Firearms Control Act Implementation: Central Firearms Registry briefing

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Police

14 September 2005
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Meeting report

SAFETY AND SECURITY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE

SAFETY AND SECURITY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
14 September 2005
FIREARMS CONTROL ACT IMPLEMENTATION: CENTRAL FIREARMS REGISTRY BRIEFING

Chairperson:
Ms M Sotyu (ANC)

Documents handed out:
Firearms Control Act, 2000 Act 60 of 2000 (please email
info@pmg.org.za)
South African Police Services PowerPoint Presentation:
Part1, Part2 and Part3

SUMMARY
The Central Firearms Registry (CFR) briefed the Committee on the SA Police Service (SAPS) strategy and the implementation of the Firearms Control Act Number 60 of 2000. Officials explained the legal accreditation of both formal and non-formal institutions, and the number of applications for competency certificates processed during 2005. Members also dealt with license renewal issues, such as the transition provisional renewal process, options and factors that impacted on renewal, and the number of renewal applications received.

They also focused on Amnesty 2005 and the completed statistics on firearms, components and ammunition. The C-A-T-S (Communication, Attitude, Training, and Service Delivery) principle was explained. All services needed to be optimised for efficiency.

Members enquired about the backlog in competency certificate issuance, and asked what interventions had the SAPS made to overcome such backlogs. Members expressed great concern with the firearm renewal process, particularly the problems facing South Africans who were overseas and needed to renew their licences.

MINUTES

Central Firearms Registry briefing

The Director of the Central Firearms Registry, Mr Jaco Bothma, said their plan was to halt the proliferation of firearms for the use in crime and violence in South Africa. The strategic plan covered 2004 to 2007. It would be made possible by providing proactive and responsive policing services in the proliferation of firearms.

The South African Police Service Firearm strategy had five core objectives:
- to develop and maintain appropriate firearm related regulators through legislation;
- to ensure effective control processes and procedures regarding firearms;
- to reduce and eradicate the illegal and criminal use of firearms, through an operational crime combating approach.
- to ensure prevention of crime and violence through civil awareness and social design, and
- to promote regional and sector co-operation through a co-ordinated plan and monitoring of firearm initiatives.

There were three different phases of implementation: the Preparatory Phase (from 1 January 2001 to 30 March 2004), the Readiness Assessment Phase (from 1 April to 30 June 2004) and the Operational Phase (1 July 2004; ongoing).

The Preparatory Phase had demonstrated the design and implementation of the Designated Firearm Officers (DFO) model, through the establishment of infrastructure and staff training. It included the design and development of additional functionality for the Firearms Register System. There were development and design processes and procedures for all provisions contained in the firearms control legislation. The structured budget had also included the allocation of resources, the creation of SAPS forms, and the establishment of 312 firearm registration centres throughout South Africa.

The Readiness Assessment Phase had involved the evaluation of aspects developed during the Preparatory Phase. Furthermore, there had been the identification and rectification of dysfunction, and the allocation of additional resources and training. The National Firearm Call Centre had been established and had been a great success, with 117 069 calls dealt with from 1 July 2004 to 30 June 2005, and a further 135 119 calls from 1 July to 31 August 2005.

The Internal Operational Phase, with regard to infrastructure, had two committees. First, the National Firearm Control Implementation Committee had been responsible for monitoring implementation. The Committee also provided management and support regarding tactical and operational information. Other functions included identifying all dysfunctions and facilitating national and provincial interventions.

The second committee was the Implementation Task Team that solved on-site problems and provided technical expertise and support. The Operations Approach made interventions as recommended by the Firearms Control Implementation Committees. The Approach gave specific tasks and feedback.

The External Operational Infrastructure included the National Interdepartmental Firearm Control Implementation Committee, as well as other associations assisted by a SAPS Forum. The forum included hunters and sharpshooters, the SA Heritage Resources Association, national dealers and gunsmiths, firearms and ammunitions manufacturers, and the Ministerial Advisory Committee.

Legal compliance consisted of the operationalisation of processes, covering accreditation, competency certificates, firearm licensing, permits and the renewal of firearm licences. The following were the only categories for accreditation:
- public collectors or museums,
- hunting associations and businesses,
- sports-shooting organisations,
- collectors associations
- shooting ranges and training providers,
- theatrical, film or television use,
- game ranches, and
- other business purposes and official institutions.

A total of 5 449 applications for competency certificates had been received between 1 January and 30 August 2005. There was a transitional period from 1 January 2005 to 31 December 2008 for the renewal of licences, permits or authorisations, and this was applicable to current firearm owners. The options were voluntary surrender, deactivation of firearm, exportation of firearm, selling/donation of firearm, deregulation and renewal. Receiving a competency certificate for training purposes, required a training certificate from an accredited training institution and the successful completion of a prescribed test on the Firearms Act. Applications for a competency certificate were accepted at relevant Designated Firearm Officers (DFOs).

Various factors impacting the strategy were the number of lost or stolen firearms, firearms that had not been reported stolen, deceased persons owning firearms, and firearms that had been sold to dealers or individuals. There had also been duplications in the cases of previous owners not cancelling licenses. Overseas owners who wanted permanent transportation of firearms had 90 days to apply for renewal upon their return.

The Amnesty Programme (January to June 2005) was ongoing. A total of 98 412 complete firearms and 314 firearm parts had been obtained by SAPS. The bulk of the presentation on Communication was not covered due to time constraints.

Discussion
Mr M Booi (ANC) asked how the SAPS would deal with the backlog in the issuance of competency certificates. There was a drive to make schools firearm-free zones. He asked how the SAPS had been involved thus far and how the drive was progressing. He queried to what extent the European Union provided support.

