A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.
SAFETY AND SECURITY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
19 June 2000
FIREARMS CONTROL BILL: HEARINGS
Confederation of Hunters Associations of South Africa
United Christian Action
The South African Practical Shooting Association
Commission on Gender Equality
Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation
Reverend David J Newby
Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference
Firearms Control Bill [B34-2000]
Reaction to the Bill ranged from conditional support to outright rejection. Some, like the Centre For Study of Violence and Reconciliation, felt that gun control was necessary to help to reduce the incidence of domestic violence involving firearms, where the vast majority of victims were women. The Commission for Gender Equality wishes for the eventual total prohibition of the use of firearms by civilians. They view the Bill as a significant step to ensuring that firearms will eventually be confined to the formal state institutions tasked with defence.
United Christian Action rejected gun control. They put forward a theory that gun control precedes genocide and pinpointed it as a method used in 40 different countries in the twentieth century to disarm civilians followed by genocide that had led to the deaths of 160 million people.
The Confederation of Hunters Associations of South Africa, felt that the Bill was too restrictive for them to carry on their hunting activities and they made some recommendations. The South African Practical Shooting Association, experts on sports shooting, criticised the lack of consultation with them around the drafting of suitable provisions for sports shooting. They also felt that implementation of the present Bill would be far too costly.
Reverend Newby and the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference were in favour of the new Bill. Reverend Newby noted however that the new Bill should have a buy-back system for guns that would become illegal when the new Bill was enacted. SACBC welcomed the Bill but made various recommendations to improve it such as increasing the legal age limit to be a firearm licence holder to 21 years.
Bruce Park-Ross and Chris Pretorius opposed the new Bill saying it was unnecessary because the present Bill provided adequate control. The problem was that it was not being implemented properly. They contended that the rights of legal licence holders would be infringed. What SA needs is an efficient system that works. The new system will fail because the workload will be too heavy for the police and it will divert police power away from policing
Confederation of Hunters Associations of South Africa
Mr Andre Potgieter, the Chairperson of the Confederation of Hunters Associations of South Africa, presented the submission. They would not support provisions of a Bill, which infringed upon the rights of the law-abiding gun owner. For example they were opposed to stipulations which made it reasonably difficult for applicants or owners to obtain and retain firearm licences. They also opposed provisions which placed unnecessary burdens on legal owners and groups of owners whereby they were forced to comply with minor requirements, whilst these served no or very little purpose.
He was only able to focus on a few important issues due to time constraints.
Renewal of Licences
There was dissatisfaction with the proposed system of licence renewal. During discussions held with drafters, this was questioned. It was suggested that instead there had to be an auditing process where for example the SAPS could get firearm owners to randomly produce their firearms together with their licences.
With 2,2 million firearm owners and about 4,3 million firearms, it would be time consuming and costly to enforce a renewal of licences process. Even if the Central Firearms Register was doubled, it would take years. A renewal of licences in fact amounted to a fresh application and would be problematic to citizens as well as government.
CHASA had a problem with some of the requirements in Sections 11 and 12. Being convicted of possessing too many rounds of ammunition was regarded by CHASA as a minor offence, which should not cause one to be declared unfit to possess a firearm.
They also had a problem with the 2 year life span of Competency Certificates.
Licence to possess firearm for dedicated hunting
It was felt that semi-automatic guns firing more than three rounds in succession, which could be used for sports shooting should be allowed for hunting as well and said that the point 22 Repeater Rifle was an example of one that should be allowed.
Other criticisms included the "sweeping powers" awarded to the Minister, the unreasonableness of some grounds for a declaration of unfitness (Sections 105 and 106) and presumptions having a direct bearing on the normal rights of citizens.
Mr M Pheko (PAC) asked whether Mr Potgieter saw any conflict in Sections 105 and 106 insofar as discretionary powers were apparently involved in 105 and part of 106 was mandatory.
Mr Potgieter said that the difference between the two sections was that under Section 105 the court was allowed to have its own enquiry and then decide whether the accused was an unfit person or not. Under Section 106 the court did not have this power. It had to declare a person unfit if the person was convicted of one of the transgressions stipulated.
An ANC member wanted clarity on whether it was assumed that possession of a firearm was a privilege or a right.
Mr Potgieter said that all citizens of South Africa had the right to possess a firearm under certain circumstances. Everyone had the general right to defend themselves.
Secondly he asked what CHASA was suggesting about Section 106. Should a person who was transgressing in terms of 106(1) be allowed to possess a firearm?
Mr Potgieter said that if one was convicted of a transgression, under Schedule2, the court had the right to have an enquiry and the court would decide whether one was unfit to possess a firearm. With regard to 106(1), the court did not have this discretion and has to declare the person unfit to possess a firearm as "must" was inserted here and not "may".
