ATC150716: Report of the Portfolio Committee on Police on the National Firearms Summit Held on 24 and 25 March 2015
REPORT OF THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON POLICE ON THE NATIONAL FIREARMS SUMMIT HELD ON 24 AND 25 MARCH 2015
The Portfolio Committee on Police, in conjunction with the Civilian Secretariat for Police, hosted the National Firearm Summit on 24 and 25 March 2015. The Summit was an opportunity for stakeholders, role-players and ordinary South Africans to embark on a dialogue on the kind of society we wish to live in and enjoy within the context of gun control.
The Summit was also an opportunity to foster mutual understanding, common agreements and build broad consensus on the kind of society we want and the role that firearms play in it. The Summit assisted in bridging the perceived divide of us and them that was believed to exist between the gun owners’ fraternity and the government departments tasked with regulating gun ownership and use. Furthermore, there was a tacit recognition that government bears the responsibility to legislate and regulate. However, regulating gun control is not solely the responsibility of the State. All stakeholders have a role to play in ensuring effective measures to regulate the ownership and distribution of guns and to prevent and reduce the impact of gun violence on society.
The following stakeholders from the public and private sector were represented at the Summit:
- Members of Parliament
- Civilian Secretariat for Police
- Firearms Appeals Board
- Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID)
- Metropolitan Police Services: Durban, Cape Town, Tshwane and Johannesburg
- Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA)
- Provincial Secretariats for Police
- South African Police Service (SAPS)
- African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (AFCOF)
- Agriculture South Africa (Agri-SA)
- Business Against Crime (BAC)
- Civil Society Individuals
- Community Action towards a Safer Environment (CASE)
- Gun Free South Africa (GFSA)
- Gun Owners of South Africa (GOSA)
- Hunters Forum
- Institute for Security Studies (ISS)
- Legal Resource Centre (LRC)
- National Arms and Ammunition Collectors Confederation of South Africa (NAACCSA)
- Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU)
- Professional Firearms Training Council (PFTC ETQA)
- Red Cross Children’s War Memorial Hospital
- Security Industry Alliance (SIA)
- Social Justice Coalition (SJC)
- South African Arms and Ammunition Dealers Association (SAAADA)
- South African Defensive Pistol Association (SADPA)
- South African Football Association (SAFA)
- South African Gun Owners Association (SAGA)
- South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SAHGCA)
- South African Police Union (SAPU)
- South African Practical Shooting Association (SAPSA)
- South African Violence Initiative (SaVI)
- Sports Shooting Forum
- Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture
- University of the Witwatersrand School of Governance
The Summit heard twelve (12) presentations from government leaders, academics and civil society experts to guide the two-day structured discussions around the emerging themes surrounding gun control in South Africa.
- Mr. Guy Lamb, South African Violence Initiative (SaVI)
Mr Guy Lamb, Director of the South African Violence Initiative (SaVI) presented on the Comparative Firearms Regulations Regime in Southern African Development Countries (SADC). He focussed on the need to understand small arms and light weapons in the regional context (especially the movement of arms) and the nature and impact of comparative control measures across the region. He stated that while each country has its borders, “firearms don’t” and is an ‘easy’ item to smuggle across borders.
Mr Lamb stated that the firearm control regimes across SADC countries vary considerably. Only South Africa and Mauritius are currently using competency testing in firearm applications, but this is being considered by other countries such as Namibia. South Africa and Mauritius also conduct rigorous criminal record checks before approving an application. He stated that it is difficult to find data on firearm control and statistics in SADC countries, especially in Angola. Some of the differences across the region include variance in the specific numbers of licences approved, the age limit for licencing, and differences in renewal processes.
Mr Lamb highlighted several innovations in the SADC region. For example, Botswana exercises very tight control over firearms and only allows 400 licences per year (200 shot guns and 200 hunting rifles). He indicated, however, that this approach would be difficult to implement in other countries as Botswana has a small population (of less than 4 million people). These 400 applications go into a lottery system and get selected ‘by chance’. Interestingly, Botswana does not licence hand guns, as hunting offences (and thus the need to protect livestock) are a key challenge to the country. Mauritius exercises strict control over firearm licences and only approves 25 licences per year. Like Botswana, hand guns are not licenced, as the biggest challenge faced in terms of firearms in Mauritius relates to hunting.
Mr Lamb stated that it is necessary to enquire (in respect to each of the firearm control regimes) as to what does it mean now that the control is in place? What is the expected outcome and impact of the control? What does it mean for the responsibility and tasks of the various stakeholders? What might be the unintended consequences of the control? What might be the response of the illegal firearms trade in looking to circumvent the control? He indicated that the main problem in Africa is that little research has been done on whether legislation makes a difference. In contrast, in the USA after the assassination of President JF Kennedy, many resources were made available to universities and research institutes to research the impact of guns. In terms of firearm control and the impact thereof, the USA has a body of scholarship.
Available data shows that homicide figures remained stable in SADC countries over the past decade, but that South Africa saw a drop in firearm related homicide around the time when the Firearms Control Act, 2000 was introduced. However, Mr Lamb pointed to the fact that there is no evidence to show that the Act impacted on the reduction in firearm related homicides. He further stated that policy and legislation seems to impact on gun violence, but that significantly more information and studies are needed to prove causation. The closest indication towards causation, is in the area of intimate femicide through research done by the Medical Research Council which proved that restrictions on gun ownership made an impact. Mr Lamb also focussed on the impact of the minimum age criteria for firearm licencing. He stated that studies in the USA have shown that minimum age licencing controls access of firearms to youth, thus assisting to prevent suicide and accidental shootings. Studies conducted in the USA and Canada also showed causation between safe storage and a reduction in firearm related deaths.
