3/2006: The Firearms Control Act and Proposed Amendments: Arms Control or Disarmament?

Strategic Review for Southern Africa, May 2006 | Go to article overview

3/2006: The Firearms Control Act and Proposed Amendments: Arms Control or Disarmament?


1. INTRODUCTION

This presentation will argue that on the basis of the facts provided, or, more precisely, lack of facts, it is clear that the Firearms Control Act (Act 60 of 2000), as amended, hereinafter referred to as 'the Act', is part of an incremental process of gradual but steady disarmament of civilians in South Africa.

Cheadle Thompson and Haysom Attorneys, on behalf of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1993, before they came to power, in a written submission to the Goldstone Commission made it absolutely clear that the ANC envisaged incremental disarmament of the civilian population of South Africa, should they come to power, and that national legislation would be enacted to give effect to this. This statement was made seven years before the Firearms Control Act was passed by Parliament.

In brief, the first drafts of the Act were prepared, allegedly, without the then Minister of Safety and Security's consent, and when he was confronted with drafts of the Act, Minister Mufumadi denied any involvement in the proposed Firearms Control Act.

This was because when he was appointed Minister of Safety and Security in Parliament in 1994 he stated the following: "The problem does not lie with licensed firearms, but with illegal firearms. Persons in possession of licensed firearms display a far greater responsibility when using their firearms because they can be easily traced through the Central Firearms Register".

Furthermore, during the same parliamentary session, Minister Mufumadi stated a simple 'no' in response to the question: "Whether his department intends to introduce any legislation with a view to: (a) restricting the number of licensed firearms in private ownership; and (b) bring to an end private licence ownership of firearms in the Republic".

2. THE FIREARMS CONTROL ACT AND RELICENSING

The Act was finalised after more than sixty different drafts were created and amended by the South African Police Service (SAPS) Legal Services and Consultants and was passed by Parliament in October 2000. It, however, only came into effect during 2003 in respect of the accreditation provisions of the Act and the full Act was implemented in July 2004, after the regulations had been hastily prepared and assented to by the Minister.

This occurred amidst a chorus of protests from civil society saying that the Act was too complicated, that the regulations had been rushed and most importantly, particularly in retrospect, because the SAPS did not have the capacity to fully implement the Act, in terms of training, skills, resources and capacity.

The initial response to the Act was slow, particularly in terms of the accreditation and competency procedures and many people have argued this was because of ongoing resistance to the Act. The first re-licensing process commenced on 1 January 2005 and was due to end on 31 December 2005.

The response during the first nine months of 2005 was slow and led to increasingly belligerent threats by the SAPS against members of the public, threatening that non-compliance would lead to prosecution. Some examples are:

--15 December 2005--"After that date (30 June 2009) a person who has not applied for a renewal of a licence and has not disposed of a firearm may be prosecuted for illegal possession of a 'firearm".

18 March 2006--"People who fail to renew their licences by 30 June 2009 will have to either surrender their weapons or face prosecution".

--Ministry spokesperson, Hlangwani Mulaudzi, stated on Radio 702, as did police spokesperson, Puti Setati, that firearm owners would be prosecuted even if their licences remained valid until 2009.

The question therefore is, how can one be prosecuted for not renewing a licence when it remains valid?

During the same time period, an amnesty of three months was declared from January 2005 to March 2005 and which was subsequently extended until June 2005.

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