Dr B Geldenhuys (NNP) asked Mr Potgieter who, in his interpretation of the Bill, qualified to be an "occasional hunter".
Mr Potgieter said that he saw the occasional hunter as the man in the street. The general public thus qualified.
Dr Geldenhuys asked if this actually meant that every licence holder was then actually entitled to four firearms?
Mr Potgieter said that this was the way CHASA understood this.
Adv P Swart (DP) felt that 19(4)(a) clarified the fact that a dedicated sports-person could not use a semi-automatic rifle for hunting, whereas Mr Potgieter had said that dedicated sports-persons were able to use semi-automatic rifles which fired more than three shots in succession.
Mr Potgieter said that if he read Section 19(4)(a), the "any legislation governing hunting in South Africa" clearly referred to legislation for nature conservation for example. It did not refer to any other section in the Bill or the Firearms Control Bill. It referred to "other legislation" which was clearly not this Bill under discussion.
Adv Swart said that the Bill did not say "any other legislation, but said "any legislation". He asked if CHASA did not see the Bill, if it became an Act, to govern hunting in South Africa to some extent?
Mr Potgieter said that they did to some extent. He however referred Mr Swart to 19(1)(a) and (b). He said that if one put a full stop after these two sections, and did not look further, a sports-person could apply for a semi-automatic shotgun. The restriction in 19(1)(c) seemed to him "ex abudante cautela" in this respect. This was why CHASA maintained that a sports-person was awarded more rights than the dedicated hunter and a sports-person was awarded more rights in relation to hunting.
Adv P Swart asked if "Number One" airguns had less velocity than eight joules.
Mr Potgieter said that CHASA had been told by experts that quite a number of "Number One" airguns exceeded (though slightly) the velocity of eight joules. The present definition could thus lead to confusion when applying the Act.
An ANC member said that Mr Potgieter had referred to some of the transgressions for which one would be declared unfit to possess a firearm as minor. She asked why he felt that they were minor.
Mr Potgieter said that they wanted to see the law giver drawing a distinction between serious offences under the present and the previous Act and minor offences. A minor offence under the Firearms Act could be that one was entitled to 200 rounds of ammunition and someone was found to be in possession of 251 rounds. This "administrative transgression" should be distinguished from serious offences where one handled a firearm, and killed someone while under the influence of an intoxicating substance.
Mr Potgieter was reminded that he had said that the Point 22 Repeater could kill, but he had gone on to say that it was not dangerous. He was asked to explain why something which could kill, was not dangerous.
Mr Potgieter said that what he had meant was that the committee should not be confused between hunting rifles and smaller calibre rifles on the one hand and combat or military rifles on the other. It was in this context that he made this remark that it was not dangerous. Obviously it was dangerous if it could kill, but it was generally used for hunting. He was referring to the Point 22 Repeater, which took more cartridges than the ordinary Point 22 with a magazine.
Mr Bloem (DP) could not understand why Mr Potgieter had a problem with Section 106(2). He felt it reasonable that a person who was, for example, caught with an unlicensed firearm and ammunition, should be declared unfit to possess a firearm.
Mr Potgieter referred to 106(3) where a court had to determine whether a person who committed an offence in Schedule 2 could be declared unfit to possess a firearm. Mr Potgieter was referring to the discretion here. However with the offences listed in Section 106(1), the court had no discretion.
United Christian Action
Rev. Dr Peter Hammond and Mr Mathew Pute presented.
They felt that the Bill as it stood, far from reducing crime, would lead to increased crime by disarming potential victims. Sweeping powers granted to the police, in respect of search and seizures without a warrant, were being granted. Citizens could lose their right to property, not only their firearms which could be forfeited, but other property which could be stolen while one was defenceless. They could lose their right to privacy as the Bill was very intrusive.
There was already an intolerable crime situation with tens of thousands being raped and murdered every year. The assertion that this Bill was needed to curtail the threat of violent crime was ridiculous since armed robbery, murder and rape were already illegal. However many thieves, murderers and rapists have been set free. Even the murderers of the St James church massacre had been set free. What was needed was not more restrictive legislation which UCA believed would complicate the lives of ordinary citizens and waste police time, but rather enforcement of existing legislation which they believed was not being done. Firearms are not used in the majority of murders in South Africa but rather knives, clubs and other blunt and sharp objects.
Far from getting tough on crime the present administration has legalised many crimes such as pornography, gambling, prostitution and abortion, which were fuelling violent crime. The proliferation of vices like gambling, violent videos and pornography had been shown to fuel dramatic increases in violent crime.