In recent years, South Africa has invested significant resources in focussed operations targeting illegal guns. The research on these policing operations suggests that these “hot spot” operations are having the most significant impact on firearm violence (and not necessarily the legislation).
Mr Lamb concluded that in the South African context the reduction in firearm related deaths seems to be a combination effect of the legislation and “hot spot” policing initiatives. However, a more targeted evidence-based approach must be followed to answer the following questions:
- Where are the greatest concentrations of firearm violence?
- What are the main drivers of the violence?
- Who is mainly responsible for the violence?
- How and where do they acquire their guns and ammunition? He also stated that the biggest challenge for research is the lack of access to police data.
- Ms Reneva Fourie, Acting Secretary of Police (Civilian Secretariat for Police)
In exploring The Role of Oversight in Firearms Management, Ms R Fourie, the Acting Secretary, Civilian Secretariat for Police, impressed upon the Summit that the level of violence in the country is far too high. She stated that although there has been a general reduction in violent crime, figures for murder show an increase from 16 259 in 2012/13 to 17 068 in 2013/14, which means that the average number of murders per day has increased from 45 to 47. This figure is five times higher than global average of six (6) murders per day. In addition, one in three homicides is as a result of firearms. In response to this, the Minister of Police has called for a national dialogue on violent crime and violence to take place on 16 and 17 April 2015, which will build on discussions held in February 2015 on police conduct.
Ms Fourie stated that the Western Cape has the highest rate of illegal firearms and the Northern Cape the lowest. This assertion was contested during discussions as the Northern Cape has the highest homicide rate related to sharp objects. However, the Acting Secretary stated that the issue of crime and violence is complex and that while sharp and blunt objects are indeed used in the commission of violent acts, the Summit was focusing on the role of firearms. Ms Fourie further stated that the Firearms Control Act does have an impact on firearm use and distribution and that advances in understanding injuries and deaths are developed through the Nation Injury and Mortality Survey. Studies have shown that firearm ownership has decreased. In 1994, there were 3.5 million firearms amongst 2.4 million owners, which reduced to 3 million firearms amongst 1.8 million owners in 2011. There is also a massive reduction of 90 per cent in the number of firearm dealerships between 2000 and 2006.
The Civilian Secretariat is currently collating and analysing all data on firearms from 2000 to the present to assess the impact of the Firearms Control Act. The aim of the study is to ensure accurate and accessible data on the safe storage, supply, transfer and use of firearms. It is important to develop a comprehensive understanding of the illegal market and to have access to comprehensive data. Currently, data is available in disparate manner, which must be collated and analysed to develop an accurate picture of the current firearm situation in South Africa. In the long-term, the Secretariat plans an educational drive directed at magistrates and also to assist with the implementation of Border Management Agency (BMA) to ensure that cross border arms smuggling receives priority attention.
- Panel 1: Impact of gun culture on Society
- Professor S van As, Head of Paediatric Trauma at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital
Professor Van As focused on the impact of firearm violence on women and children. He stated that 1 147 women were killed over the past year, of which almost half (405) were killed by an intimate partner. One in five of the perpetrators who killed their partners committed suicide after the killing, and most of them used a legally licensed gun. His assertion is that 80% of these double murders could have been prevented.
Violence is the leading cause of death in South Africa and firearms are the leading external cause of non-natural deaths (NIMSS). Blunt and sharp objects are arguably also a big problem and contribute to violent deaths and injury.
About 474 children under the age of 12 were treated for gunshot injuries over the past year. Children are disproportionally affected as they are seldom shot deliberately, but mostly accidently. Prof van As stated that most children are shot when caught in crossfire (43%), accidentally (14%) or are shot deliberately by an adult (9%). He also presented several slides of X-ray and MRI images to illustrate the range and extent of injuries and damage inflicted by a bullet. Most of the firearm injuries occur in informal settlements/townships, with half of all gunshot injuries happening in and around own home (50%) followed by the road/pavement (40%).
Prof van As stated that the three main successes of the Firearms Control Act, 2000 were raising the minimum age of licensing from 16 years to 21 years, introducing competency certificates and providing for gun free zones. He experienced a 70 per cent reduction in children treated for gunshot injuries since 2000 when the Act came into operation.
Specific interventions suggested by Professor van As included that gun free zones should be effectively implemented as schools, hospitals and other public spaces should be free of guns. He also recommended that the minimum age for application for a gun license should be raised to 25 years largely because a person’s frontal cortex is still underdeveloped before that age (and thus they are still immature). Professor van As concluded that it is important to consider the impact of the introduction of the Firearms Control Regulations in 2004 and the lessons emanating therefrom to ensure the success of the pending amendments.
- Mr. Graeme Bloch, Visiting Adjunct Professor, Wits school of Governance
Mr Bloch focussed on the necessity to ensure that schools are a safe haven for children where they feel protected and where they are not raped, shot or bullied. He stated that guns at school have no place. While teachers are not to blame for these issues (which are related to inequalities that make the poverty and hunger a reality) everyone has a responsibility to ensure that life at school is safe, consistent and fulfilling. Metal detectors and police at the gates of schools are undesirable. There is much to learn about how to secure schools and the children and teachers who work, play and learn there. Questions need to be asked about where the guns in schools come from and why people who call themselves leaders close schools for political ends? Mr Bloch advocated for increased effective parental involvement in schools. He concluded that guns in the hands of young people are far worse than guns in the hands of older people, but that young people get guns from elders.
