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SAFETY AND SECURITY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
24 February 2004
FIREARMS CONTROL ACT REGULATIONS: DELIBERATIONS
Chairperson Mr M E George (ANC)
Documents handed out
Committee Annual Report 2003
Draft Firearms Control Regulations
Proposed Amendments to the Draft Firearms Control Regulations
The Committee continued going through the Regulations from Regulation 31 until the end. Discussion focused on firearms licensing, Appeals Board, the storage of firearms and Gun Free Zones. The need to control the spread of illegal firearms and their general policing was often balanced with the need to not place undue hardships on legal owners throughout the meeting, with most members committing to make it difficult to own Firearms and ammunition. The debate of the state's responsibility to protect law abiding citizens within 'Gun Free Zones' also enjoyed prominent discussion.
Proposed amendments to Regulations
Mr van Vuuren, Director Legal Services: SAPS Crime Intelligence took the Committee through the proposed amendments to the Regulations (see Amendments to the Firearms Act Regulations).
Adv P Swart (DA) asked the Chair's permission to deal with a few issues that had been brought up previously. He asked whether the wording in Regulation 15(a) should substitute 'does not' with 'may'.
Mr George said that the regulation was properly written and should be left unaltered.
Mr Booi (ANC) said Members should not reintroduce matters that had been already dealt with. Mr George agreed.
Adv P Swart said it may be that he was stupid but possibly others would also benefit from his questions. He asked whether the word 'attest' in the Act meant that an affidavit was required.
Mr Booi said this manner of questioning was taking the Committee back to already completed work.
Mr Van Vuuren said an affidavit was not required in this case.
Mr George said the Regulations should be read in conjunction with the Act. The Police were required to investigate the applicant by interviewing neighbours, friends and family members. The Police needed to ascertain the person's standing in the community, whether he was a belligerent drunk or an upstanding citizen.
Mr Van Vuuren said that Regulation 13(14)(b) and 13(15)(b) referred to the repealed Explosives Act, because the new Act although signed by the President had not yet taken effect because of the outstanding regulations.
Mr George said if the new Act had been signed the previous one should not be referred to in these Regulations.
Mr Van Vuuren said the new Act would only become operational pending Presidential determination as stated in the Act. He explained it was implied in the Regulations that the new Act would replace the older one.
Mr George said the more Adv Swart continued with the current line of questions, the more concerned he became. All members had been given an opportunity to raise questions on these sections of the Regulations.
Adv P Swart explained that he had received the necessary documentation very late through no fault of his own. He emphasised that he sought only to ask questions of clarity as he had requested the Chair beforehand. The Chair should decided to either give him this leeway or not.
Mr George said his concern was that Adv Swart was taking the committee back to previously completed work. He added that he hoped he had not offended Adv Swart.
Firearm Regulations: briefing
Mr van Vuuren proceeded to read through the Regulations starting from Regulation 31. The earlier regulations had been discussed in the meeting of 18 February. He managed to take the Committee through to the end of the regulations.
The discussion that arose while the Committee was taken though the Regulation was as follows:
Mr George asked whether the Central Registering Authority was ready to provide the required registration.
Mr J Bothma, Director: Central Firearms Registration Authority, said their interim programme was completely capable of dealing with the demand imposed on it by this Regulation.
Mr Van Vuuren said they thought it opportune to list the entire process in the Regulations to ensure its clarity.
The same applied to Regulation 63
Adv Steven Swart (ACDP) asked why such strict requirements were laid down in Regulation 67(4)(c)
Mr Van Vuuren replied when caught with weapons licensed to others, people often claimed they were merely storing such weapons.
Adv S Swart asked why the storage requirements were stricter than the commercial requirements.
Mr Van Vuuren replied that the regulations could be extended to the commercial requirements as well if the Committee wanted it so, but not reduced.
Mr George said the problem of weapons used in crimes was not a commercial one. Most firearms used in crimes were private weapons that fell into the wrong hands.
Adv P Swart asked whether this applied to everyone including private persons who merely left a weapon for storage at a hunting establishment.
Mr George said that it did.
Adv P Swart asked what the definition of a 'secure locking device' as indicated in the Regulations was.
Adv S Swart said the definition was outlined in the Regulations.
Mr George asked whether this requirement was practical
Mr Van Vuuren said that it was and that any locking device that fulfilled the criteria listed in the Regulations would suffice.
Adv P Swart said the same person who had the key to the safe would also have a key to the lock.
Adv S Swart suggested this issue be noted and dealt with later.
Mr Booi said the practicality was not an issue as owners should take full responsibility of their firearms irrespective of whichever locking device was determined. It should not be too easy to own a firearm.
Mr Zondo (ANC) asked whether public participation in this meeting was acceptable.
Mr George said he had been informed that the DA and the ACDP had acquired an expert legal advisor. He said he had no problem with this as long as this did not interfere with the meeting.
Adv S Swart said it was a technical expert who was assisting them as both he and Adv P Swart were qualified lawyers.
Mr Kgauwe (ANC) said the matter should not be delayed and suggested the Committee leave this Regulation as is.
Adv S Swart asked whether a firearm needed to be (a) in a safe and (b) must have a secure locking device as well. He cautioned against unintended consequences for owners and persons who stored. He was concerned that the requirement of a locking device would be to onerous.
Mr George said this matter should be brought to close speedily. The issues under discussion did not affect the poor, those who owned guns could afford the requirements imposed on them. The Committee wanted to make it difficult for people to own guns.