English legal tradition and Roman-Dutch Law had entrenched the rights of free citizens to carry and possess weapons for self defence. The Bill makes possession of a firearm a privilege for a select minority. The right to possess firearms was entrenched in the American Constitution. Firearms restrain evil interference and they deserve a place of honour with all that is good. Some people did use firearms in horrible ways but far more people use firearms to prevent horrible things from happening to them. Allowing law-abiding citizens to own and carry firearms saves lives.
Switzerland, New Zealand, Finland and Israel had very high firearm ownership rates with very low crime rates. Other countries had low firearm ownership rates with exceedingly high crime rates. Many other examples are available which show that crime figures are independent of the number of firearms owned. Blaming firearms for crime was overly simplistic and not justified by the facts. It is highly illogical to blame a cold metal inanimate object for the evil that some people choose to do.
"Gun Control Precedes Genocide"
It had to be recognised that gun control was a uniquely 20th century phenomenon, which has inevitably been followed by genocide such as those of Stalin, Hitler, Mao Tse Tung and Idi Amin who had used various laws to disarm and then kill people. Legislation was also used to disarm people in Rwanda and 800 000 people were slaughtered. A "gun free zone" did not mean that it was a crime free or violence free zone. Prior to the invention of firearms, violence was pandemic. The confiscation of weapons makes massacres possible.
The greatest threat to life was not from firearm accidents or criminals but secular governments who disarm their own citizens. Gun control deprives people of their best means of protection. Disarmed people could easily be exploited and oppressed. If a government did not trust its citizens with weapons, the citizens cannot trust the government with power. A government which feared its people should itself be feared. There should rather be legislation on the possession of illegal, stolen firearms and not legal ones.
The Chairperson felt that the UCA was asserting political arguments rather than making a case against the Bill. He asked the politicians to refrain from responding to certain political statements.
An ANC member was concerned that the UCA was perhaps addressing the committee on a different Bill. He said that there was little doubt that the availability of firearms contributed directly to the high levels of violent crimes in South Africa.
Mr O Kgauwe (ANC) noted that UCA objected to the search and seizure powers of the police. It seemed UCA’s view was that if someone was in possession of an AK47, the police must first get a search warrant before being able to search the premises. By then the AK47 could be gone.
Mr Mathew Pute said that the UCA’s objection to search and seizure was there was far too much power in the hands of the Minister or the police. For instance the Minister could simply declare that all hand guns were prohibited and nothing in the Bill prevented him from doing this. UCA suggested that perhaps the provincial leaders from the nine provinces should be given certain powers to decide on sanctions for those with illegal firearms. There had to be decentralised power given to the provinces and not simply to one person.
Mr O Kgauwe (ANC) said that it was a pity that Dr Hammond went to the extent of saying that the state intended disarming communities with the legislation. Quoting Rwanda and other examples and implying that the same could happen in South Africa and then expecting Members of Parliament to be quiet about such misleading statements was very unfair. There was no intention to disarm everyone, the state was merely trying to control the proliferation of firearms.
Dr B Geldenhuys said that if it was true, and he felt that it was, that guns did not kill people but people did, what did UCA suggest should be done to deal with this culture of violence in South Africa?
Dr Hammond felt that it was essential that justice be seen to be done properly. One reason for increase in crime (according to Ecclesiastics 8:12) was that criminals were not punished quickly enough. UCA believed that to deal with the culture of violence, one needed to deal with issues like prostitution, gambling, violent films, violent TV games, drugs and pornography and so on. If firearms caused crime then Switzerland should be a very violent country as their firearm-owning statistics were the highest.
Mr A Maziya (ANC) said that UCA had stated that the issue of possession of firearms was often not related to crime. According to UCA, how many car hijackings were conducted with firearms and whether most of these were of foreign origin or whether they were sold in gun shops in South Africa.
Dr Hammond said that the Safety and Security Ministry had to answer this as they had access to better statistics than the UCA had.
Mr A Maziya said that he wanted to identify himself with a section from the Bible where Jesus Christ was caught in the mountain and his assailants were fully armed. One of the ten disciples took a sword from one of the assailants and cut his ear off. Jesus took the ear and put it back, took the sword and gave it back. Mr Maziya asked UCA’s reaction to this.
Dr Hammond said that he was a bit surprised about the quote from the Bible because Jesus was not captured in a mountain but in a garden, he did not have ten disciples but twelve, he did not take the sword and give it to the assailant. In fact he did not touch the sword, but just healed the man’s ear. Jesus actually said "Put your sword back in its place", since the apostle Peter was interfering in the plan of salvation. Jesus had the power to call 10 000 Angels down. He could have wiped out everyone with just a word. He did not need Peter’s puny little sword. However just before in the upper room he had said, " If you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one". To put this issue into context, one had to know what the Bible was really saying.