- Dr Lane Benjamin, Founder of Community Action Towards a Safer Environment (CASE)
Dr Benjamin stated that she specialises in trauma and not in gun violence. One of the most prominent challenges in South Africa is the tendency to think in silos, which leads to an inability to see the bigger picture. All issues are intrinsically connected. Dr Benjamin urged for a holistic approach and stated that she is providing a mental health perspective on gun violence. It is important to reconceptualise what trauma is in the South African context. In her experience, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) does not exist in South Africa, as trauma is continuous for most citizens who live with trauma daily. The patterns of violence are seen on generations and the impact is felt in multi-systemic ways. Violence affects everyone, including the perpetrators. However, violence disproportionally affects poor communities and young black men in South Africa.
Dr Benjamin shared some of the findings she made during a polyvictimisation study conducted in Hanover Park, which included 617 adolescents aged 12–15 years. The study found the following:
- 98.9% had witnessed community violence;
- 68.9% had seen someone get shot in the neighbourhood;
- 41.3% had witnessed someone threatening another with a gun;
- 76.9% had witnessed domestic violence;
- 47.7% seen a dead body in the street, excluding funerals;
- 93.1% had experienced more than one type of violence; and
- 55.2% had experienced four or more types of violence.
Dr Benjamin contested that children growing up in “war-like zones” and the associated exposure desensitises them to violence and death. The continuous trauma and lack of safety (from living in a state of chronic violence and crime) alters ones neurological make-up of the brain in terms of the inherent flight/fight mechanism, and the fight response is triggered more often in a bid for survival. A child’s brain gets wired to expect violence, which impacts on logical thinking methods because they are constantly forced to act in privative survival brain. Generally these patterns were also learnt by parents, who are unable to act as a role model.
These patterns shatter trust between children and adults, and also challenges the ability to connect with others. This impacts on one’s ability to show empathy, which makes it easier to kill. A major impact on these patterns is the use and ease of accessibility of drugs. In addition, people feel powerless in violent environments, which is compounded by authority figures who disrespect children daily, especially in school.
These patterns form a toxic combination of legitimising violence and turning innocuous situations violent. For example, a young boy stabbing a young girl with a pen in a classroom because he did not like the look she gave him. This creates dangerous cycles of revenge in a society where it is easy to enact this aggression though joining a gang and having easy access to a gun. Guns provides access to power, safety, control, a brotherhood, a family and a means to gain income.
Violence is accepted when one is feeling threatened and these messages are learned in families and society. Guns are easy to use and do not need a lot of social investment, which makes them dangerous. Dr Benjamin contested that violence is never senseless and always makes sense to the perpetrator. There is a negative resilience in communities to survive, which reinforces violence and perpetuates trauma.
Dr Benjamin recommended that firstly, corruption, especially where police members are involved must be addressed to begin building trust between the police and communities. Secondly, there is an urgent need for a competent, effective and trustworthy criminal justice system.
Dr Benjamin concluded that the discussion should move beyond guns. There is a need to disarm the minds of young people (and deal with unresolved trauma) otherwise aggression will remain and people find other ways to enact aggression (through zip guns, fists knives and sexual violence). There is also a need to look at assaults and not only mortality rates. The only way to stop the cycle of violence is to make mental health a priority in South Africa. Civil society has taken the bulk of responsibility to date, but a multi-sectoral approach is needed through joint efforts by the Criminal Justice System, the Departments of Education, Health and Social Development, and by addressing poverty and unemployment. Everyone must take responsibility for roles played in perpetuating violence.
- Panel 2: Strategies for reducing illegal firearms
- Ms A Kirsten, Gun Free South Africa
Ms Kirsten of Gun Free South Africa reminded the Summit that firearms control is primarily focused not on people, but on the weapons to reduce gun violence and the number of people affected by gun violence. Ms Kirsten highlighted three intervention strategies to reduce the impact of gun violence:
- Reducing diversion: Virtually every illegal firearm begins as a legal weapon. That is, it is legally manufactured and legally sold. In many countries, including South Africa, most firearms recovered in crime appear to have been legally owned in the past by states or civilians. Globally, the diversion of firearms from their legal owners, often through loss and theft, contributes significantly to the illegal pool of firearms. Ms Kirsten contended that in South Africa, the single largest source of illegal firearms is loss and theft from civilian owners. Measures to reduce the leakage of legal to illegal firearms would include good record keeping and good marking and tracing of firearms. In addition, Ms Kirsten stated that the previous Minister of Police established a Commission of Enquiry into firearm control in 2013, but the report has not yet been made public. There is a need to see the findings and recommendations made in the report which may point to other important ways of reducing this diversion.
- Mopping up illegal pool: This is achieved though specialised interventions as well as police actions. However, the best interventions are firearm amnesties. Given the link between the legal and illegal markets, firearm amnesties are viewed by most governments as tools to control the legal and illegal pool of guns, and have been used around the world for this purpose. Amnesties help to reduce or dispose of illegal firearms and superfluous guns, such as old stock held by the military or the police. Although the primary objective of an amnesty is to recover illegal guns, a second important objective may be to provide firearm owners with an opportunity to hand in unwanted licensed firearms. These are sometimes called voluntary weapon collection programmes and may take the form of gun buy-back schemes or exchange programmes. These weapon collection programmes have been used successfully in UN peace operations in post-conflict countries such as Sierra Leone and the Solomon Islands; in inner city and rural town operations in the US; in the collection weapons that were banned under new legislation in Australia; and as part of the implementation of new firearm legislation in South Africa and Brazil. In addition to these key objectives, experience shows that amnesties can achieve more than merely remove illegal guns from circulation. Amnesties can:
- Raise public awareness about the need to prevent gun violence;
- Create a climate to assist the implementation of new firearms legislation;
- Provide an opportunity for the voluntary surrender of licensed guns that are no longer needed or wanted; and
- Improve community-police relations and build partnerships with civil society organisations.
