Declaration of Firearms Amnesty: Department briefing

Committee: NCOP Security and Justice

Date of Meeting: 11 Nov 2004

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Minutes

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SECURITY AND CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS SELECT COMMITTEE
11 November 2004
DECLARATION OF FIREARMS AMNESTY: DEPARTMENT BRIEFING

Acting Chairperson:
Mr K Mokoena (ANC) [Limpopo)

Relevant documents
Ministry for Safety and Security: Firearms Control Act, 2000 (Act 60 of 2000): Declaration of an amnesty in terms of section 139 of the Act.
Explanatory memorandum: Firearms Control Act, 2000 (Act 60 of 2000): Declaration of an amnesty in terms of section 139 of the Act.

SUMMARY
The Committee was briefed on the Declaration of Amnesty in terms of the Firearms Control Act. The Committee recommended the approval of the Declaration. The Declaration was aimed at reducing the high number of illegal firearms and large quantities of illegal ammunition in South Africa. Certain conditions had to be met before amnesty could be granted. The amnesty applied to the possession of the firearms and not crimes committed using these firearms. The firearms would be ballistically tested before being destroyed. An application for surrender should be made before the firearm was surrendered.

MINUTES
The Chairperson apologised for the short notice of the meeting. He explained that the Ministry had requested that the Select Committee should consider and pass the Declaration to enable it to function properly.

Department of Safety and Security briefing
Dr PC Jacobs, Assistant Commissioner: South African Police Services (SAPS), informed Members that the proposed amnesty, if approved by Parliament, would come into operation on 1 January 2005. It was important that the Committee consider the request given the fact that Parliament was about to rise.

The Firearms Control Act (Act No. 60 of 2000) authorised the Minister for Safety and Security to declare an amnesty in respect of unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition. The declaration must, in terms of Section 130(2) of the Act, be published in a notice in the Gazette and be approved by Parliament. It was a prerequisite in terms of Section 139(2)(a) of the Act that the notice would only be valid if it was approved by Parliament. An amnesty could only be declared if it might result in the reduction of illegally possessed firearms in South Africa, and it was in the public interest to do so.

There was a high number of illegally possessed firearms and large quantities of such ammunition in South Africa. The successful discovering and subsequent destruction of such firearms and ammunition during Operation Sethunya conducted by SAPS during 2003 was sufficient proof of this statement.

In terms of Section 139(c), the notice in question should specify the conditions under which the amnesty would be granted. The requirements for a declaration of amnesty were met. The only outstanding issue before a declaration of amnesty was the approval of Parliament as was required in Section 139(2)(a) of the Act.

A Draft Notice would be published in the Government Gazette. The following conditions were proposed in the draft notice:
(a) a written application for amnesty by an applicant had to be handed in at a police station. The application had to state the full names, identity number and residential address of the applicant, as well as the type, calibre, make, model and all marked serial numbers or other identification marks on the firearm or particulars of the ammunition;

(b) the firearm or ammunition concerned must be surrendered by the applicant to a member of the South African Police Service on duty at any police station and such a member must issue a receipt in respect of such firearm or ammunition to the applicant; and

(c) the applicant for amnesty must, when surrendering the firearm or ammunition, notify the relevant Designated Firearms Officer in writing if he or she intended to apply for a licence to possess the firearm or ammunition, as contemplated in Section 139(4) of the Firearms Control Act, 2000 and lodge the application within 14 days from the date on which the firearm or ammunition was surrendered.

A licence would be granted under exceptional circumstances. The relevant Designated Firearms Officer had the meaning assigned to it in the Firearms Control Regulations, 2004, and particulars of the nearest Designated Firearms Officer may be obtained from any police station. A person who surrendered a firearm or ammunition in compliance with a notice published in terms of subsection might not be prosecuted in relation to the firearm: for having been in possession of that firearm without the appropriate licence, permit or authorisation; or the ammunition, for having been in possession of that ammunition without having been in lawful possession of a firearm capable discharging the ammunition.

