Gun Policy Briefs

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.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017 10:52

Briefing 6 of 2017: Reducing illicit arms flows - Contributing to sustainable development

In September 2015, the United Nations member states, including South Africa, adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, replacing the Millennium Development Goals, with a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets.

A significant shift in the development of these new goals was the recognition that a broader range of factors such as violence and insecurity contribute to ongoing underdevelopment, and that unless these are addressed in a comprehensive manner, the main aims of the 2030 Agenda, namely, to reduce poverty and promote health and education, will not be achieved.

Goal 16 which focuses on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies makes a clear connection between development, peace, security and arms control, with Target 16.4 of Goal 16 making the link explicit: reducing ‘illicit arms flows’ is an important contributor to building peaceful societies.

Briefing 6 explores Target 16.4 of Goal 16 in more detail, with a particular focus on what steps South Africa needs to take to ‘significantly reduce illicit… arms flows by 2030’, which in effect means mopping up the existing pool of illegal guns and reducing the movement of guns from the legal to the illegal market.

Thursday, 08 June 2017 10:53

Briefing 5 of 2017: Protecting children from armed violence

In February 2010, three-year-old Leshay Arnold was killed by a stray bullet in Delft on the Cape Flats. The reason Leshay’s murder made headlines is that it was the first death to be linked to a nationwide gun smuggling syndicate in which a police officer, allegedly working with a gun dealer and a businessman, sold guns handed in to the police by members of the public for destruction to gangsters on the Cape Flats. The corrupt police officer, Christiaan Prinsloo, has admitted he stole 2,400 guns. To date ballistic tests have linked just some of these stolen guns to the shooting of 261 children (aged 18 or younger) on the Cape Flats, of which 89, including Leshay, were killed. That so many children were shot and killed or injured by corruption is tragic at so many levels; including that shootings like this are preventable. To coincide with Youth Month (June), Briefing 5 looks at the growing risk of armed violence for children within an urban context before unpacking three key interventions to protect children, and the broader community, from armed violence. In sum, these are:

1. Reduce the availability of guns by:

  • Enacting and enforcing comprehensive national gun laws;
  • Ratifying and applying international arms control instruments;
  • Undertaking comprehensive disarmament campaigns e.g. amnesties, gun buy-backs and audited gun destructions; and
  • Running awareness campaigns to alert the public to changes in gun control policy or practice, and the risks of gun ownership.

2. Limit access to alcohol, because of the close association alcohol has to violence.

3. Plan urban upgrades within the context of rapid and unplanned urban growth, which is an important driver of armed violence.

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