We need to be disruptive in our approach to illegal firearms
We need to be Disruptive in our Approach to Illegal Firearms
Opinion Editorial by Albert Fritz
The Department of Community Safety has long studied the deadly effects of the illegal possession and distribution of firearms; which sit at the centre of Cape Town’s high murder rate and gang related activity.
Last year, the Small Arms Survey reported that approximately 5.4 million South Africans have guns in their possession, but only three million of these firearms are licenced. Globally, South Africa sits at number 20 on the list of civilian held legal and illicit firearms.
According to Gun Free South Africa, an astonishing 9855 guns are either lost or stolen each year. It is these firearms that are harder to keep track of and essentially lead to increased gun violence in South Africa.
Having said that, South Africa arguably has amongst the most stringent gun laws in the world. The Firearms Control Act (No. 60 of 2000) governs and regulates firearms in the country and is administered by SAPS’ Central Firearm Register. It deals with the management, control, monitoring and enforcement of legislation that relates to the control of firearms. The Act guides the process followed to own a gun, licensing, training (competency certificate), storage and safe keeping, licence renewal and associated accountability.
For instance, Section 20(10)(a) of the Act explains that ‘it is an offence to sell, supply or in any other manner give possession of a firearm or ammunition to a person who is not allowed in terms of the Act to possess that firearm or ammunition. Furthermore Section 91(1) restricts possession of ammunition and states a licence holder may not possess more than 200 cartridges for each firearm for which he has licence.
It is important to note that the majority of guns are legally manufactured and that all illegal guns were once legal. There are three ways that legal guns become illegal:
- Legal guns are smuggled to and from neighbouring countries;
- Fraud, corruption and poor enforcement of the Firearms Control Act. This means that people who were not ‘fit and proper’ are issued with firearm certificates, licences, permits or authorisations; and
- Loss and theft of firearms from civilians and state institutions.
It is possible to identify an illegal firearm because each firearm has a unique serial number which is imprinted onto parts of the fire arm. These parts with serial numbers are checked to determine ownership of a fire arm.
It is further possible to determine whether a firearm is linked to a specific crime through ballistic testing as every firearm barrel leaves unique marks on the bullets fired. Bullets from crime scenes are therefore linked to the unique print on the barrel before SAPS Ballistics can declare a positive link between a crime committed and the firearm used.
The question then emerges; what can be done to prevent guns being distributed illegally? Section 125(2)(c) of the Act states that the Central Firearm Register must keep a record of all licensed dealers, manufacturers, gunsmiths, importers and exporters, transporters for reward, accredited institutions, organisations and all firearms and ammunition in their possession. Firearm dealers must further keep a register of buyers of firearms and ammunition.
The above records are not well kept. Where they are, they are often filed manually and are outdated. Because the Central Firearm Register has not been digitised; tracking the smuggling, loss, theft or mismanagement of legal firearms becomes a burdensome, if not impossible, task.
Going forward, my Department has recommended the following solutions to curb the distribution and possession of illegal firearms:
- SAPS should tighten the sale of ammunitions and cartridges from dealers and manufactures and better comply with the Act regarding keeping a record;
- In the medium-term, it is necessary to develop an electronic system linked to the Central Firearm Register and the Minster of Community Safety for oversight purposes; and
- In the long-term, it is necessary to develop a Provincial Firearm and Ammunition Control Act thus affording each province a role to interrupt and disrupt the circulation of firearm ammunition.
At the same time, residents are urged to continue making use of the Illegal Firearms Hotline who can be contacted on 078 330 9333. There is a reward of R10 000 to individuals who provide accurate information on the illegal distribution of firearms.
Under my leadership, the Department of Community Safety will continue to use every tool at its disposal, as determine by Section 206 of the Constitution, to safeguard the Western Cape.