Around a quarter of a million South Africans have registered their opposition to the government’s proposed changes to firearms laws, which would ban owning guns for self-defence.
The Institute for Race Relations (IRR) on Tuesday said more than 21 000 South Africans joined the IRR in rejecting the draft Firearms Control Amendment Bill while another 200 000 people have registered their opposition through other civil rights organisations and political parties.
Public comment on the bill closed on 31 July. The Bill was published on 21 May.
“In addition to making it illegal to register a gun for self-defence, the reckless and dangerous proposals in the draft legislation would impose onerous burdens on those who use firearms for business purposes, such as hunting, sport, heritage collecting, and the film industry,” the IRR said.
The institute said that data suggests the introduction of the Firearms Control Act (FCA) two decades ago had no legible positive effect on violent crime in general and murder in particular. “Murder rates were declining rapidly before the FCA, but that decline slowed after the law was implemented. The murder rate then began to increase over a period, since 2011, when estimated private firearm ownership decreased.”
According to the United Nations, South Africa had the 10th highest murder rate in the world in 2019. There were on average almost 60 murders per day in South Africa, at a rate that has increased over the last ten years. “In this context, denying people the right to defend themselves amounts to a denial of the right to life, security, and psychological and bodily integrity, all guaranteed by the Constitution,” the IRR said.
The amendment, beyond its “self-defence” ban, would make sports shooting impracticable, while heritage collections would be confiscated without compensation. The tourism industry around hunting would be negatively impacted, at a time when this industry is already on its knees, the Institute cautioned.
Said IRR head of campaigns Gabriel Crouse: “Police reform is needed. If July taught us anything it is that. The thin blue line between ordinary citizens and looters turned out to be a rainbow coalition of armed neighbours. To take guns away now would send a clear message to looters, ‘Try again, this time there will be no resistance’.”
Added Crouse: “The current draft amendment must be scrapped, evidence must be gathered, and the Secretariat needs to get real about its own failures. Stakeholders must be consulted, a clear and up-to-date impact-assessment must be conducted, and the right to life must be respected. This is not a nice-to-have, it is a must-have, according to our Constitution.”
Defence expert Helmoed Heitman last month suggested Police minister Bheki Cele’s intention to disarm ordinary citizens while expanding armed protection for himself and others who consider themselves to be VIPs “demonstrates an extraordinary level of contempt for the man and woman in the street.”
Heitman said it is a fallacy to believe Cele that the police will protect South Africa’s citizens, as was proven during unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
He added that gun ownership around the world does not necessarily increase violent crime, stating that the five countries with the highest gun homicide rates average 9.76 guns and 39.4 gun homicides per 100 000 people whereas the five countries with the highest private gun ownership average 52.56 guns per 100 000 and 1.28 gun homicides per 100 000.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) said the Firearms Control Amendment Bill has been a source of concern and anger. “The amendments suggested would severely hamper any citizen’s rights to protect themselves – something that cannot be judged lightly, particularly given the wide-spread destruction and chaos that reigned in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng two weeks ago and left residents there to fend for themselves when the South African Police Service (SAPS) and other law enforcement agencies failed utterly to protect communities from violence and looting.”
The party objected to the proposed removal of self-defence as a reason to possess a firearm; government power to ban ammunition types; increased requirements for sport shooting and hunting purposes; the limitation of only transporting 3 firearms without a transporter license; the reduction in ammunition per firearm from 200 to 100 rounds; and the prevention of reloading cartridges.
“While the DA supports the need for strong gun control and licensing, we cannot support this Bill in its current format. It has far-reaching implications not only for civilian safety but also for other industries such as the professional hunting and private security industries,” the DA said.
“Minister Cele has failed utterly in his task to enable SAPS to protect and serve South Africans, and now he seeks to strip us of further safeguarding measures. He cannot continue to persecute law-abiding citizens, just because it’s easier than doing his actual job of catching criminals and protecting our people,” the party’s MP and Shadow Minister of Police Andrew Whitfield concluded.
Political party ActionSA on Tuesday said “it is no secret that South Africans are not safe. The violence and looting that we saw in KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng in the last three weeks brought this fact into sharp focus and exposed law enforcement authorities’ failure to protect South African lives and property.”
The party pointed out that South Africa ranks 123rd in the Global Peace Index, lower than some countries actively participating in war and 3rd highest on the Global Crime Index (again, higher than some countries actively experiencing civil war). South Africa also ranks 5th most dangerous country to live in according to Gallup’s Global Law and Order Index.
“ActionSA supports responsible and stringent firearm control measures, but this Bill will only serve to punish law-abiding citizens while doing little to address the proliferation of illicit guns used by criminal elements. If passed as it currently stands, the Bill will potentially harm the private security sector which we all saw play a crucial support role in restoring the order that was lost recently, with the effect of further placing South Africans in danger whilst simultaneously adversely impacting our ailing economy and also enforce unreasonable restrictions on sport shooters and game hunters.”
Instead of trying to pass the gun bill, ActionSA said the police ministry should rather slash the VIP Protection Budget by at least 50%, unlocking close to R850 million for visible policing; ensure proper licensing of legal gun owners; improve the operational performance of the Central Firearms Registry; improve police quality; and address underlying socio-economic problems that drive South Africa’s high crime, amongst others.