the SA Defence Pistol Association thought it was very important to make the distinction between legal and illegal firearms. He was concerned that there was a diversion and possible squandering of state resources in terms of administering legal firearm owners who by definition were law abiding systems as they already met the provisions of the Act instead of going after criminal and he heard very little on strategies to address firearms illegally possessed which was the actual problem in society.
Adv Arendse did not say that legal gun owners should be targeted and that it would be squandering state resources to do so. One of SAFA’s proposals was to continue to support the strengthening of legislation as far as the legal use of guns was concerned but it also did not help if there was no capacity to do so – we could have world-class laws but without the capacity to monitor, supervise, implement and the use of data was not open and transparent, this would not help in resolving the problem. There were deeper issues of nameless and faceless people who were running guns in the townships and selling guns. There were rogue policemen using guns they had under the previous regime. He came from a community where they never knew guns. The first time he touched a gun was in 1991 when he was studying in the USA and living with a US-Cuban who had a Magnum that he had to hold with two hands. Guns in communities were a relatively new phenomenon and the root cause of the problem needed to be addressed. It also raised the problem of police intelligence, how could it be that members in communities knew who was selling the drugs and guns but these individuals were not being apprehended by the police? It was not rocket science.
Mr Kwape asked what Mr Hood’s position was with regard to microdot and ballistic testing and the period in which these tests should be done, was any investigation done on the feasibility or impact these tests might have with the issue of illegal guns? SAFA made a proposal for a Senzo Meyiwa gun law but there were other prominent deaths in the country from knives and in other ways, perhaps there should also be a knife law or tyre law as people also died in such ways. What was the thinking around this?
Mr Hood felt that what was overlooked in today’s debate in the unfortunate death of many individuals, was that the use of the firearm was an offence or murder. There was too much emphasis on the firearm and not on the criminal who committed the offence. In the Senzo Meyiwa murder, basic policing was not done and there was only speculation why it was not done. This inhibited investigation; we needed to ask why investigations were not being done. Criminals would not be stopped from committing criminal acts unless caught and sent to jail. Data was the cornerstone of effective control and the amendments required a significant amount of data processing, something that the police simply did not yet have the capacity to do and this was not a criticism but a fact. Nothing would be achieved with the amendments until basic resources were allocated and in place. One of the proposals in the amendments was to do away with the SA hunters court order/decision and he found this very concerning as a lawyer as it fundamentally undermined the rule of law as stated in the Constitution which provided for a balance of power between the legislature and the judiciary, with a judiciary being a key check and balance on legislative power. Any government could not be allowed to pass a law to do away with a court order if it was unhappy with the court order. This meant there was no check and balance on the legislature. These legal and practical problems with the proposed amendments would have to be addressed.
Adv Arendse indicted that of course the youth were also killed by other factors like Tik, HIV/AIDS and other violent means but this was a particular focus on firearms. It did not matter if it was legal or registered firearms because even as he spoke, it was not known if Senzo was killed by a legal or illegal firearm and this was his starting premise. This was the same with many others and this scourge needed to be addressed and eradicated. SAFA highlighted the Senzo gun law to form a coalition around a famous and well-known person. He would like to have a gun named after his cousin who was shot and killed but Senzo was someone to identify with and coalesce around much like Reeva Steenkamp.
Mr Oxley felt there should a distinction in terminology between illegal firearms and unlicensed firearms, which was not helpful. There needed to be a move where everyone was talking about the same thing. A firearm could not be illegal in as much a hammer could not be illegal, these firearms were in unlawful possession or were unlicensed. The elephant in the room was the large quantity of unlicensed firearms that were completely not catalogued, particularly in communities that could not afford armed response, or soccer playing communities, and this was their only defence i.e. for self-defence and not to commit crimes. Some of these people did not have brick houses when the Act called for licensed guns to be stored in fixed-placed residences. There were also no safekeeping facilities because there was nowhere to bolt the prescribed safekeeping facilities down to. There was also cost involved in buying a firearm from a dealer or going for training. A lot of people had been acquiring firearms on the black market but for legitimate purposes for self-defence and protection. The research done on this estimated 7.5 million unlicensed firearms in the communities for purposes of self-defence. Could the possibility not be explored of an amnesty that reached out to these people to provide training to become licensed firearm owners? Once the pool of such people and firearms were known it could be controlled. This was just a suggestion.
Adv Arendse thought there might be a mini-TRC around the declaration of weapons for people to say they illegally obtained and illegally possessed a firearm but that it was not used nor intended to be used for illegal purposes. Maybe this was something for the Committee to look into.