Mr Bothma responded that the renewal legislation stipulated that if an application was made in one year, a license did not have to be issued in that same year. The processing of a competency certificate application required a background check, further questions and waiting for an interview if the person was overseas. Additional resources had been allocated and photograph and fingerprint requirements had been made less onerous to deal with the backlog. If domestic violence were apparent in an applicant’s history, then further enquiries would be needed. Each case was different. The SAPS were striving for the completion of the competency certificate process within three months. He continued that discussion the SAPS and the Minister of Education was taking place on the issue of firearm-free zones. Donations were received in 2001 and 2002 from EU to assist with implementation but these had ended.

Mr F Maserumule (ANC) asked about the difference of treatment between persons who carried a 'book of life' and a bar-coded identity document (ID). The Chairperson that all applicants for a firearm license would need a bar-coded ID.

Reverend K Meshoe (ACDP) stated that there were 'bottlenecks' in the certification process. There had been 21 291 applications and only 3 000 had been approved. He asked whether the bottlenecks had been identified and if there were plans to speed up the application process. Gauteng had 23 firearm registration centres (FRC), the North West had 27 and the Northern Cape had 32. He questioned the criteria for allocating FRCs to different provinces.

Mr Bothma stated that contingency plans had been made for the bottlenecks. The Gauteng FRC was situated next to a police station. Given the population spread of Gauteng, a 50-kilometre radius for people to travel to a FRC has been developed. Other provinces focussed on the number of people who had firearms and existing infrastructure.

Mr V Ndlovu (IFP) asked who qualified to sit on the Firearm Committee. He queried the definition of 'concerned dealers in hunting'. He also asked the difference between national and provincial dealer associations.

Mr Bothma stated that the Provincial Firearm Committee included all people involved with implementation. It included Provincial Firearm Officers and human resources staff. During a renewal consideration, the Superintendent would be appointed with ad hoc staffmembers to sit in on meetings. The Black Gun-owners Association served on the Ministerial Advisory Committee.

SAPS Commissioner, Mr M Makhubela, added that the discussion for firearm-free zones was underway with the Minister of Education. The result of these discussions would be available soon.

The Chairperson asked if the firearm-free zone rulings could be hurried because police officers were being occupied full-time in schools.

Ms A Van Wyk (ANC) asked how many Designated Firearm Officers had been appointed countrywide. She questioned the relationship between a police station and the number of appointed vehicles. Some bottlenecks had arisen due to some Designated Firearm Officers having to check liquor licences as well. She asked if more training officers were needed. When did the Firearm Registry expect to have a 'clean' register?

Mr Bothma said that Designated Firearm Officers were at every province. The Gauteng model had dealt only with firearm licences and not liquor licences. However, other provinces had dealt with liquor licences as well. Some areas had so few firearms licenses that it made more sense for Officers to check liquor licenses at the same time. He added that there were enough training providers nationwide. The process of training was privately administrated. Therefore it had been difficult to dictate the number of trainers per area. The system and its register would be clean after the renewal process had been completed. They were aiming for July 2009.

Mr P Groenewald (FF+) queried what assurance could be given that the applicant would receive the licence after payment. He asked whether the number of applications had been received from the Central Registration Centre, and whether it included the work of the DFOs. He queried the number of applications that had been approved and rejected. Many Designated Firearm Officials were not aware of Section 134 of the Act about compensation for firearms. He asked about the specific procedures for Members visiting a Central Registration Centre.

Mr Bothma said that it was not compulsory to apply for both a competency certificate and for a renewal licence. It was advisable to do so, but was certainly not compulsory. There was a process with regard to compensation. The Central Firearms Register would e-mail all relevant officials to inform them of the process. Members could make an appointment to visit a Central Registration Centre and would immediately be accommodated. There were sufficient training centres and shooting ranges countrywide.

Mr R Jankielsohn (DA) questioned the firearm renewal period for South Africans abroad. He asked how the accreditation process was being carried out, and who conducted training, in rural areas. He questioned the competencies needed for a Central Firearm Registry. He queried whether an applicant with an existing firearm licence could receive a renewal if s/he failed the competency test. He questioned what category inherited weapons fell under. What had the Central Firearm Registry done to improve airport access for tourists who were hunters? He questioned what provision would be made for teachers and parents who owned firearms in rural areas. He asked whether the budget of R63 million had been increased.

Mr Bothma stated that South Africans abroad should appoint a local person to obtain their renewal license. On his/her return, the South African abroad should contact their nearest call centre. All trainers would need firearm licences. Trainers accredited by the SA Security Association would issue the competency certificate if applicants complied with the minimum standards. Full renewals also required a Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (SASSETA) certificate that covered practical components.

Inherited weapons fell under existing categories. New licenses would only be issued once old licenses were handed in. This year there had been fewer hassles with regard to firearms and tourists. Visitors to South Africa with a firearm needed to obtain the appropriate documentation. The Central Firearm Registry would work closely with Department of Foreign Affairs to inform visitors about appropriate documents.

The Commisioner noted that the R63 million budget had been used to 'kick-start' the firearm and licensing renewal process.

The Chairperson noted that there were enough police vehicles in South Africa, but the distribution of these vehicles was a major problem.

Mr R King (DA) said that many people did not want unknown safety inspectors to inspect their personal belongings. He asked if a clear message would be provided by the SAPS regarding warrants and the need for inspections. Mr Bothma stated that the inspectors had to identify themselves to the owners.

Mr D Diale (ANC) asked if there were any motivational mechanisms to encourage firearm-holders to surrender their firearms. The Commissioner stated that there were a number of incentives to encourage people to surrender their firearms.

Ms S Rajbally (MF) asked how resources, such as computers, fax machines, printers and vehicles, were distributed. Mr Bothma stated that resources were moved from one centre to the lowest levels.

The meeting was adjourned.

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