The Firearms Control Act, 2000 gives the Minister of Police the power to declare an amnesty via a notice in the Government Gazette and with the approval of Parliament. The Act defines amnesty as ‘indemnity against prosecution for the unlawful possession of a firearm or ammunition’. It also allows the Minister of Police to impose certain conditions during an amnesty such as the ballistic testing of any firearm handed in. This can result in prosecution if the firearm is linked to a crime, which is not ideal. The best results are gained through a ‘no questions asked’ amnesty with no chance of prosecution.
- Closing leaking tap: It is important to know where and how guns move from a legal to the illegal pool in order to identify methods to stop the leakage. The majority of leakages occur across borders, as a result of in corruption within the chain, or as a result of loss or theft.
Ms Kirsten concluded that key interventions that work include ensuring the availability of data and effective record keeping alongside measures to strengthen the firearm control regime.
- Adv. M Hood, MJ Hood and Associates
Adv. Hood stated that critical analysis of the problems (including in the CJS value chain) are required in order to develop solutions. He stated that the investigation of crime remains a challenge, as Detectives are under-resourced, witnesses become despondent as a result of protracted lead times, and prosecutors are overworked, understaffed and under-resourced.
In addition, Adv. Hood stated that the some of the FAC Regulations are not yet fully promulgated, which means that the Regulations cannot impact effectively on firearms-related crime. The basics must be in place first, before changes are made. The Firearms Control Act, 2000 works in some areas, but not in others. Section 101 of the Act provides for certificates from the Registrar, which is not being complied with. In addition, that data becomes corrupt as data processing continues to be a major challenge for the SAPS. Furthermore, firearm dealers must report on their stock returns as per the SAPS 350 form, but this is not processed by the SAPS, which creates losses and thus illegal firearms.
Adv. Hood echoed the call made to the Minister of Police by Ms Kirsten to make the 2013 Firearms Enquiry report available. He cautioned the Portfolio Committee on Police against building on poor foundations when considering the Firearms Control Amendment Bill later this year.
Adv. Hood reminded the Summit that the South African Hunters Association had successfully challenged the transitional provisions to the implementation of the Act, which meant that the full implementation of the Act has been placed on hold for several years. The SAGA and other associations’ continue to have severe problems with the Act and its implementation and would support efforts to ensure the effective implementation of existing legislation.
A further concern of Adv. Hood was that ballistic testing was currently non-existent and he reminded the Summit that regulation and effective data processing were the cornerstones of control. Adv. Hood concluded that SAGA and other associations were willing to take responsibility for themselves and their sector, and would work with and teach others to do the same. He added that mistrust of criminal justice processes remains a concern and that it was seemingly difficult to hold government departments to account. The hope is that the Summit would change things.
- Adv. Norman Arendse, Representative of the Senzo Meyiwa Gun Committee (SAFA)
Adv. Arendse stood in for Dr Danny Jordaan, SAFA President. Adv. Arendse stated that the panel discussion topic should change from ‘strategies to reduce illegal firearms’ to strategies to reduce firearms, whether legal or illegal. He contended that a firearm is a lethal weapon used to maim many people. Although firearms are an inanimate object, it must be propelled by a person. Legislation controls people, but not the weapon itself. He stated that we live in complex society with a ‘First World’ Constitution and laws, but that we face ‘Third World’ societal woes. Adv. Arendse state that football is the one code of sport that suffers disproportionally from gun violence as it is the sport played by poor communities with players who dream of becoming international super stars. He further stated that these areas are also policed with insufficient resources. It is dangerous to play in townships, as many matches are settled with guns. He reminded the Summit that the late Bafana player, Senzo Meyiwa’s murder was not yet finalised despite the SAPS having eyewitnesses, with no arrests made (except for a false arrest). Adv. Arendse asked what hope does others have in areas like Hanover Park and other poor areas. He further stated that the loss of Senzo Meyiwa was the reason for losing AFCON and that Dr Jordaan had many queries about when the killers will be brought to justice.
The strategies that SAFA would prefer included the following:
- Only accredited and properly vetted law enforcement officers must be permitted to carry hand guns; and
- Society needs protection against firearms. Self-protection through the use of firearms is questionable.
SAFA called for the following:
- The Minister of Police and Parliament to announce a Firearm Amnesty (on an anonymous basis/no questions asked) on 09 July 2015, which is International Gun Destruction Day;
- Education about the use of firearms;
- All sports arenas must be declared gun free zones;
- Following the amnesty, SAFA will erect a statue of Senzo Meyiwa at SAFA House and calls for all communities to erect statues to honour fallen victims of gun violence; and
- Continues to support progressive legislation to regulate firearms.
- Gen. R Phiyega, National Commissioner of the South African Police Service (SAPS)
The National Commissioner presented an overview of the evolution of firearm legislation in South Africa. In 1996, the Minister of Safety and Security appointed a Special Task Team to investigate the legislative environment to replace the Arms and Ammunition Act, 1969 (Act 75 of 1969). The Firearms Control Act, 2000 (Act 60 of 2000) was passed by Parliament in 2000 and the Regulations promulgated on 1 July 2004. The National Commissioner also highlighted various international instruments regarding firearm control.
