Firearms Control Bill: discussion

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Police

07 June 2000
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

 

SAFETY AND SECURITY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
7 June 2000
FIREARMS CONTROL BILL

Relevant Documents:
Firearms Control Bill
Envisaged Costs for the Firearms Control Bill, as handed out at the Security & Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, 24 May 2000 (see Appendix 1)

SUMMARY
The Committee discussed their positions on the new Bill and the upcoming public hearings. ANC members supported the Bill whereas the Freedom Front and the New National Party voiced strong objections to it and questioned the country’s ability to implement the new legislation in terms of resources, both human and material. Advocate Kok, Chief Legal Advisor, assured the Committee there would be adequate resources for implementation and that the Head of the Firearms Register would be at the disposal of the Committee. The Chairperson reminded Committee members that they have a fundamental and important responsibility to the country. Crime is a big threat that must be addressed. He wants to see the Bill implemented as soon as it is passed and asserted that the Bill can be implemented. He added that public hearings do not make laws; Parliament does.

MINUTES
Present at the meeting were Advocate Louis Kok, Chief Legal Advisor and Mr DeCaris, Legal Advisor to the Office of the National Commissioner.

The Chairperson, Mr George, opened by saying the meeting was to give members the opportunity to discuss the Bill before the scheduled public hearings. He was looking for some agreement between the parties to allow for a re-drafting of the Bill. He immediately opened the meeting up to questions and comments.

Ms Sosibo (ANC) said they should use their time addressing the areas in which there is disagreement. For her, these included the fact that legal firearms, once stolen, become illegal firearms. She also noted that the Bill does not make clear if the legal age for a firearm licence would be 18 or 21. The ANC would propose 25 as the appropriate age for firearm licencing. She also asserted that one firearm for the purpose of self-defence is sufficient.

Mr Gibson (DP) asserted the Committee should make no decisions before seeing the public submissions and listening to the public hearings, in order to maintain openness and transparency. He cautioned that the public should never be encouraged to think they are wasting their time in making representations. He was also concerned about problems of implementation of the Bill and warned that Parliament must not put itself into disrepute by passing laws it cannot implement.

Mr Gibson had four particular concerns regarding implementation:
- What will happen at the police level where there are substantial personnel shortages?
- The Committee needs to hear from Central Firearm Register representatives how they will implement the new Bill as Mr Gibson is concerned they are working with a backlog even under the current legislation.
- How to disarm people who now hold firearms legally? Mr Gibson fears the creation of a pool of cheap firearms when these people sell their excess firearms before the new legislation comes into force.
- How many qualified trainers will there be? Mr Gibson fears that licence certificates will be distributed without adequate training.

Dr Geldenhuys (NNP) spoke in order to voice his party’s objections to the Bill. He said that South Africa needs a culture of responsible gun ownership but that this particular Bill is "anti-gun". He said that the drafting process has not been transparent and also mentioned the "sensitive" problem of ensuring compliance. He asserted that the "underlying philosophy" of the Bill is "totally flawed" in that it will have no effect on violent crime and will not limit the loss of firearms through theft. He noted that, even today, South Africans do not follow the provisions of the current legislation for firearm storage. Dr Geldenhuys suggested that what is needed is not a new law but, rather, effective enforcement of the current law. He said owners should be licenced, with no restrictions as to the number of firearms they could legally own, and all firearms should be registered. He wanted to discuss the costs of implementing the new Bill, the illegal gun traffic in South Africa, the question of constitutionality as well as the fact that the National Commissioner had asked Parliament not to pass laws it could not implement. For example, he referred to the new legislation on domestic violence and commented that it would be impossible to implement.

An ANC member said that to enforce the old legislation rather than the new would be irresponsible. The ANC supports the Bill and sees it as the "cornerstone of peace and stability". He said they were going forward and needed to move faster.

The Chairperson responded to Mr Gibson’s comments saying that the Committee would have to hear from the Legal Department and the Registry, and that the age of competence for firearm ownership would have to be looked into.