He quoted George Washington: "Government is not reason but it is force. Government is like a fire. It is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." This was why the Constitution should be a chain to bind down elected representatives and prevent them from abusing power. The 20th century was littered with examples of governments abusing and centralising too much power and the result has been 160 million people killed by their own governments.
The Chairperson felt that Dr Hammond was not assisting the committee. He said that the Bill did not talk about disarming the SANDF or the SAPS. The Bill being dealt with was B34-2000 on firearms control. If the government wanted to kill people, it could do so through the army or police.
Mr Hammond interjected and said that this was his point.
The Chair went on to say that the Bill dealt with firearms control and the UCA had no input to make on this. All Dr Hammond was doing was making serious political statements which were flawed, and could be argued against. The members were however deprived from doing this since they were not supposed to argue with the presenters.
Ms A Van Wyk (UDM) asked the UCA, in spite of the unfortunate statement that they rejected the Bill in its entirety, whether they were in a position to make any specific proposals to improve the Bill.
There was no response.
Ms A Van Wyk secondly asked the UCA to define a legal firearm which was stolen from a legal firearm owner and was not reported to the police.
Dr Hammond said that it would be an offence not to report the theft of a firearm. A person failing to report a stolen firearm should be subject to a fine. It should however be remembered that the victim of a theft was the victim. It was not fair to make a criminal out of someone who has been a victim even though they should act in a responsible way in keeping the firearm safe or on their person at all times.
An ANC member asked whether the UCA would agree that a number of licensed firearms have been used in famicide cases. Licensed firearms have also been taken from their owners and used elsewhere for crime.
Mr Mathew Pute said that it was true that a number of licensed firearms were used in famicide cases. However UCA did not have the correct statistics and could not answer further.
South African Practical Shooting Association (SAPSA)
Mr Andre van der Byl, Vice Chairman of the South African Institute of Range Officers and Instructors, presented.
He was concerned that there had been a lack of consultation with the South African Practical Shooting Association (which represented the majority of sports shooters in the country across the "colour spectrum") around provisions of the Bill which affected them and which made serious changes to their sport.
Whilst the problem of firearm abuse and the necessity for gun control was understood, it was disturbing that there was this approach in relation to the people on the ground who would be affected. People who were committing crimes with guns had to be punished to the full extent of the law. This was supported. However when it came to sporting issues the drafters should have consulted those affected and shaped the applicable sections according to the principles which governed their sport. Instead the drafters had seemed to have sucked out of their thumbs, ideas as to how the sport should be governed and what was good for them and what was not. The financial implications of implementation would be enormous and the figures anticipated were greatly underestimated.
The Association’s written submission looked specifically at Sections 8(2) and (3); 14 (1),(2) and (3), 19(1(c); (19)(4); (5), 28; 29; 34; 62 and 137(a).
Mr Geldenhuys said that Mr van der Byl had referred to financial implications. He asked if it was possible to concretise this to some extent by him spelling out exactly what the financial implications would be. Related to this, General C Viljoen (FF) noted that Mr van der Byl had said that the proposed costs to implement the Bill were untrue and there was no idea what it would eventually cost. General Viljoen asked what study had been done, were the study results available, and how was the study done?
Mr van der Byl said that the reflected costs could be nowhere near the truth of what it would cost the country to implement the Bill. A requirement of the Bill was that before a person could possess a firearm licence, they had to be given a certificate of competence. How one intended to achieve this was beyond him as one could not get a certificate of competence if you did not have a licensed firearm. Yet one could not get a licensed firearm if you did not have a certificate of competence.
He said that the figures that were being thrown around did not include the cost of firearms and certificates of competence. No one has consulted with SAPSA and no one has taken into consideration what the cost of this certificate of competence training would be. If one went to the private sector, the costs would be astronomical. If one took the cost and included it as part of the police service, it would cost even more than what it would cost in the private sector because as it was there were already too few policemen on the streets. To create an administrative section, would be incredibly complex and expensive. Although there was no costing for this, SAPSA could present figures of what they were doing in this regard.
The Chairperson asked if the statement that implementation would cost the state lots of money, was just an assumption.
Mr van der Byl said that it was simple arithmetic. At the present stage the state did not pay for certificates of competence. There would come a time when it would demand them. Thus there would be a cost factor at some stage. Whether this was done by the police services or whether it was outsourced, it would cost money, since many firearms being licenced.
Ms Van Wyk (UDM) said that this was an opportunity for the South African Practical Shooting Association to assist the committee to improve the Bill. She wanted Mr van der Byl to indicate what their suggestions would be in order to improve the Bill. From the presentation, the committee only knew that the South African Practical Shooting Association had a problem.
Another committee member said that the Bill was still a draft and the presenters had to assist the parliamentary process to improve on the Bill with constructive input.