The Firearms Control Act, 2000 was developed with the following objectives:
- To reduce firearm related crimes in South Africa;
- To effectively control all legally possessed firearms in South Africa;
- To prevent the proliferation of illegally possessed firearms; and
- To maintain a reliable firearm control system and management system.
In 2004, an amount of R63.1 million was allocated towards the implementation of the Firearms Control Act, 2000 with no ring-fenced budget. There was also no dedicated Maintenance Plan in place. The Act also provided for the establishment of the Designated Firearm Officers (DFO) concept and to date 3 441 DFOs have received training on the Firearms Control Act.
The National Commissioner stated that the implementation of the Act was not without challenges. In 2010, the first audit identified a total of 1 048 341 outstanding applications and a second follow-up audit found an additional 32 355 outstanding applications at various provinces. To resolve this problem, dedicated teams of officers were assembled to assist with the consideration of the applications. All outstanding categories of applications were finalised during August 2011 (1 080 696). A large flow of applications, insufficient administrative capacity and late submissions of applications contributed to the implementation relapse.
Since the implementation of the Act, two firearm amnesties were declared, the first in 2005 by the Minister of Safety and Security and the second in 2010 by the Minister of Police. Combined, these two amnesties collected 44 958 firearms and 737 895 rounds of ammunition. Since 2004 to date, the SAPS has received 3 189 861 firearm applications of which 3 106 438 have been finalised. It is believed that there are 1 749 034 individual firearm owners, owning 3 081 173 firearms, 425 official institutions owning 1 270 405 firearms and 8 937 non-official institutions, owning 136 259 firearms. The National Commissioner stated that corruption is associated with firearm control and indicated various steps that have been implemented to deal with the issues relating to corruption. The Central Firearm Register Turnaround Strategy includes the following:
- Acquisition of a building for CFR personnel;
- Review process and procedures for firearm applications;
- The upgrading of the enhanced firearm registration system;
- The streamlining of the firearm registration system;
- Revision of the CFR, provincial and station structures;
- Review policies regulating estate firearms; and
- Upgrading the current printing machines and print in-house at the provincial level.
The National Commissioner also highlighted the main challenges facing firearm control currently. These include:
- Inadequate storage facilities for files and insufficient accommodation for personnel
- Turn-around time to finalise applications is negatively affected;
- Distance between Veritas Building in Pretoria and archives in Silverton is affecting turn-around time to finalise applications;
- The incomplete implementation of the Firearm Control System;
- The inability of the Firearm Control System to process firearm applications electronically (e-applications).
- Legislative gaps
- Incongruence in the lifespan of the licence to possess a firearm and a competency certificate;
- No clear directive in the “fit and proper” attribute of the application; and
- No competency on the part of the DFO to assess the mental and physical state of the applicant
The National Commissioner concluded that the turn-around strategy is being implemented and assured the Summit of the SAPS’ commitment to the effective and efficient implementation of the Firearms Control Act and its Regulations.
- Hon. N Nhleko, Minister of Police
The Minister of Police stated that the Vision of the National Development Plan (NDP) is that
“In 2030, people living in South Africa feel safe at home, at school and at work, and they enjoy a community life free of fear. Women walk freely in the streets and children play safely outside. The police service is well-resourced and professional, staffed by highly skilled officers who value their work, serve the community, safeguard lives and property without discrimination, protect the peaceful against violence, and respect the rights to equality and justice.”
However, communities are confronted with the questions of how to build a “feel safe community”? And what the impact of gun ownership and the proliferation of guns is in our society and what it says about our society? The Minister stated that in his view, it is indicative of broader socio-economic problems. A society that embraces violence and where the ownership of a gun provides power is problematic. In addition, the South African society is fragmented on racial and class lines. In a society that wants to build a human rights culture, there is a need to ask how to achieve this? The correlation between violence and the desire to own guns must be acknowledged and no amount of policing will resolve social ills. The Minister further stated that the sad reality is that South Africa has an accentuated level of legal as well as illegal gun ownership.
The Minster stated that the answer on how to build a “feel safe community” lies in the following focus areas:
- Stakeholder partnerships;
- Problem-orientated policing; and
- Community involvement.
The Minister further stated that the Firearm Control Amendment Bill seeks to improve accountability and will create a platform for citizens to address the many challenges posed by firearms in society. It must address several anomalies including increased measures to restrict ownership where one person owns more than 500 firearms. The competency period is being reviewed as well as measures to increase capacity of the Firearms Appeals Board. The Amendment Bill also suggests the use and introduction of ballistic sampling together with a micro-dot system, which will be done in a phased in approach. The Mister further stated that strategies must be developed to improve the capacity and capability of the Central Firearms Registry to adequately control and mitigate against state losses.
The Minster concluded by stating that stakeholder participation and community involvement are critical and support from all sectors is needed.
- Hon. M Sotyu, Deputy Minister of Police
The Deputy Minister referred to the Summit as contentious because the view of many citizens when the Firearms Control Act was first introduced in 2000, was that Government wanted to infringe compromise the law-abiding citizens’ rights to defend themselves. However, the Deputy Minister assured delegates that this was and still is not the case. The Deputy Minister stated that having a gun does not guarantee one’s safety and aligned herself with Gun-Free South Africa when they said as far back as 1999 that, “guns are not an effective deterrent”. In the same vein, legislation on gun control will not prevent future, armed robberies, murders, violence at schools, and massacres. The Deputy Minister welcomed the discussion on micro dots regarding the capacity of the SAPS to facilitate this and that the SAPS have capacity constraints and infrastructure. She stated that she shares these concerns.
