Opposition to government’s planned changes via the Firearms Control Amendment Bill look sure to be boosted further by announcements of large numbers of businesses robbed in Gauteng and another farm murder, this time in Eastern Cape.
In addition to a Democratic Alliance (DA) petition which presently boasts over 76 000 signatures, civil society organisation DearSA reminds South Africans they have until Monday next week (5 July) to register objections to the draft Firearms Control Amendment Bill, which among others, seeks to remove self-defence as a valid reason for owning a firearm. Managing director Rob Hutchinson said his organisation has to date delivered 110 000 plus individual public submissions on the legislative change to Parliament. Objections can be submitted at https://dearsouthafrica.co.za/firearm-control-2021/
Gauteng, South Africa’s economic hub, also appears to be the hub for criminals robbing businesses, with DA provincial shadow community safety MEC (Member of the Executive Committee) Michael Shackleton reporting 10 219 business robberies between April 2019 and December 2020. He quoted statistics supplied by MEC Faith Mazibuko in response to a provincial legislature question.
Farm attacks and murders remain an ongoing threat to South Africa’s rural communities with DA shadow state security minister Dianne Kohler Barnard saying “arming for self-defence is the only hope” following the death of an Eastern Cape farmer at the weekend. Darryl Richter was shot outside East London while on patrol to prevent farm attacks. Reports have it he was wounded by gunfire and managed to shoot and kill two of his unknown attackers before succumbing.
“Richter’s death if ever needed, again stresses the importance of farmers being able to own firearms for self-defence, which Police Minister Bheki Cele plans to remove with the controversial Firearms Control Amendment Bill,” she said.
“This is another example of what farmers face on a 24/7 basis and, if Cele has his way, Richter would be have been another murder victim with some of the perpetrators driving off.”
The DA a week ago hosted a gun summit on firearms ownership. Helen Zille, chair of the party’s federal council, said it would be unjustified for government to keep people from buying firearms for self-defence when police lost a huge number of guns. “About 26 000 police firearms are unaccounted for over 12 years and SAPS (SA Police Service) should first account for the missing guns before they take away the right to own firearms,” she said.
“Our position is in opposition to what the bill proposes, which is illegitimacy toward owning a firearm for self-defence. We believe this is an ill-considered piece of legislation, especially when the violent crime rates have gone up,” said DA MP Andrew Whitfield.
“It’s not our hunting rifles causing problems. Farmers’ safety is also at stake. Who looks after them? Police cannot respond fast enough in remote areas, yet they want to implement laws preventing you looking after yourself,” chief executive of the Professional Hunter’s Association of South Africa (PHASA) Dries van Coller said.
Firearms Control Amendment Bill
The Firearms Control Amendment Bill, 2021, was published in the Government Gazette for comment on 21 May this year. Changes proposed include removal of self-defence as a valid reason for a licence; reduction of firearms license validity period to five years; reduction in allowed licenses; limiting ammunition per license and making ammunition reloading unlawful.
“South Africans should take comfort the proposed amendments were not taken lightly. Extensive research, consultations with various stakeholders preceded the proposed amendments,” the police ministry said late last month.
The research used to draft the amendments was questioned and in response, the Civilian Secretariat for Police Service last week made public some research reports used.
“The spike in the use of firearms in violent crimes, such as murder with legal firearms, was taken into account,” the Secretariat said. “SAPS statistics show an increase in the use of firearms to commit murder. For the period 2017/18, 6 551 firearms were used to commit murder, while in 2018/2019, 7 156 firearms were used in murders and 7 351 firearms were used in murders in 2019/2020. During the 2018/2019 financial year, state mortuaries in Gauteng recorded 2 416 gunshot deaths.”
The Secretariat said the use of firearms in self-defence by private citizens is rare. “More firearms are stolen each year than used in self-defence. There is sufficient evidence across the world that the presence and availability of firearms (in particular handguns) contributes to higher levels of violent crime. In Australia, licence holders must demonstrate a ‘genuine reason’ (which does not include self-defence) for holding a firearm licence. In Japan where handguns are banned outright, in 2017 there was one death as a result of a firearm, whereas in the UK for the same period there were 107 deaths as a result of a firearm.”
The Secretariat pointed out in 2019/20, 3 861 legal firearms were used to commit crimes overall, while 4 176 illegal firearms were used in the same crime categories. “These figures demonstrate both illegal and legal pools contribute to crimes. As a responsible government, we cannot ignore what statistics say, it is clear firearms are a major contributor to crimes.”
Many worry firearm control amendments do not address the problem of illegal guns and will disarm legal owners while ignoring criminals with illegal firearms. The DA’s gun summit heard the state has a weak legal basis for disarming citizens as it has little or no evidence of its primary claim that legal firearm ownership increases the supply of illegal firearms used to commit crimes.