Firearms Act controls illegal gun ownership
In the face of increasing firearm-related crimes in communities and calls by South Africans for a relaxation of the country's gun laws so that individuals can better protect themselves against armed criminals, government still believes the Firearms Control Act, which is aimed at strict and efficient gun control, is the solution.
Deputy Police Minister Maggie Sotyu defended the Act saying that it was not formulated to compromise the rights of civilians to defend themselves.
“Its ultimate goal is to disarm criminals, discourage potential unstable use of firearms, stop illegal trafficking of firearms, and to confiscate unlicensed guns,” she said.
She was speaking during the destruction of 14 382 illegal firearms last week in Gauteng.
Changes mooted for the Firearms Control Act have been criticised as a threat to the rule of law and arguably a breach of the Constitution by attempting to legislate around a court order.
While an amendment bill has not yet been seen by MPs, Parliament’s Police Committee has been briefed on some technical amendments to the act.
One of the amendments provides a two-year period for the renewal of licences granted under the old arms and ammunition act.
But the problem is that there is an existing court order making old arms and ammunition act licences valid despite provisions of the new act that these licences fall away and an application be made for their renewal.
Competency training, and background evaluation are some of the critical provisions that have made this Act as comprehensive and as efficient in accreditation of a potential licensed gun owner.
The current system requires the Designated Firearms Officer (DFO) to evaluate the applicant’s physical and psychological fitness to possess a firearm.
This includes the requirement that people close to the applicant be consulted before the issuance of a firearm license.
Deputy Minister Sotyu said the fact that this legislation’s long-term goal, as amended, is to improve policing and public security so that the factors that drive people to possess weapons for self-defence are reduced.
“Obviously and rightly so, this zero-tolerance on corruption will continue to make it difficult for those people with criminal records, domestic violence history, and psychological/emotional or mental disturbance to get a firearm license as indicated in the Act.”
She called on gun dealers to always advise potential firearm buyers to undergo the whole procedure of competency test and accreditation procedures before they can pay for their firearms, training, safes, and revenue stamps.
The Deputy Minister went on to acknowledge the challenge with the Designated Firearms Officer’s overall mandate, and related concerns with capacity to do his/her job as well as the shortage of personnel in some of the Central Firearms Registry sections.
Problems with the police’s Central Firearms Registry have been in the spotlight since the arrests of three police officers, who worked at the registry, last year. They are accused of using the registry’s computer system to issue gun licences corruptly.
According to the Deputy Minister, they have intensified their anti-corruption initiatives to eliminate this from happening again.
Deputy Minister Sotyu said the ministry has also put some short-term measures for hiring intern graduates across the provinces to help Designated Firearms Officers.
The long-term plans will include addressing issues of organizational restructuring, infrastructure, systems management and a permanent human capacity.
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