The Deputy Minister identified two enablers for the effective implementation of this Act, as amended. The first enabler is the location of the Firearms Control Act and its implementation, within multi-sectoral/inter- disciplinary initiatives and that campaigns on gun control cannot be conducted as a single-issue campaign. These campaigns must be embedded within other key socio-economic issues faced by the majority of this country. An apparent link does exist between social problems such as unemployment, poverty, inequity, weakened family bonds, lack of moral regeneration, and the attempt by people to escape these harsh realities into the world of violent crimes that includes, armed robbery, substance abuse and drug dealing, gangsterism, and murder. The Deputy Minster identified the concept of social cohesion and moral regeneration as essential elements to enable the Firearms Control Act to yield a more inclusive social justice system.
The second enabler is the appropriate budget to implement the amended legislation. Proper budgeting is the most important tool for translating government strategic plans and priorities into public services. The Deputy Minister stated that with the billions that the SAPS gets every year from Government since 1994, the SAPS is still plagued with the same problem of a Central Firearms Registry (CFR) that is dysfunctional and in constant decay.
On 13 March 2015, the Deputy Minister undertook a monitoring/inspection visit to the CFR and found that the CFR has not been a priority for a long time. Infrastructure is falling apart; it has outdated IT systems; there is a high vacancy rate; many personnel who had been fired due to corruption were not replaced; and, there is a lack of command and control. Another major challenge is the fact that the Appeals Board is located in the same CFR building, and of course there would be blurring of mandates and collusion or rubber-stamping.
The Deputy Minister of Police stated that the state of readiness to implement the proposed amendments to the FAC is thus non-existent. The Deputy Minister also shared some of the critical recommendations made to the SAPS after the inspection visit to the CFR:
- Researchers of Parliament must do research and benchmarking studies to find out if the CFR should be a Division of its own. This will in the long- term address issues of infrastructure, human capacity, and management.
- The Appeals Board needs to be moved to the offices of the Civilian Secretariat of Police, to ensure the impartiality of the Board.
- Short-term contracts and internship programmes should be introduced to address the acute backlogs in all types of licenses applied for.
- The age-limit of gun-ownership from 21 years down to 18 years should be reconsidered.
- The CAS and CFR systems should be linked to immediately detect unfit people who apply for gun licenses.
- Health and Wellness of a police officer who lawfully carries and uses the gun as his tool of trade every day, should be enhanced.
The Deputy Minister of Police concluded by stating that the health and wellness of active members will be prioritised over the next five years and called on delegates to forge real partnerships with the SAPS.
- Mr M Chauke, Director of the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA)
The PSIRA conducted a desktop audit in 2013/14 to measure the extent of firearm ownership of private security companies. PSIRA as a regulatory authority did not know the number of firearms active within the industry, and to some extent still do not know the full extent. The PSIRA have a close relationship with the CFR. The audit found that it had 3 340 registered companies with 101 000 firearms of several different types. Of concern is what happens to the firearms in the companies that are dissolved. Inspections are done jointly with DFOs. Mr Chauke also stated that the PSIRA faces several limitations regarding regulating firearms in the private security industry, which include the following:
- No direct access to the CFR;
- The CFR database does not differentiate between different types of businesses; and
- No access to calibre or type of firearm on CFR.
- KEY EMERGING THEMES
The following section contains the key emerging themes emanating from group discussions during the National Firearms Summit.
- Significant data gap on firearm-related statistics
The lack of accessible, reliable and comprehensive data on firearms in South Africa was raised as a major challenge to building a true picture of the current state of firearm-related violence and homicide in South Africa. After 2007, the accessibility of data became increasingly difficult and stakeholders had to rely on data from the UN and mortuaries, which is not verified. Quantitative studies are needed, as in Brazil where many longitudinal studies have been conducted on the impact of its gun control regime.
It is dangerous to extrapolate data from studies done in the USA on South Africa as the socio-economic context differs significantly between the two countries. The social drivers of crime should be addressed in the long term, but in the short term, there should be focus on “hot spot” areas policing. However, the outcomes of these interventions need to be studied.
Even though violent crime rates decreased, there is no reliable data to understand the decline. The focus of research needs to be on ‘causation’ in order to better understand the impact of the firearm control regime in South Africa.
Discussions on firearm related homicides must be treated with some caution in acknowledgement that there is no distinction drawn between legal (self-defence) and illegal killings. In addition, the emphasis should be on crime control or people control and not gun control, as it is people who kill and who are civilly negligent. The study by John Lott, More Guns, Less Crime, conducted in the USA on the use of firearms in self-defence was brought up during the discussions, but was refuted as the data used by Mr. Lott could not be verified. He suggested that "98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack." Similarly, the study done by Mr A Altbeker in the late 1990s titled Guns and Public Safety: Gun Crime and Self-defence in Alexandria and Bramley could not be applied to South Africa in general and the methodology of the study hampers the conclusion that armed victims are more likely to lose their weapons than to use them successfully. The discussions on the use of firearms for self-defence necessitates a comprehensive study on defensive gun use in South Africa. Sections 13 and 14 of the FCA provide for licencing of a firearm for self-defence and this is arguably the most densely populated category of firearm ownership in South Africa.
It was also clarified that the data provided by Professor van As was only for children admitted to the Red Cross Hospital with gunshot wounds, and that guns are not the leading killer in South Africa.