Mr van der Byl said that the solution to the problem was that the Bill should be held in abeyance. When it came to sports, SAPSA was simply saying that Parliament should talk to them first. Although the hearings was a forum to do so, it could hardly be described as an adequate forum for discussion of the complex problems which existed and much more than thirty minutes would be needed. He asked if the committee would allow them to educate the committee on sports shooting since they were experts in this field. He asked if the committee would get back to them for a list of suggestions which would make implementation cheaper, quicker and more user friendly. He asked if one could actually believe the police speaking on crime rate and solutions when in the end it was found that police were involved in the crime.
Mr van der Byl said that the section which prevented modification of firearms and made it a criminal offence was unreasonable. On the shooting range, it was normal practice to be regularly repairing and changing parts of the firearm directly relevant to its performance (such as the magazine, speed safety mechanism, hammer and hammer struts, scopes and compensators). All of these intricate procedures which sports shooters were familiar with and had been doing for years would now constitute a criminal offence and could land one in jail for 15 years.
The Chairperson asked if the whole Bill should be kept in abeyance because of Sections 17; 18 and 19. Secondly he said that he would have been very happy if in the thirty minutes allotted, Mr van der Byl had gone into Section 19 which directly affected SAPSA and had come up with suggestions on what should be done. He would not promise that SAPSA would be given another opportunity, but if they gave a good motivation and came with constructive suggestions to the problems they had, they could be given another opportunity to present.
Mr van der Byl said that SAPSA’s written submission detailed what they wanted to be changed. He requested an opportunity at some stage to present this written argument.
Commission On Gender Equality
Commissioner Elize Delport said that the Bill was viewed as a further means of humanising society and making South Africa safer for women. The Bill was as a significant step in ensuring that firearms would be confined to the formal institutions of the state tasked with defence. Support for the Bill was however qualified since total prohibition of the use of firearms by civilians would have been ideal.
While both men and women were victims of violence, in the main the perpetrators of crime were men and the vast majority of victims were women. This held true for crimes perpetrated with firearms. Studies show that more women were shot in the home in domestic violence incidents than on the streets or by intruders. The assertion that guns were needed for security and self defence was not true. Guns provide people with an illusion of security. According to a 1997 study, 78% of victims’ guns were stolen during the crime perpetrated against them. People were four times more likely to have their firearms stolen than to use them in self-defence. International studies showed that the level of gun ownership in a population was commensurate with the levels of violence irrespective of the class basis of the owners.
Various recommendations were made on specific sections of the Bill (see table at the end of their submission).
Ms Van Wyk said that although she possibly did not agree with everything said, congratulated the Commission on how the presentation was done.
Adv Swart asked, in relation to the recommendation that 200 cartridges were far too many and that five should suffice, whether this should apply to sports shooters and hunters as well. General C Viljoen asked in addition whether CGEtotally disapproved of activities such as hunting and sports shooting. He said that it was impossible with five rounds to participate in these activities.
Ms F Seedat from the CGE clarified that the CGE did not challenge Section 94(3) which said that the limitation of 94(1)and (2) did not apply to dedicated hunters and sports-persons. She said that the CGE did not disapprove of activities such as hunting and sports shooting. However for purposes other than hunting and sports shooting, the CGE’s recommendation was that the holder of a licence could not possess more than five cartridges per firearm, and may not purchase more than thirty cartridges per firearm per year.
Dr Geldenhuys noted CGE’s very strong plea to liberate South Africa from firearms. Even if every licence holder handed in his or her firearm, there would still be four million illegal firearms in circulation. He asked if this Bill sufficiently addressed this problem.
The CGE has made proposals about the resourcing of this Bill, in terms of which resources also had to be supplied to track down and remove illegal firearms from society.
Dr Geldenhuys secondly said that domestic violence featured strongly in the presentation. He asked if one should not rather devote more time and energy to addressing the root causes of domestic violence, instead of trying to address the symptoms, which in this case were firearms.
Ms Delport said that the issue of domestic violence and the problem thereof was so prevalent and deeply engraved that one had to use a multi-pronged strategy in addressing it. Hopefully getting rid of guns would be one small part of this. There was some very interesting research at the CGE on this, which they would gladly share.
General C Viljoen asked if there was a close relationship between the CGE and Gun Free South Africa. He asked if Ms Elize Delport was a member of
Gun Free South Africa as well as a commissioner.
Mr Bloem (DP) light-heartedly asked if CGE had any relationship to the UCA.
Ms Delport said that in terms of the Constitution, the CGE was an independent body. It was definitely not affiliated to Gun Free South Africa, other political parties or anyone else. They did however consult widely when making submissions because as a Commission, it felt that it needed to give a representative input when making submissions. Personally she was not affiliated to Gun Free South Africa. CGE has nevertheless attended their meetings as they had attended numerous other meetings as well. This was not denying their own individual rights to freedom of association in terms of the Constitution.