Mr Hood added that the Firearms Control Act stipulated it was a very serious offence to know about an unlicensed or illegal firearm and not report it. He called for all to go into their communities and tell members to report those illegal firearms for people to be prosecuted – this was the basic.
A SAPS official noted that soccer was one of those sporting codes with a large following. One of SAPS interventions to fight crime was through community mobilisation – had SAFA considered working with SAPS in partnership to ensure all serious and violent crimes were fought against including gun- related crimes? Did SAFA have a programme to mobilise all their followers to participate in sector crime and rural forums which were intended to fight crime at every level? SAPS believed that everyone was involved in the fight against crime and illegal firearms should be reported as well as legal firearms used in crimes.
Adv Arendse said SAFA was ideally placed to form partnerships and mobilisations to help to address and resolve serious and violent crime but he was aware that many SAFA members were involved in street committees; sector policing and community police forums but the committee itself did not have such a programme.
Mr Hood added one should not forget about the firearm organisations that also wanted to partner with communities and SAFA for that matter, because while some wanted guns, none wanted crime.
Ms Nadine Prior, SA Dealers Association, commented that traditionally, hunting rifles, target rifles, target pistols, non-military semi-auto rifles and semi-auto shotguns were not used in crime yet Adv Arendse was calling for the removal of the equivalent of the soccer balls of sport shooters and hunters.
Adv Arendse said some categories would have to be excepted as was already the case under the Firearms Control Act. He agreed that reactions should not be emotional and arbitrary but rational and if there was no evidence that hunting rifles were being used in the commission of crimes there seemed to be no rational basis to ban them. He took issue with the soccer ball analogy because a cricket ball did kill a very famous cricketer, Phil Hughes but he was not aware of a soccer ball killing anybody but he was aware that hunting rifles and other guns did kill people.
Mr J Maake (ANC) wanted to understand amnesty of illegal guns – he did not envision a gangster bringing a gun that was used if it was recorded. The criminal would not turn in his tool of trade and be left with nothing. How was such an amnesty understood to work then? He failed to understand. Would there be CCTV cameras monitoring the drop-off points?
Mr Hood said that with amnesty, when it was highlighted by Ms Kirsten that 53 000 firearms were illegal really meant the firearms were documented (i.e. were or had been licensed) but were illegally possessed or the person in possession of the firearm was not licensed to hold. This was typically seen with inherited firearms. This was a critical difference. The point was that these were not criminal firearms because the other firearms handed in were no longer wanted. Virtually all the firearms handed in from the amnesty were not firearms used by criminals but unwanted firearms and this spoke to the effectiveness of an amnesty. He took issue with the number of conditions promulgated by the Minister in the last amnesty of 2005 because he felt they acted as disincentives. These conditions included recording of the person who handed the firearm in, the details of the firearm and the firearm needed to go for ballistic testing. The end result was that if someone committed an offence with a firearm, they would not be handing it in for active conviction of oneself. The simpler the conditions of an amnesty the better.
Adv Arendse suggested the 2005 amnesty be reviewed to see how the experience could be improved – would the Member prefer the criminal to bring in the illegal firearm through an unconditional amnesty even though it was involved in the commission of an offence or would he wait for the police to resolve the crime which may never happen or the chances were remote? It was anticipated that there would be a problem if a firearm used in the commission of a crime was handed in, which resulted then in the loss of an exhibition but one should then ask how far the police was in resolving that crime and if the chances for resolution were remote, surely the amnesty was preferable.
Ms Kirsten added the issue was to think of the numbers of guns being taken off the street out of circulation with just 100 000 in 2005 – who would not want to support that? The potential for loss and theft was then reduced by 100 000 weapons. This amounted to reductions in potential for theft, suicides, accidents and intimate partner violence in the home. This would be a huge success. Interesting examples for incentives came out of Latin America where not only cash was used but also like communities getting a health clinic, depending on how many guns were handed-in. There were problems with incentives but one could look at global studies and then what was appropriate for the domestic context. Although it had challenges and problems, amnesties had impacts and it should be explored as one mechanism in SA to remove guns from circulation.
Mr Schoeman said there was a golden thread of frustration with implementation and enforcement running through today’s discussion. It was a fact that SAPS was struggling in the fight against crime and one of the biggest sources of illegal firearms was corruption in the administration of licensing and enforcing existing gun laws. There were issues in the criminal justice system and there was great frustration that the killers of Senzo Meyiwa were not brought to justice. This indicated the police were over stretched, underpaid, unde -staffed and overworked and now many of the inputs were calling for more gun laws, more registration and more systems. The more difficult the registration of firearms, the more we were opening up the process to corruption and leakages into the illegal pool. Things should be made easier for the SAPS to free up manpower to go after criminals.