Mostly anecdotal evidence and personal narratives are available, which should not be discounted. Firearms in themselves are not a problem, as studies and statistical models have shown that the availability of firearms changes the social equation and makes the potential for lethal confrontation higher, especially in terms of domestic violence. In addition, firearms are not neutral objects, but possess an increased lethality.
It was stated that the Civilian Secretariat for Police is mandated through section 6(1)(f) of their Act to conduct research and should comply with this mandate. The CFR collects data on age, gender, location and ownership that is not released. This data will be invaluable to inform decisions and forms part of the Basic Zimring Standard to assess the impact of firearm legislation in South Africa. The SAPS should again disaggregate data and statistics on firearm related homicides as was done pre-2000.
- Impact of the current firearm control legislation on violent crime
The lack of reliable data reduces our understanding of the impact of gun control in South Africa. It is important to understand which clauses of the Firearms Control Act have an impact, if any, on firearm-related violence. However, it was questioned whether it matters which sections impact as a combined effort through a strong legislative regime and “hot spot” interventions have proven successful in South Africa as well as in other countries.
The Zimring Standard was identified as an internationally accepted standard to measure effective gun control. The standard was first proposed in 1991 by US criminologist Frank Zimring and it based on the following:
- Prohibit/restrict certain uses of weapons and ammunition;
- Prohibit/restrict certain users of weapons; and
- Prohibit/restrict certain types of weapons and ammunition.
The standard enables comparison with other countries and should also be used in South Africa (the Firearms Control Act currently complies with the Zimring Standard).
- Challenges regarding the implementation of the Firearms Control Act, 2000
Participants at the Summit were in agreement that South Africa has excellent firearm control legislation, but that the imperative remains to overhaul the administration, regulation and enforcement of the FCA and get it functioning as a matter of urgency. Various deficiencies plague the current FAC, which is compounded by an ineffective CFR. The Deputy Minister stated that she is “very sad to say today that, with the billions that the SAPS gets every year from Government since 1994, they are still plagued with the same problem of a CFR that is dysfunctional and in constant decay.”
Other challenges identified include the following:
- Important distinction between legal and illegal firearms versus legal or illegal possession of firearms.
- The bottlenecks in applications and general administration should be reduced.
- The biggest challenge experienced in terms of firearm ownership lies in the category of self-defence licencing, as hunting rifles are expensive and generally better taken care of.
- The international norm of “license the person register the weapon” must be upheld.
- All relevant Annual Reports relating to firearms must be tabled in Parliament.
- Caution was provided not to build on the current legislation without ensuring that the current legislation and processes are effective.
- Background checks must be done adequately.
- Various data processing challenges exists, especially in terms of SAPS 350 forms (where dealer’s stock returns are captured).
- The FCA contains several contradictions, which must be addressed especially in terms of conditions around competency.
- The Appeals Board should be moved to a different location to ensure its impartiality and independence.
- Challenges regarding the proposed amendments to the Firearms Control Act, 2000 through the Firearms Control Amendment Bill, 2015
Several concerns were raised in terms of the proposals made in the Firearms Control Amendment Bill, 2015, which included the following:
- International studies show that crime increases in gun free zones. In the USA armed guards patrol gun free zones and are not the safe havens these zones are believed to be. The Deputy Minister indicated that the challenge has been raised previously.
- Clarity should be sought on the 2009 court order regarding the licenses issued in terms of the 1969 Arms and Ammunitions Act (commonly referred to a ‘green licences’) before the Amendment Bill is tabled before Parliament.
- The scope of competency testing should not be broadened to make DFOs psychologists. The “fit and proper” Advisory Committee established in 2002 concluded that there does not exist a definitive measurement to assess mental fitness for owning a firearm. If measures are developed they must first be applied to state agencies.
- The Amendment Bill requires significant amounts of data processing, which the SAPS already struggles with. The added requirements will put extra pressure on the SAPS.
- Unintended consequences of inadequate stakeholder participation were the inconsistencies regarding accreditation of delegated status.
- There was a call not to amend Section 16 and 16A of the Firearms Control Act, 2000 which provides for the licence to possess firearms for dedicated hunting and dedicated sports shooting (S16) and the licence to possess firearms for professional hunting (S16A).
- Consideration should be given to reintroducing a unit specialising in firearm related matters.
- Significant concerns were raised regarding the proposal for micro dots and ballistic sampling. It was stated that the available micro dot technology is unable to effect the requirements of the Amendment Bill, 2015. This is because the national standard discussed in the Bill is only applicable to vehicles. There are also insufficient facilities to apply the micro dots, which are easily visible on a firearm and equally easy to remove with a steel brush. It was stated that ballistic testing seems attractive, but is not realistic. Ballistic fingerprint tested in USA and the State Senate Hearings in Maryland found that the experiment was hugely expensive and ineffective. In a five year period, no arrests were made and there was a one in five chance that a person would be incorrectly arrested. Discussions also centred around the capacity of the SAPS to implement ballistic testing
- An aspect that is largely overlooked is the illegal ownership of firearms for self-defence in poor areas, and the protection of those who cannot afford private security. These firearm owners do not live in brick houses which means that they have nowhere to bolt down a safe to store firearms safely as per the provisions of the Act.
- The impact of societal issues on gun control and violent crime
Widespread poverty, the proliferation of gangs, the lack of education and ignorance of mental health issues must be addressed through a compressive and inclusive solution. Unfortunately violence is geographically skewed in South Africa towards poorer areas. The minds of people, especially young people, must be ‘disarmed’ through education on respect for self and others. Teachers should be trained to deal with children effectively and interventions should be implemented to ensure that trauma does not take away power and control.
