Some 60 000 people have signed the Democratic Alliance’s petition against the proposed Firearms Control Bill, which seeks to remove self defence as a valid reason for a gun license, as civil society digs in against the proposed changes.
The Firearms Control Amendment Bill, 2021, was published in the Gazette for comments on 21 May 2021 and by the beginning of June, 60 000 submissions had been received. Important changes proposed in the draft Bill include the removal of self defence as a valid reason for a licence; the reduction of the firearms license validity period to five years; the reduction in the number of allowed licenses; limiting the amount of ammunition per license; and making reloading of ammunition unlawful.
Police Minister Bheki Cele said the amendments should not be interpreted as though government is looking into disarming citizens. “There is no right to bear arms in our Constitution and the Firearm Control Act in its current form grants no such right to citizens either. Owning a gun in this country remains a privilege made possible through the Firearms Controls Act,” he said, adding that arming citizens would not solve the country’s high crime rate.
“The mere possession of a firearm can lead to increased rates of victimisation – both for the gun owner and those living in the household. Simply put, this proposed change in law also has the potential to mean the difference between life and death for hundreds of women, who are in the clutches of their abusers, inside their own homes,” Cele said.
The Democratic Alliance said it stands in strong opposition to the Bill, which would affect the hunting, sporting and private security industries.
Andrew Whitfield, DA Shadow Minister of Police, said, “with our country’s high crime rate, self defence is the last line of defence for millions of South Africans. Without tackling the real problem of a high rate of violent crimes in the country – the Bill is merely aiming to disarm law-abiding citizens. This is reckless and leaves civilians with their hands tied behind their back when facing criminals.”
“The SAPS is now more than ever in complete disarray as is evident from the chaos at the Central Firearms Registry and the backlog in DNA case exhibits. While Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, wants to disarm citizens, SAPS is bleeding hundreds of firearms and ‘losing’ them to criminals. While the SAPS are failing to protect citizens, the DA believes this legislation should not mandate them to remove the option of civilians trying to fend for themselves,” Whitfield concluded.
The South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR) campaigns head Gabriel Crouse said that the IRR had asked its attorneys to send a letter to the Civilian Secretariat for Police Service (CSP) asking for more detail on the proposed policy to restrict civilian access to firearms for self-defence, and for it to provide the IRR with the research and data it used to frame the policy. The IRR warned the CSP that it would support legal action to have the policy scrapped.
Crouse said that the proposed policy was “out of touch with reality, given the extent to which citizens are exposed to serious and violent crime, and the extent to which the police are compromised by criminality, corruption and ineptitude. Even the most ardent anti-gun lobbyists point to police failures to uphold the law – rather than the law itself – as the heart of the crime crisis”.
Crouse said that the IRR saw responsible firearm possession as a civil rights question and that it would defend the rights of law-abiding gun owners to protect themselves.
The Congress of the People (COPE) is also against the Bill. Party Spokesperson, Dennis Bloem, said, “This amendment is disgraceful and completely madness. The bill does not make any sense to say that no firearm license may be issued for self-defence suppose. It is very clear that this government is not taking the lives of its citizens serious. Criminals with illegal firearms will terrorise law abiding citizens more than ever before.”
Other civil society groups have expressed opposition at the proposed bill, including the South African Arms and Ammunition Dealers Association and Gun Owners of South Africa.
Marnus Kamfer, AfriForum’s law and risk manager, said “The proposed amendments are irrational and reckless, especially since this draft takes away the ability of citizens to possess a firearm for self-defence purposes. Furthermore, it appears sport shooters and hunters will also come off second best with the proposed amendments.”
“This draft in its current format will result in citizens being left defenceless in a country where the police service has openly admitted it does not have the ability to protect citizens against a wave of crime. AfriForum will put a stop to this attack on communities’ defensibility. This draft amendment bill will be fought hand and nail and will be AfriForum’s main priority.”
A TimesLive poll saw 9 000 votes, with 96% of voters against banning firearms for self-defence.
The bill can be accessed on the Civilian Secretariat for the Police’s website www.policesecretariat.gov.za and is open for public comment until 4 July 2021. Objections can be sent to [email protected]