The CGE was asked why it was arguing for one hand gun and not two.
Ms Delport said that the CGE would like to see the South African society moving towards becoming a society where there would not be guns in civilian hands, except possibly for sporting and hunting purposes. It therefore did not make sense to the CGE to have two guns instead of one.
The CGE was asked why it wanted a clause added which specifically stated that the Act was there to limit further use and access to firearms.
Ms Delport said that they would like to see this legislation as an incremental piece of legislation. Once all the difficulties have been ironed out and there has been a few years of implementing the law, possibly one could move to the next step.
Centre For Study of Violence and Reconciliation
Ms Lisa Vetten gave some background on the Centre For Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CFSVR) and noted that their Trauma Clinic and Gender Unit had compiled the submission.
One problem raised was that police persons and security guards who have been exposed to violent shootings or murders during the course of their work could be left with post-traumatic stress. The Bill did not have any provisions dealing with monitoring of affected gun holders, and the Trauma Clinic had concerns about the competency to carry firearms while in a state of psychological distress.
The CFSVR proposed that the age of eligibility to possess a firearm had to be changed to 25 years.
According to a 1995 study, the killing of women by their male partners was high. Women were more likely to die at the hands of men they knew than at the hands of men they did not know. From an analysis of murders between 1993 and 1995, it was found that every six days at least one woman in Gauteng was killed by her male partner, and gunshot wounds accounted for the majority of the deaths. In many cases there was a history of abuse. The reverse was not true of men – since they were not more likely to die at the hands of their female partners. Based on these findings, it was recommended that gun control was clearly one important aspect of a much bigger strategy to attempt to reduce the number of family killings occurring.
Ms Vetten also referred to the unacceptable sentences for murders where partners were killed. It was not uncommon to receive sentences such as six months imprisonment. Input was made regarding competency certificates, applications for firearm licences and concern about the exemption of the SAPS from the Bill. It was recommended that police officers not be allowed to take their firearms home with them when off duty. Various other recommendations were made (see submission).
Dr Geldenhuys said that he was totally against the Bill, but he felt that Ms Vetten had made some proposals, which he could live with. However he noted that Ms Vetten had recommended that police officers hand in their firearms when going off-duty. It was a well-known fact that every 37 hours a police officer was killed in South Africa. He asked if her recommendation would not aggravate the problem. Mr Bloem added that it would be discriminatory to require police persons to hand in their firearms when going off-duty since civilians were entitled to carry firearms.
Ms Vetten said that she was not an expert on police murders and stood corrected if she was giving incorrect information. However she understood that a number of these murders occurred with the police officers’ guns. If there was knowledge that he did not have a gun, it could make him less of a target.
It had to be taken into account that police officers did hold somewhat of a special position in society. This was that as enforcers of the law, they were sometimes exempted or protected from the law being used or applied against them. For example in terms of domestic violence, women, because their husbands were police officers, were unable to obtain protection from the police because if they went to report an incident, the husband’s friends were there and frequently refused to take the complaint against their fellow colleague or take any action against him. Such women were left in a particularly vulnerable position. They had less protection in practice than many women. Perhaps not all police officers should be affected by this recommendation but only those who were a risk and who had threatened their partners or attacked them before.
General C Viljoen asked whether the availability of a weapon was that important. If a man wanted to kill his partner, he could choke her to death or kill her with a knife. Was the problem not deeper - within the social causes and not the kind of weapon eventually used.
Ms Vetten accepted that controlling guns would not necessarily stop people from killing one another. However guns made it much easier to kill someone than perhaps a knife. The kind of destruction was more lethal than a number of other weapons. According to a study done, when there were multiple killings within domestic circumstances, a gun was overwhelmingly represented in these cases. Also where a person went from one place to another killing people, almost every time a gun was used, which suggested that there was something about a gun that perhaps allowed people to sustain their anger or their rage for a much longer period than they would be able to do with another weapon.
The CFSVR was not saying that gun control was the prevention to family killings, but it was an important strand in reducing the incidence. Also even if a gun was never used on a partner, the fact that it was there and the threat that it could be used on a partner was powerful. For example in a number of cases, in the middle of a heated argument, a gun was drawn and fired. Possibly if the gun was not there and the person did not have anything at their disposal, a person may hit the other person instead, which was not desirable by any means, but was not as bad as being killed.
Mr Bruce Park-Ross
He admitted that South African society needs stabilisation. However he objected to the new Bill saying that the present SA firearm legislation is adequate. Stronger legislation is not the solution because criminals have no respect for the law in any event. He implored the Committee to consider law-abiding citizens.