All firearms, except those in respect of which a licence had been granted, would be destroyed. They would be ballistically tested before being destroyed. Police Officers had already been trained on how to handle the firearms to ensure that they did not find their way back to the wrong people. A public awareness campaign would be conducted to ensure that people were not arrested for illegal possession of firearms whilst they were on the way to surrender them. A person would have to make an application for surrendering the firearm before the actual surrender or make arrangements for the surrender. The firearms would be destroyed six months after the expiry of the amnesty period.

Discussion
Mr D Worth (DA)(Free State) supported the initiative. He asked if the police would look after the firearms to ensure that those who successfully applied for a license would get their firearms back.

Mr A Moseki (ANC) (North West) asked if the amnesty would begin on 1 January.

Dr Jacobs replied that the amnesty would commence on 1 January 2005. The Department would be able to raise the necessary awareness between now and then. Training on the safekeeping of the arms had already been done.

Mr S Shiceka (ANC) (Gauteng) proposed that there should an amendment to the Regulations to cater for people who could not write. A provision should be included to the effect that those who could not write should be assisted by police officers. He pointed out that people in rural areas in Kwazulu-Natal would be scared to make applications because they could not write. Most of the illegal firearms were in Kwazulu-Natal.

Dr Jacobs replied that the Member's concern could be read into the regulations. There was no requirement that the person surrendering the firearms should personally complete the application. Anyone could assist in the completion of the application.

Mr B Mkhaliphi (ANC) (Mpumalanga) said that a member of the public who had a very old revolver had approached him. The revolver was a very rare silver plated antique. The person kept it as an ornament. It was disabled and could not even take bullets. The question was whether the person should also apply for amnesty in respect of the revolver.

Dr Jacobs replied that in terms of the new Firearms Control Act certain antique firearms were excluded from the definition of a firearm. Those were firearms manufactured before 1900 and also those firearms that were disabled. There was a specific prescribed method in which they had to be disabled. The person should take the firearm to a gunsmith who would determine if the firearm had been disabled in the prescribed manner. If the problem was not solved the person should apply for amnesty and a license for it.

The Chairperson asked if the Portfolio Committee had already agreed on the matter.

Dr Jacobs replied in the affirmative and added that the National Assembly would consider the matter soon.

The Chairperson asked if the amnesty also applied to legal holders of firearms. He was aware that people had to reapply for new firearm licenses.

Dr Jacobs replied that the new Firearms Control Act laid down a procedure for people in possession of legal firearms to hand them back. The process had started on 1 July 2004. On the date on which the Act came into operation some police received up to 17 voluntary surrendered legal firearms. The new process was to supplement this process and focused on illegal firearms. The amnesty only related to the possession of the firearm and not crimes committed using it. The firearms would be ballistically tested. If a murder, for instance, had been committed using the firearms it would have to be investigated. In some instances, one would find that the person who surrendered the firearm was not the person who had committed the crime. The person would have to help to trace the real culprit.

Mr Shiceka maintained that there should be a Regulation to the effect that police officers should help people in completing the application for surrendering firearms.

Dr Jacobs had no objections in making it clear that the police should assist.

Mr J le Roux (DA) (Eastern Cape) said that amendments would delay the process and one did not know what the consequences of the delay would be. He suggested that it should be made clear during the awareness campaign that people could request the assistance of the police in completing the forms.

The Chairperson asked what would happen if the Committee was to introduce any amendment.

Dr Jacobs said that Mr Le Roux had raised a valid concern. The National Assembly was rising on 12 November 2004. If the Committee agreed, the Department would ensure that the message was put across that the police could assist in completing the forms.

Mr C Ntuli (ANC) (KwaZulu-Natal) asked why people had to make an application for surrender instead of just taking the firearms to police stations.

Dr Jacobs replied that the problem was that some people might be arrested in roadblocks for possession of firearms, and would later argue that they were on their way to surrender them. The Portfolio Committee had also raised this question. The requirement for prior application was necessary to close loopholes.

The Chairperson proposed that the Committee's report should indicate that Department should in future assist people who could not write. The Committee agreed.

The Committee recommended the approval of the declaration of amnesty in terms of the Firearms Control Act.

The meeting was adjourned.


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