Gun Policy Briefs

Tuesday, 12 June 2018 10:45

Briefing 3 of 2018: Constitutional Court unanimously rules regular gun licence renewal is constitutional - What next?

On 7 June 2018 the Constitutional Court unanimously ruled that sections 24 and 28 of the Firearms Control Act (2000), under which gun owners must renew their firearm licences on a regular basis or forfeit guns for which licences have expired to the state, are constitutional.

In making its judgement, the ConCourt ruled that gun ownership is not a fundamental right under the Bill of Rights, rather it is a privilege regulated by the Firearms Control Act (FCA). Under the Act:

  • No person may possess a gun without a valid licence;
  • A firearm licence is valid for a limited period of time; and
  • Unless a gun owner has renewed his gun licence before expiry, he has committed a criminal offence and is subject to penalties.

After tracing the history of firearm licence renewals in South Africa to identify loopholes in enforcement and compliance, this third Briefing of 2018 answers the question, what next? It identifies five actions that need to be undertaken following the ConCourt’s ruling:

  1. The SAPS needs to urgently finalise and publicly communicate a strategy to deal with gun owners who are in illegal gun possession for failing to renew their licences.
  2. The Minister of Police must immediately challenge the 2009 North Gauteng High Court ruling which exempts gun owners with “green licences” issued under the Arms and Ammunition Act (1969) from having to comply with the stricter provisions of the FCA, including regular licence renewal.
  3. The SAPS must immediately put in place measures to stop guns leaking from SAPS stores and other secure facilities in which forfeited, surrendered and recovered weapons are stored; this entails safeguarding stores and ensuring that guns destined for destruction are destroyed.
  4. A forensic audit of all licences, permits and authorisations issued following the 2010 turn-around strategy of the Central Firearms Registry must be undertaken to ensure that due process was followed as it’s likely that the “remarkable increase” in the processing of applications noted by SAPS resulted from fast-tracking licence applications.
  5. Require that all firearm licences, irrespective of the category, be renewed every three years, in line with global norms. This will also standardise the renewals period and avoid any potential confusion for gun owners.

The ConCourt ruling has the potential to kickstart the implementation of the FCA. It gives a clear directive to SAPS to properly enforce the law and to gun owners to comply with the law. As soon as one of these parties act, the other will be forced to respond, helping close the implementation ‘vacuum’ feeding gun violence in South Africa.

Wednesday, 09 May 2018 10:46

Briefing 2 of 2018: Cape Town proves strong gun laws save lives, lax enforcement kills, illegally supplied guns more dangerous in short term

Over the years Gun Free SA has raised concern that poor enforcement of the Firearms Control Act (2000) has led to thousands of people being shot and killed. Published research from South Africa now proves this link, showing that strong gun laws save lives, lax enforcement kills, and that illegally channelled guns kill more people in the short term.

In sum, the researchers show that two known breakdowns in the enforcement of the Firearms Control Act by the police whereby guns leaked onto the Cape Flats has resulted in Cape Flats communities being shot and killed at a much higher rate than other Cape Town communities.

The two breakdowns are:

  • Firearms meant to be destroyed by police were sold to gangsters in the Western Cape: An ex-police officer, Christiaan Prinsloo, has been sentenced to 18 years for his role in the ‘guns to gangs’ saga; his alleged accomplices have yet to stand trial.
  • Fraud, corruption and lax processing by police in issuing gun licences: Firearm applications were fast-tracked by the police to deal with backlogs in 2010 while incidents of fraud in the issuing of gun licences (e.g. three police officials have just been suspended after issuing licences to a known 28s’ gang leader and his family) mean people who are not “fit and proper” have been granted gun licences.

As the world marks this year's Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence, we call on our government to take immediate action to stop the crisis of gun violence sweeping across our country, especially the Cape Flats, including by:

  1. Ensuring that all investigations into organised crime activities involving the deliberate leakage of legal firearms into the illegal market are urgently undertaken and are given the necessary resources.
  2. Holding a national no-questions asked firearms amnesty and public gun destruction, to ensure that firearms are taken off our streets.
  3. Enforcing the Firearms Control Act, including:
    • Immediate implementation of measures to stop guns leaking from SAPS stores and other secure facilities in which recovered weapons are stored.
    • Undertaking a forensic audit of all licences, permits and authorisations issued as a result of the 2010 turn-around strategy of the Central Firearms Registry, to ensure that due process was followed.
  4. Bringing the Firearms Control Amendment Bill to Parliament in 2018.

South Africa has a world class gun law, which, as this Briefing shows, has saved thousands of lives; if it’s properly enforced it has the potential to save thousands more.