He suggested that money used for the implementation of the Bill could rather be channeled into more effective policing or a better criminal justice system.
Some specific clauses in the new Bill which he objected to:
Clause 4(1)(g)(iii) – in terms of this clause firearm owners will have to apply to the Registrar for matters such as shortening the barrel of a firearm. This kind of alteration to a firearm is often done to hunting rifles to make it more maneuverable in confined spaces such as in bush. To apply to the Registrar for permission to have such things done would be laborious.
Clause 15(3) – this clause relates to the type of self-defence weapons which will be allowed. He objected to this saying that law-abiding citizens should have the right to choose the type of self-defence weapons that they wish to use. This clause should be modified to include greater provision for choice because different firearms are suitable for different applications. Sometimes the owner may want to carry something that is easy to conceal such as when he is wearing a suit and sometimes he may prefer to carry something bigger.
Clause 27(1) – this is the renewal clause. He asked why owners should keep justifying their entitlement to own the firearm. He said that this clause must be scrapped.
Clause 143(1) – the Minister is given the authority to declare a firearm free zone. He was opposed to this and suggested that they rather have a system where someone must declare their firearm when they enter a particular zone or have someone who will monitor people who appear suspicious (in a particular area).
Clause 150(1) – the Minister is given the power to make any Regulations. Mr Park-Ross contended that the Regulations which the Minister makes may have the sinister purpose of the Government trying to disarm legal firearm owners for political purposes.
In conclusion Mr Park-Ross said that the legislation will largely be ignored by criminals and is in effect targeting law-abiding and responsible gun-owners who had a culture of enjoyment in respect of their weapons. He said that in the same way that many people were car collectors, many were also firearm collectors. If the State tells people how many firearms they can own, where will the line be drawn? Will the State someday regulate the number of cars someone can own?
An ANC member asked Mr Park-Ross if he had a relationship with hunters clubs or similar associations.
Mr Park-Ross replied that he had and this was plainly stated in his CV which he had presented to parliament.
An ANC member asked if Mr Park-Ross was comparing this Bill with a State of Emergency (referring to the Minister’s power to make Regulations). The member also commented that one cannot compare collecting firearms to collecting cars.
Mr Park-Ross replied that the Government was being given the power to declare a State of Emergency. They would ultimately be able to confiscate peoples’ firearms with people having no recourse. He said that cars can be compared to guns because many people are killed in car accidents. Licenced firearm owners go to great expense to store firearms safely. He said that as a private citizen he would like the freedom to pursue his interest in firearms. He did not have any political nor evil intent.
In clarifying his comment about the funds used for this Bill being channelled elsewhere instead, Mr Park-Ross said that the current firearm legislation was adequate. What should be done is to give police the means to enforce law and order. The police are hamstrung with a limited budget.
General Viljoen (FF) referred to the presenter’s comment that it was the "culture" which he came from, saying that there was a new culture in the country and that there were many new applications (approximately 18 000 applications for firearms per month). He said that this new culture also had to be catered for and asked Mr Park-Ross for an opinion on how they could cater for this new culture.
Mr Park-Ross said that the culture which he was referring to was not the old political white culture. He said that his club has invited others to join their shooting club which aimed to promote the safe use of guns. They invited all groups to come so that they could train them. Unfortunately these offers were never taken up. If the offer is not taken up then there is nothing that they can do. He reiterated that there was no political culture among shooters.
Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) asked which provisions of the present Act he thought were not implemented sufficiently and what he thought the reason for this was.
Mr Park-Ross thought it was Section 11. He said that the problem was that people are not prosecuted hard enough in respect of declarations of unfitness.
An ANC member asked what that they were doing to encourage licence holders to come to their shooting range.
Mr Park-Ross said that his club offered people the opportunity to come and shoot for sport and to adopt a law-abiding culture. The offer is always open.
Reverend David J Newby
Rev Newby said that a drawback of the new Bill is the absence of a buy-back programme. The State must demonstrate a commitment to remove and destroy firearms. Transitional provisions should include a buyback of firearms which are legal under the present Act but which will be prohibited under the new Act.
The State must ensure adequate controls over licenced firearms and they must seize illegal weapons. Close to 3000 legal firearms fall into the hands of criminals each month. The link between legal and illegal firearms is clear. To have a successful weapons collection program there are two aspects to be considered: ‘’the stick’’ and ‘’the carrot’’. The stick refers to penalties, policing strategies and prosecution procedures. On the other hand there is a need for a carrot which refers to meaningful incentives for people to hand in firearms. This could include receiving ‘’goods for guns’’ where they receive shopping vouchers for firearms.
General Viljoen said that handguns were the real problem and asked if handguns should not be dealt with separately from other weapons. He also asked if the death penalty was a suitable punishment for those with illegal firearms.
