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Proposal for firearms amnesty fraught with shortcomings

The South African Police Services’ request to institute a firearms amnesty from 1 February to 31 July 2018, is a desperate attempt to save face amidst convincing arguments that SAPS is unable to manage and administer firearms legislation (The Firearms Control Act: 60 of 2000, as amended) effectively.

Fred Camphor, CEO of SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SA Hunters) said law-abiding firearm owners in South Africa bear the brunt of systemic systems failure of SAPS’ firearms division and the Central Firearms Registry (CFR). “A proposed amnesty will not resolve the complexities experienced by SAPS and the firearm owners.”

Stakeholders in the firearms community are frustrated with the poor performance by SAPS. Some of the stumbling blocks in the way of a well-run, reliable and trustworthy firearms control mechanism include:

  • Ongoing problems with licensing and relicensing of firearms;
  • arbitrary handling of late applications for the renewal of firearm licences between 2011 and 2016
  • inconsistent application and interpretation of firearms legislation by SAPS offices nationwide; and
  • lack of communication from SAPS to the firearms community

It is the second time this year that the SAPS attempted to implement a firearms amnesty, which they claim is to “remove illegal firearms from society”. In its new proposal of 8 November, SAPS tried to convince the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Police (PPCP) that the amnesty is a solution to rid society of illegally-owned firearms and to give legal firearm owners, many of whom merely forgot to renew their firearm licences in time, the opportunity to apply for licences.

“Amnesty is not a quick fix for systemic failure,” said Camphor. During two previous amnesties in 2005 and 2010, none of the approximately 123 000 firearms handed in, could be linked to criminal activity and no one was prosecuted for any criminal acts resulting from firearms handed in under these amnesty periods.

The timing for the requested amnesty period is also suspicious, says Camphor. We believe that SAPS intends to use the firearms amnesty to create a mechanism for legal relicensing to pre-empt the outcome of the Constitutional Court’s hearing on 8 February 2018. SAPS’ appeal follows on the North Gauteng High Court ruling on 4 July 2017, which was in favour of SA Hunters’ application to declare Section 24 and 28 of the Firearms Control Act unconstitutional. However, it seems unlikely that an amnesty will be approved by the National Assembly in time to be implemented in February 2018.

Should all of the estimated 300 000 firearm owners that forgot to renew their firearm licences in time decide to hand in their firearms for safe-keeping at police stations during the amnesty period, while applying for new licences within 14 days after the firearm was handed in, it is highly unlikely that SAPS has the capacity to store the firearms safely, and the resources to manage the associated administrative logistical burden.

Camphor said that Deputy commissioner admitted in 2015, that SAPS do not have sufficient storage space. The public has lost trust in the SAPS following recent events where approximately 20 semi-automatic rifles from SAPS stock disappeared from two SAPS police stations in the Western Cape. There is also the case where a former officer was involved with the theft of in excess of 2 000 firearms that ended up in the hands of gangs in the Western Cape.

During meetings of the PPCP, SAPS officials admitted to various shortcomings in the system, among others:

  • SAPS officials at certain police stations cannot be trusted to take care of firearms;
  • Ongoing poor service delivery and inconsistencies in the processing of firearms licence applications and the issuing of licences;
  • Lack of technical skills and knowledge about firearms among Dedicate Firearms Officers (DFOs) at stations;
  • CFR admitted to systemic failures such as outdated IT systems, and the fact that two parallel data systems have not been integrated, despite undertakings to do so years ago;
  • lack of storage space for the bulk of paper work associated with the licencing system.

Stakeholder engagement falling short
The SAPS Stakeholder engagement process has also fallen apart during the past two years. SA Hunters is one of twelve SAPS accredited hunting and sport shooting associations that established a forum in 2004 to engage with SAPS as part of SAPS/Hunters Consultative Forum. Since 2012, the relationship between SAPS and the Hunters Forum declined steadily and practically came to a halt in 2015. Attempts to revive the relationship in 2016, failed when SAPS did not attend a Consultative Forum meeting to discuss the way forward.

To date, SAPS plans of a so-called turn-around strategy towards a more efficient system, has not resulted in any positive change. All these plans look good on paper, but there is little evidence of implementation. Stakeholder engagement was listed as one of the aspects that needed attention, yet the situation has worsened. Recently, it became clear that SAPS did not regard firearm owners as stakeholders, and representatives of the firearms community were excluded from discussions. Numerous offers from the private sector to assist SAPS to improve the licencing system – at no cost to SAPS - have been ignored.

SA Hunters believe that the hasty attempt to implement a firearm amnesty early in 2018, is a smoke-screen by SAPS for covering up an inept system and legislative shortcomings. “The problems will not go away without addressing the weaknesses of the current system. We are confident that the Constitutional Court appeal will again be in favour of rational and constructive criticism that can bring about positive change,” Camphor said.

So far, we have enjoyed enormous support from responsible firearm owners, law-abiding citizens and organised firearm communities. We trust that this support will escalate in the run-up to the hearing on 8 February 2018.”

The End

Issued by the SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association

Head Office - Hoofkantoor

Inyathi Park
Plot 3, Mountain Drive 7, Derdepoort, South Africa
    South Africa: 0861 SAHUNT (724 868)
    International: +27 (0) 12 808-9300