Gun owners in firing line

2015-05-05 06:00

Amendments to the Firearms Control Act may bring harsher sentences for criminals and new tracking systems, but gun owners believe they are being treated unfairly.

The amendment bill proposes a minimum sentence for crimes committed with a firearm as well as a new tracking system for guns by rolling out the use of microdots and ballistic sampling.

Gun Free South Africa spokesperson Claire Taylor believes the new bill will address the use and misuse of guns by the police.

The amendments propose increased oversight and responsibility by police command structures for the use and misuse of firearms by officers. They ­also spell out the duties of designated firearms officers, who are specifically ­appointed police officers at station level responsible for managing firearms.

Ballistic sampling and microdots will be used on all guns held by official institutions, including the police.

John Welch, spokesperson of the South African Gunowners’ Association, says the new tracking system is impractical and has “huge financial and security implications”.

“We are currently in discussions with experts in this technology and, unless we are ensured that these processes will achieve the intended objective, we shall oppose them. We are of the view that these additional security measures only need to apply to the police and other state departments since more firearms are probably lost or stolen from these officials than from private license holders,” he says.

Quarterly reports will also be submitted to the minister of police on the loss and theft of police weapons.

The amendments will go a long way in preventing the leak of firearms from the legal to the illegal pool, says Taylor.

“The police annual reports show that almost 350 000 firearms were reported as lost or stolen by civilians and police between 1994 and 2014. This is an average of 17 500 guns each year or 48 guns every day over the past 20 years,” she says.

Since the Firearms Control Act was implemented, gun deaths in the country have steadily declined, Taylor believes.

“Nevertheless, data shows that 18 people are shot and killed every day. While 18 a day is very high, indications are that gun deaths and injuries have been increasing since 2011; we believe this is because of poor implementation of the act,” she says.

The bill will also see tighter controls for gun owners.

The amendments will shift more responsibility to gun owners to demonstrate their “fit and proper” status and to have to continue to do so while owning a gun.

“The current Firearms Control Act already includes this shift, whereas under the previous gun law – the Arms and Ammunition Act, the state was required to prove the person was not fit. This principle is deepened and widened in the amendment,” Taylor explains.

Taylor adds that between 2001 and 2014, eight times as many guns were lost by or stolen from civilians than police officers.

“The most recent figures show that in 2013/14 civilians reported the loss or theft of 18 guns per day and police two guns a day,” she says.

Welch objects to the “heavy burden on law-abiding firearm owners” the amendments create. “Some firearm owners might find the new provisions impractical and ­financially too cumbersome and then decide to rather not comply, hence becoming criminal. This must not happen,” he says.

The association promotes the lawful, safe and responsible possession and use of firearms by people who are competent to possess them, Welch says.

“We support all reasonable measures to rid society of crime and to make society a safer place for all to live in and to enjoy their freedom, rights and privileges. Freedom, however, comes at a price and often one needs to measure the price of freedom against safety,” he says.

The organisation believes that people must be free to decide what hobbies or sport to participate in, Welch says

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