The Reverend replied that he did not personally support capital punishment. He does however believe that there should be tough measures. It is important that people know that they will be caught. He agreed that handguns should be top priority. However it may be more feasible to deal with all firearms at the same time. On the other hand if handguns were dealt with separately then that may be a compromise where those in favour of stricter gun control and those against it could find some common ground.
Dr Geldenhuys said that theft of legal firearms makes firearms illegal. This was the reason for the restrictive legislation. Yet the reason why legal firearms are lost is because the provisions of the present Act are not properly implemented. He asked if the real problem was that firearms were not stored properly.
The Reverend said that the issue was not just storage of firearms but overall control. The new Bill is less confusing than the present Act. The new Bill provides for better control such as the renewal of firearm licences and competency testing to obtain the firearm licence. The new Bill sounds "eminently do-able".
Mr Pretorius said he is not affiliated to any group but he is an occasional hunter. The effect of the new Bill is that he will be forced to join an organisation simply so that he can continue to hunt. He thinks that this is discriminatory.
He compared firearms with vehicles saying that the two had a lot in common. Both get stolen and misused and they can both be used as weapons. If people are restricted to one firearm, then why not restrict them to one car. Where will the line be drawn?
The focus must be a minimum number of unlicenced firearms. The ordinary man must not be deprived of a means to protect himself. The individual in society should have the maximum amount of freedom. The licenced owner is not the problem. Very few firearms are lost or stolen through negligence. Criminals will always have access to firearms. Gun control has had no effect on crime control anywhere in the world.
What SA needs is an efficient system that works. The proposed system will fail because:
- there will not be compliance with the Bill
- the workload will be too heavy for the police
- there is insufficient planning and budgeting to upgrade the Central Firearms Registry
- there will be a diversion of police manpower away from policing
An ANC member asked what he meant by ‘’freedom’’. Did he mean that the right to own ten firearms was freedom?
Mr Pretorius replied that legislation which stipulates how many firearms someone can own left the door wide open for citizens to be deprived of other things in the future too such as vehicles. He said that if a criminal owned only one firearm (instead of more) then that did not make him less effective as a criminal. People should have the freedom to decide how many firearms they wanted to own.
The Chairperson said that the distinction between firearms and vehicles could be found mainly in the purpose for which they are made. Firearms are made to kill. This is the only reason for which they are made and bought. They are designed to kill. Vehicles are for transport. If using it results in death then that is accidental and incidental to its main purpose. There was a big difference between the two.
South African Catholic Bishops’ Conference
Father Pearson said that Catholics are known for their vigorous pro-life stance. This stance is not limited to the abortion issue but relates also to opposition to the death penalty and to firearms. Pope John Paul II spoke of the need to control the prevalence of handguns. The Pope referred to small firearms as ‘’instruments of death’’.
The SACBC supports key areas in the Bill. There have been a few changes between the draft Bill and the tabled Bill. There is greater clarity and it has removed many of the ambiguities of the draft Bill. On the clause which deals with the grounds of unfitness however, they prefer the formulation in the draft Bill.
They welcome the attempt to create greater control over state owned firearms as well as the introduction of rigorous compulsory testing system in respect of competency. The fact that lending of firearms will be prohibited is a good thing. For meaningful change in South Africa there must be legislation which creates stronger control over the production and distribution of firearms.
They made the following suggestions:
- Applicants should also be trained in conflict resolution.
- Firearms should only be made available to those who can show a need.
- Firearm owners should pay high prices for the renewal of licences. A proportion of this fee should be used to off-set the effects of gun violence.
- They also suggested that licences be required to be renewed annually.
- It is a recognised fact that youth (especially between 16 – 21) are subject to firearm abuse and violence. They recommended that the age limit be raised to 21 (except for those involved in sporting activities).
- They oppose section 105(3)(b) where the Registrar is empowered to request any person who has made a statement on the declaration of unfitness of another to appear before the Registrar. This is not desirable because a victim of abuse may be called upon to publicly testify against an abuser. They think that the meaning of fit and proper person should be more clearly defined. They also propose that references from the applicant’s community be included.
Mr Geldenhuys referred to the high percentage of youths involved in violent crime and asked for an opinion on introducing non violent conflict resolution as a subject at school.
Father Pearson said that he welcomed this.
An ANC member commented that conflict resolution was something which should be considered beyond firearms control. It should be cultivated in South Africa as a culture.
The meeting was adjourned.
No related documents
- We don't have attendance info for this committee meeting
Download as PDF
You can download this page as a PDF using your browser's print functionality. Click on the "Print" button below and select the "PDF" option under destinations/printers.
See detailed instructions for your browser here.