A member from the floor asked if the firearm losses from civilians and state hands were being overemphasised. He looked at the 2013/14 SAPS annual performance plan which included historic data ad with the recovery of firearms lost from both the state and civilians, in 2010/11, SAPS recovered 83.7%, 2011/12, 96% and 2012/13, 112.3%. This showed not much net leakage. Another stat to look at was the police’s reaction time for rape, murder and home invasions. Bearing in mind that it varied from province to province, the national average for 2010/11 21.43 minutes, 2011/12 19.06 minutes, 2012/13, 18.46 minutes and 2013/14 19.05 minutes. The point was that there were no in-depth studies on the self-defence use of firearms. There was plenty of anecdotal evidence that people did use firearms for self-defence. While waiting for the police to arrive, many people would be dependent on a firearm to preserve their lives. The data needed to be understood better.
Adv Arendse answered that when a firearm was used in self-defence against a robber or burglar, the case would be reported to the police and it should then be a statistic but he did not know where those stats were or if there was a provision to record that. He did not have any stats to argue against a gun possibly be used to preserve one’s life while waiting for police response.
Another member from the floor cautioned against jumping on a bandwagon with the killing of a famous or rich individual whether it be Senzo or Reeva. Recently as seen on the news, a child was killed and the community reacted by killing the person they thought was the killer. In reality, stealing electricity electrocuted the child, or making an illegal connection, and the community killed an innocent person by means of a tyre.
Adv Arendse said jumping on the bandwagon was a natural human reaction. Every day in the newspapers one read of people getting killed with firearms, pangas, drunken-driving motor accidents and knives and one became quite immune to it. One only reacted when it was a person one knew or was famous like with the late Minister Collins Chabane recently. If jumping on the bandwagon was used for an ulterior purpose or motive then it was a problem. However, if it was used to further a good cause he did not see a problem.
Ms Molebatsi supported the idea of gun free sport stadiums but questioned the practicality of, for example, a stadium as big as FNB with a capacity to seat almost 90 000 – how big would the drop-off area be then?
Adv Arendse would have to ask Dr Jordaan how that was dealt with during the 2010 World Cup but in fact, if one went to any sports stadium, you were routinely asked by security if you were in possession of a firearm and if you did, the firearm would be stored in some way. The point was that one should not even be near a stadium with a gun like there were no-smoking zones
Summary of the Day:
Mr de Klerk highlighted that tomorrow a lot of the discussion would get more specific to the case of SA, SAPS, the private security industry and efforts to control firearms through legislation. In that way, a lot of the discussion, questions and comments would spill over into day two. It was found today that the CSP played a key role as a government institution to which people looked for information, research and policy particularly for loopholes in legislation implementation. Those present at the summit today took heart with the effects of guns on communities and society. The question was not whether the gun was legal or illegal but rather the use of guns in violence and its significant impact. It was not about datasets or that poverty caused violence. There seemed to be accord that this was a complex nuance issue but there was a need for actual dialogue. There was a role for the private security industry and law abiding gun owners and he commended all present for not being “anti” this or “for” that but rather that everyone spoke of their viewpoint. Joined-up solutions were needed to harmonise efforts and legislation as everyone contributed to a society in which we could feel safe and free of fear.
Going into tomorrow, he asked that those who would be attending think of the contributions each of the speakers would make in the presence of the Minister and Deputy Minister. People should come with targeted questions to hold them to account because holding each other to account was a large part of today – this was the responsible thing to do. We also looked to the Committee to hold the Ministers and key state institutions to account.
The Chairperson thanked the facilitator, Mr de Klerk, for his hard work today. He thanked all the panellists for their contributions today. There was valuable input and a number of issues were flagged for further inspection moving forward in the process. The Minister, Deputy Minister and National Commissioner of SAPS would be present tomorrow along with the CSP again. He encouraged those present to speak to the Committee Members because at the end of the day the Members would play a huge role in the legislation when the amendments would come before the Committee mid-year. There would also be input from the private security industry. He once again thanked everyone for attending the first day of the summit.
- Firearms Control briefing 2 of 2015: 101 of Firearms Control Act (2000)
- Firearms Control briefing 1 of 2015 Gun Control Legislation across the World: Global Norms and Standards
- Child Safe presentation
- A comparative analysis of firearm regulation in Southern Africa & beyond: Practice & impact
- Impact of gun culture in SA
- SAPS on Implementing Firearms Control Act National Firearms Summit
- Attendance List 24 March 2015
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