Adv S Swart again asked whether this matter could be dealt with at a later stage.
Some Members objected in unison.
Mr Booi called a point of order and said there was only one chairperson in the meeting.
Adv P Swart pointed out that said something that totally enclosed a firearm, was firmly attached to a fixed structure and secured with a locking device, was a 'safe'
Mr van Vuuren said this Regulation dealt with specialised firearm storage businesses such as importing firearms. There was less strict requirements for private individuals.
Mr George referred to Regulation 74 regarding applications to possess more than the generally stipulated amount of ammunition. He hoped the registrar had applied his/her mind to this, as the committee did not want too many of these applications approved.
Adv P Swart joked that Mr George was influencing the Registrar in a specified direction.
Adv S Swart asked for an example of an institution that would have to apply for a permit in Regulation 79.
Mr van Vuuren replied with the example that the Metro police in Tswane would have to apply for such authorisation however smaller municipalities were not encouraged to carry weapons. The Department of Justice security guards would also have to apply for authorisation.
Mr A Maziya ANC said it appeared there was a deliberate attempt to delay the proceedings and asked the Chair to be more firm.
Mr George said it was unfortunate a chairperson could not anticipate the question before allowing a member to speak. People should be allowed to ask questions as this was a serious matter that affected many people's lives.
Mr Maziya wanted his concern to be noted.
Mr George said Regulation 90(2) dealing with the Appeal Board should allow for more than just a legal opinion but should also include a psychologist and other disciplines to ensure a holistic understanding of issues.
Mr S Swart suggested the board be allowed to call on various experts as the need arose instead of having them employed on a permanent basis.
Mr George asked whether board members were elected on a full time basis.
Mr Van Vuuren replied the position currently required members to serve on a full time basis
Mr P Swart agreed with Mr S Swart and added most appeals would be technical in nature and not require all disciplines to be represented.
Mr George asked what the Act said concerning this matter.
Mr S Swart said the Act required only demographic (racial) representivity.
Mr George said this should be left to the Minister to decide, the Committee would only add that board members should have at least five years' experience in their respective field.
Mr Maziya asked more clarity around Regulations 90(4) and 90(5) relating to the Appeals Board.
Mr George said it appeared the problem was merely poor wording and the regulation meant board members could be reappointed for a second term. Why should the Minister appoint a board where more than three person could be sick at the same time? If he does this, there was something wrong with minister.
Mr Maziya said this was a serious matter and board members should remain the same to ensure consistency. The committee should avoid a situation where board members went off overseas and the Minister needed to appoint temporary personnel. Mr George agreed.
Mr Van Vuuren said there was currently only one person serving on the board.
Assistant Police Commissioner F Sibulela said as he understood the matter other persons had also been appointed to the board, but they all declined as a result of the low level of compensation offered.
Mr George said the people serving on the board should have at least five years experience in their respective fields and should be compensated well to avoid the inevitable temptation of bribery.
Mr George asked whether Regulation 109(23) required a signboard indicating "Firearm Free Zone" be placed only at the front entrance. What about people who climb over fences or find some other entry point?
Mr Maziya said this meant that the sign should be in the local community language.
Mr Van Vuuren replied that the notice should be placed at the front entrance and other strategic points on the premises.
Adv P Swart said the Committee had been promised that there would be extensive Regulations governing Gun Free Zones. The current regulations were insufficient. If government required law abiding citizens to surrender their weapons, it had a responsibility to ensure armed criminals could enter such areas.
Mr George asked how the government could place such onerous responsibilities on schools, which were all Gun Free Zones, for example. Schools hardly had sufficient funds to build classrooms.
Adv P Swart said it was no use security guards were stationed at the front entrance of a Gun Free Zone but criminals could find other entry points. He asked whether this Committee was saying that law abiding citizens should surrender their weapons but that it was not prepared to take steps to protect them.
Mr Maziya said the protection of citizens was the responsibility of the police. This act was intended to stop the illegal use of guns. Most weapons used in crimes were stolen from legal private owners.
Mr George said the Committee did not make law for criminals who did not respect the law and the Constitution anyway. This was focussed at law abiding citizens and to make the work of the police easier.
Adv S Swart said the occurrences at Columbine High School in the United States and other school shootings were all in Gun Free Zones the merits of which had been discussed previously. The important issue at hand was to ensure weapons did not enter the Gun Free Zones. He had with him a submission from an non-governmental organisation which might assist Mr van Vuuren in this regard.
Mr Maziya said that when the Committee had previously discussed these matters they had been very clear on areas considered as Gun Free Zones such as schools and stadiums. The intention of this Act was very clear and this discussion was not helping the Committee in any way.
Adv S Swart said the Cape High Court decisions on similar matters placed a legal responsibility on government to take steps to ensure the safety of citizens
Mr George said the aim of this Act was to ensure that the Police could raid schools and other Gun Free Zones and arrest anyone in possession of a firearm. The Act was sufficiently clear and he cautioned adding undue complications to it which may defeat its very objectives.
Mr George referred to Regulation 111(1) and asked what would happen in the case where a licensed business owner died, would the heir or executor close the business until another licence was issued to the heir?
Mr Booi said legally the heir inherits the business but not the licence.
Mr Maziya said the weapons licence was immediately withdrawn
Mr George said it was inconceivable that a business could survive if it had to suspend operations to apply for another firearm licence.
Mr Bothma explained that the company would be allowed to continue operating in the interim period until the new license application was completed. The Department would never stop businesses from plying their trade.
The meeting was adjourned.
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