General Viljoen (FF) said he could wait for the public hearings, but wanted to assert his party’s "major and fundamental" problems with the Bill. He said the problem of firearm theft was a result of irresponsible ownership and storage. He also wanted to talk about the Committee’s process. He proposed that the hearings be regarded as a phase and reminded his colleagues of the principle of openness in that policy documents should be available to all. He also suggested that hearings on practical implementation of the Bill be initiated and that financial implications of the Bill be included in the hearing process. To do otherwise, he said, would make a mockery of the hearings. After the hearings, he proposed that each party make its position clear in writing. This would help the Committee move toward compromise and consensus. General Viljoen concluded by saying his party’s fundamental problems with the Bill would come out in the hearings, but that they were open to listening.

An ANC member said the public hearings are what is important now; therefore, the Committee should not discuss the Bill at this point as this would pre-empt the hearings.

Mr Maziya (ANC) said the Bill would reduce the number of illegal firearms. He commented that it was not opportune for the Committee to discuss the Bill before they had listened to the hearings. He suggested that those who oppose the Bill were multiple firearm owners themselves, but assured that the Bill would not interfere with people’s lifestyles but would accommodate them as the Bill is only a check on unlicenced firearms. He added that the ANC are responsible leaders.

Mr Pheko (PAC) wanted to remind his colleagues that the Bill is all about crime and that the public hearings are important. He mentioned that he had never before been in a Committee that had opinions before discussions began. He said this was wrong since Committee members should keep open minds.

The Chairperson said the Committee must exchange ideas as parties. He warned the Committee not to rely too much on the public hearings, reminding members that the public does not draft laws, Parliament does. He said public hearings were to give suggestions to Committee members but usually resulted in small changes only, if any. They must not give the impression that laws are made by public hearings; they are to inform only. He said the implementation of the Bill was important in that Parliament must not pass laws that have no meaning and added that the Committee was not to discuss the question of process but simply to look at the Bill.

Advocate Kok agreed that the current system has insufficient resources but said this is the reason why a new system is being implemented. A new system will be better-resourced and better-equipped. He said the Bill is part of this process and not the cause of the scarcity of resources and that the Bill will force the government to make certain resources available. He agreed that the implementation of the Bill is an important issue, as is the issue of cost. The Bill, he said, would not be implemented immediately but added that this is normal in that many Bills are implemented in phases. Advocate Kok said he would ensure adequate resources to implement the Bill and would also ensure that the Head of the Firearms Register is at the disposal of the Committee. He added that the Registrar is optimistic there will be no impediments to the Bill’s implementation.

General Viljoen asked if the Bill had been cleared with the Minister of Finance. The Chairperson responded that allocations had been cleared.

Mr DeCaris asked if the police were to train the trainers, who would train individual people? He said the police do not have the resources to do all the training.

Advocate Kok responded that, whereas the old Act was personnel and resource intensive, the new Act would be "on-line" and so reduce the need for resources.

Dr. Geldenhuys asked Advocate Kok to clarify what he meant by "on-line" and asserted that it looked like the Bill would require more resources such as trainer monitors, shooting ranges and storage trainers. The question was not answered, as other members asked that the discussion be limited to process, rather than substantive questions.

The Chairperson then reminded Committee members that they have a fundamental and important responsibility to the country. Crime is a big threat that must be addressed. He wants to see the Bill implemented as soon as it is passed and asserted that the Bill can be implemented. He re-asserted that public hearings do not make laws.

The meeting was adjourned.

Appendix 1:
Document handed out at the Security and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, dated 24 May 2000

ENVISAGED COSTS: FIREARM CONTROL BILL
The envisaged costs of the Firearm Control Bill) based on a phased approach is as follows:

2000/2001

R 57 million

2001/2002

R82 Million

2002/2003

R 78 Million


An amount of R57 million has been allocated and reserved on the SAPS's budget for 2000/2001, being the envisaged expenditure with the implementation of the above mentioned Bill.

The amount is made up as follows:

 

R 1000

Personnel Expenditure

R22499

Administrative Expenditure

R 3326

Inventories

R 2392

Equipment

R16846

Professional and Special Services

R11881

Miscellaneous

R 56

TOTAL

R57000


The elements on which these funds will be spent, include an effective import/export system, the physical inspection at border posts to verify permits and firearms, the control over private owned firearms and the upgrading of the Central Firearm Register.

Envisaged expenditure for subsequent years which has been included in the MTEF, is as follows:

2001/02

R82 million

2002/03

R78 million

 

 

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