- The conditions and successes of firearm amnesties
A firearm amnesty generally yields the most success when it is done on an unconditional basis. During the 2005 firearm amnesty, many parts of firearms was catalogued as a complete firearm, which skews the data significantly. Also, most firearms handed in during amnesties are unwanted firearms (from obsolete collectors or heirlooms or state stockpiles). This points towards a possible detraction to the usefulness of firearm amnesties as it is doubtful whether illegal firearms used in the commissioning of crime are handed in. Firearm amnesties work best when done in conjunction with policy/legislative reviews on a ‘no questions asked’ basis with a massive communication campaign and followed by a public destruction of the amnesty firearms. Amnesties also provide an opportunity for public education on firearms.
However, a major concern was that amnesty firearms handed in during the last amnesty found their way back into circulation. This is a serious indictment on the ability of the SAPS to effectively manage firearms and deal with corruption within the service.
It was also stated that Brazil segmented its communication strategy on the amnesty and targeted different demographic groups separately. An example was given of a women in Brazil who brought in 1700 firearms (the limit was 350 firearms). Brazil also offered a cash incentive for the firearms handed in during the amnesty, but this is not done in many jurisdictions, as it has the potential for fuelling the illegal market.
- Challenges regarding firearm control/regulation in the Private Security Industry
The lack of effective controls in the private security environment was raised as a key concern, especially in terms of non-compliant companies. It was stated that the Security Industry Alliance (SIA) is working closely with PSIRA to clean up the industry and restore its tarnished image. The uncertainty of what happens to the firearms of dissolved companies was also raised. It was stated that it is critical that the CFR must remove licences immediately when companies dissolve and that closer cooperation between the CFR and the PSIRA is needed in this regard. Two fundamental issues need to be addressed, the first being the capacitation of the PSIRA, especially in terms of investigators as the PSIRA Amendment Bill, 2013 requires significant resourcing to deliver on its extended mandate. The second is the enforcement of licensing by the SAPS in accordance with the requirements of the FAC. The PSIRA expressed the need to access the CFR directly and for the Registry have the capability to distinguish between different types of businesses and the firearms owned by these businesses.
- Establishment of effective partnerships
The lack of and need to establish strong partnerships between the public and private sector emerged strongly. Education and safety campaigns at schools was highlighted as a key intervention. There should be ownership from all sectors.
- RECOMMENDATIONS BY THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON POLICE
The Committee made the following recommendations and resolutions:
- Evidence based research: The Committee recommends that the SAPS should publish all relevant and available data on firearm ownership in South Africa. The accessibility of the data will enable policy research and academic institutions to study the impact of gun control legislation on violent crime in South Africa. It is further recommended that international standards like the Zimring standard should be used when measuring the impact gun control.
- Implementation of the Firearms Control Act, 2000: The Committee recommends that the implementation and administration of the FAC must be prioritised, especially in terms of the Central Firearm Registry (CFR). The Committee resolves to intensify its oversight on the CFR Turn-around Strategy in order to ensure that sufficient progress is made in this environment.
- Firearms Control Amendment Bill, 2015: The Committee recommends that the Civilian Secretariat for Police should address all uncertainties pertaining the Amendment Bill before it is tabled in Parliament, including the legal status of licences issued under the Arms and Ammunition Act, 1969 (Act 75 of 1969).
- Community and stakeholder partnerships: The Committee recommends that community and stakeholder partnerships should be strengthened in order to develop a holistic approach to firearm control in South Africa.
- Private security: The Committee recommends that the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) should play a more pro-active role in the regulation of firearms in the private security environment. And further recommends that the SAPS CFR and the PSIRA must improve their cooperation and the accessibility of the PSIRA to the CFR.
- Problem-orientated policing: The Committee recommends that the SAPS should focus on problem-orientated policing interventions in firearm-related hot-spot areas.
- Firearm amnesty: The Committee resolved to investigate the merits of pursuing a firearm amnesty.
- Leadership: The Committee resolves to intensify its oversight function over the leadership of the SAPS in order to ensure accountability for deficiencies within the firearms control environment. The Committee further resolves that it will not hesitate to make tough decisions to ensure the effective and efficient application of state resources.
- Parliamentary processes: The Committee resolves that it will facilitate specific interventions in order to provide a platform for feedback on issues to spread participation in Parliamentary processes. To commence this process, the Committee will invite key stakeholders to participate in the follow-up of the Committee on the turn-around strategy of the CFR scheduled for 03 June 2015.
The Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Police, Hon. Francois Beukman concluded the Summit by stating that the participation in the Summit was conducted in the spirit of building a “feel safe” society. The Chairperson focussed on the Portfolio Committee’s collective responsibility and its oversight responsibility to ensure that Departmental budgets are spent effectively and that value for money is ensured through service delivery. The NDP focusses on a professional police service and an effective Criminal Justice System, and the Committee will endeavour to play its part in realising the vision of the NDP.
The role of education to influence young people to develop into the model citizens South Africa wants to see by 2030, but that there are also significant societal considerations to take into account. One deficiency of the Summit was that the role of training was underplayed although it must be a continuous process and is of critical importance to the successful control and management of firearms in South Africa.
The Chairperson thanked the delegates and Members of the Committee for their participation and contributions to the discussions and the role everyone played in fostering an environment in which the road ahead could be paved and influence actions. The Chairperson also thanked the support staff of the Committee and particularly, Mr. Eldred de Klerk for facilitating the National Firearms Summit.
Report to be considered.
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