Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police has decided to hold back the controversial Firearms Control Amendment Bill, which seeks to make gun ownership for self-defence illegal, amongst other proposals.
During a committee meeting on 24 November, the Chairperson of the committee proposed that the Firearms Control Amendment Bill not be prioritised but rather be held back for further consideration.
Marco van Niekerk, CEO of Outdoor Investment Holdings, noted that the Bill has not yet been withdrawn, and called on Minister of Police Bheki Cele to go one step further, and formally remove the Bill from Parliament.
The police committee on Thursday received a presentation on its legislative pipeline and agreed that the FCA Bill be held back given the extensive public outcry over the Bill. The committee was informed that 118 000 comments were received on the Bill during the period for public comment. The Civilian Secretariat for Police (CSP), which is responsible for the Bill, indicated that comments were being received at the rate of over 2 000 comments per day.
The Chief State Law Adviser has been approached for a legal opinion on the constitutionality of the deletion of sections 13, 14, 17 and 18 in the Principal Act. The CSP now awaits a formal response on the constitutionality of the Bill.
The Bill’s deletion of sections 13 and 14 of the Firearms Control Act will make it illegal to possess a firearm for self-defence. Its amendment to section 91(2) of the Act, imposing severe limitations on private security providers’ ability to possess ammunition, will render the private security industry effectively unable to use force to fight violent crime, van Niekerk pointed out. It also imposes dramatic limitations on hunting and sports shooting licences, which would bring the entire South African hunting industry to an end.
“It has been our view from the outset that the Bill’s provisions would unjustifiably infringe on South Africans’ fundamental rights to life and security of the person. Moreover, it would have dire consequences for the economy through the loss of the hunting industry, which pumps R12 billion into the South African economy per year, mostly from foreign tourists. This would lead to the loss of 176 000 jobs, and eliminate the economic driving forces of wildlife conservation in South Africa,” van Niekerk said.
“We would like to thank the various parties who were unrelentless in their opposition to the Bill, including diverse stakeholders in civil society, conservation, industry, the hunting and shooting fraternity, and safety and security activism. This concerted effort, we believe, has helped government to make the right decision in this case. We hope that they will continue to be vocal in their opposition to the Bill, and join us in calling for its withdrawal.”
The Democratic Alliance’s MP Andrew Whitfield noted that the police committee on Thursday agreed to prioritise the Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Bill (also known as the DNA Bill); the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) Amendment Bill; and the South African Police Service (SAPS) Amendment Bill rather than the firearms amendment bill.
“While we welcome the postponement of this Bill we will continue to call for the Bill to be scrapped and for the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, to rather focus his attention on fixing the broken Central Firearms Registry (CFR),” Whitfield said.
The Democratic Alliance said instead of disarming law-abiding South Africans, the South African Police Service must stop arming criminals as more than 700 SAPS guns are lost or stolen every year, with many finding their way to criminals.
Jacques Broodryk, AfriForum’s campaign manager, said, “Although we welcome this decision, it is still too little. These ridiculously proposed changes need to be scrapped altogether. Bheki Cele, Minister of Police, should rather concern himself with the large quantities of firearms and ammunition that his department loses, or illegally sell to criminals, rather than focus on trying to disarm law-abiding citizens.”
Van Niekerk urged Cele to act responsibly and abandon the firearms amendment bill, “before South Africans are left powerless to protect themselves against the rising tide of murder, rape, robbery, and violent unrest.”
According to statistics published by the Minister last week, 6 163 people were murdered in South Africa between July and September this year, at a rate of 68 people per day. This included 897 women and 287 children. 9 556 people were raped in the same period, an increase in 7.1% on the previous quarter. A total of 72 762 cases of common assault and assault with intention to do grievous bodily harm were opened with SAPS in those three months, he pointed out.
Van Niekerk added that National Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole told the South African Human Rights Commission this week that SAPS’s human capital is severely strained. According to him, the SAPS’s Public Order Policing is understaffed, with only 5 005 members nationwide out of an ideal 12 000.
“Such is SAPS’s incapacity to prevent and investigate crime that South Africans (rich and poor) have become heavily reliant on private security for safety and security. Data published last week shows that actively employed private security officers now outnumber SAPS officers by 4:1. Even those who don’t personally employ private security indirectly rely on their services, which include guarding banks, shopping centres and hospitals, escorting goods and cash, and assisting the police with arrests. Without private security, South Africa’s crime situation would be even worse than it currently is — a possibility that should concern every South African,” van Niekerk said.
“The Bill will leave South Africans solely reliant on an ailing police service which has no clear plan to improve, without the ability to protect themselves with firearms or contract with private security to do so. In the face of rampant violent crime statistics, taking away South Africans’ only effective form of protection is unconscionable. A responsible government would withdraw the Bill immediately and focus its attention on increasing — instead of destroying — safety and security for vulnerable South Africans,” he concluded.