Friday, 09 March 2018 10:48

Briefing 1 of 2018: Police killings - Protecting members and their families

In mid March Constable Buti shot and killed his wife before turning the gun on himself following an argument; the couple’s 6-year old child witnessed the shootings. A week earlier Sergeant Brooks shot and killed his girlfriend, her mother and himself during a hostage incident. While parliament and police unions have reacted with shock, the tragic reality is that police killing are not new and, while a range of police-led interventions have been introduced over the years to reduce such deaths, these have had little success.

This Briefing looks more closely at the circumstances under which police are killed or kill to identify risk factors and interventions to protect those entrusted to protect us. It shows that the ready availability of guns increases police members’ risk of being killed, of killing themselves and of killing others and identifies two key interventions that, if implemented immediately, could protect police members and their families:

1. Reduce availability of service pistols to off-duty police members
Section 98 of the Firearms Control Act (2000) clearly states that off-duty SAPS members may not take service weapons home without special permission, stipulating that unless a SAPS member has a permit indicating otherwise, the member must, “at the end of each period of his or her duty, return the firearm in question to the place of storage designated for this purpose by the Official Institution.”

Section 98 of the Act has been operationalised by SAPS through various Instructions and Orders (specifically Standing Order 48 of 2011 and National Instruction 4 of 2016), which clearly spell out the process to be undertaken for an off-duty police member to take a service weapon home.

While government policy is clear, it appears that enforcement thereof has not been standardised countrywide; and that off-duty police members taking service weapons home is the norm rather than the exception. SAPS is urged to look at the on-the-ground operationalisation of Section 98  as restricting the availability of service weapons to off-duty police members would reduce:

  • the lethality and thus the success of suicide attempts
  • the lethality of domestic violence
  • the risk of police officers being killed off-duty

2. Reduce levels of civilian gun ownership
Most police members killed in violent-related incidents in South Africa are shot dead. Research internationally has shown that the more guns that are owned by civilians, the greater the risk of police officers being killed. Under the Firearms Control Act, the SAPS is responsible for ensuring that only people who are “fit and proper” are granted the privilege of owning a gun. Unfortunately, since 2010, the Act has been poorly enforced by the police, with a range of instances involving fraud, corruption and poor adherence to the law resulting in people who should not have guns being granted licences. It’s in the SAPS’ interest to audit all licences issued since 2010 to ensure that due process was followed and that every licensed gun owner meets the necessary criteria to own a gun.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017 10:49

Briefing 8 of 2017: The life-cycle of a gun - Tracking how guns leak between cradle and grave

The purpose of the Firearms Control Act (FCA) is to “establish a comprehensive and an effective system of firearms control.” In other words, the FCA aims to create an integrated system which regulates all guns in South Africa, from cradle to grave; including their manufacture, trade, possession, use and destruction. By controlling all these aspects, South Africa’s FCA-informed firearms control management system creates a sealed container in which all guns entering into, being used within and exiting from are documented, to ensure that these activities comply with the law. However, since 2010 a range of incidents have come to light which show that SA’s firearms control management system is not a sealed container. This Briefing:

  • Starts by tracing the life-cycle of a gun from manufacture to possession, from use to destruction, as the first step to identifying how breakdowns in the firearms control management system (whether intentional or not) create holes through which guns leak into the illegal pool.
  • Identifies high profile incidents to highlight how breakdowns at different stages of a gun’s cradle-to-grave life-cycle facilitate leakage.
  • Concludes with three key action steps to close holes in South Africa’s firearms control management system to address the tide of gun violence sweeping across the country: Accurate firearm-related record-keeping by the CFR; systematic gun licence renewals; and comprehensive stockpile management, including regular destructions.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017 10:52

Briefing 7 of 2017: SA needs a #TopCop with Right Skills Set

As South Africa marks the fifth anniversary of the Marikana Massacre, this Briefing unpacks a key lesson emerging from the tragedy: If the National Commissioner of the South African Police Service (SAPS) had had the necessary skills, knowledge and experience, Marikana would never have happened.

But Marikana is not an isolated incident; poor police leadership over the years has led to a steady decline in SAPS’ performance, despite budget increases: Murder has increased, the number of people killed by the police has increased and trust in the police has declined.

The solution is identified in South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP): A professional and demilitarised police service based on a clear merit-based process to appoint leadership at all levels.

This Briefing marks a change from our usual Briefings, as Gun Free South Africa has partnered with Corruption Watch and the Institute for Security Studies in support of a #TopCopSA campaign to operationalise the NDP. Civil society urges policy makers and enforcers to take urgent action to ensure that South Africa’s next National Police Commissioner is appointed in line with the country’s NDP. An experienced, knowledgeable and respected leader of a professional and demilitarised police service is the foundation of effective policing in which lives are saved not lost and public safety is built not undermined.

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