Gun tracking ‘impractical’

2015-06-09 06:01

A section of the Firearms Control Act Amendment Bill is in the firing line.

The amendment proposes a new tracking system for guns by rolling out the use of microdots and ballistic sampling.

Within a year of the date of the bill, police will have to have all firearms logged. The ballistic logging will then be rolled out to the security industry and lastly to private gun owners during their relicensing.


But firearm owner and dealer Alan Martheze says ballistic sampling is a measure that only works faultlessly on TV shows, as striations on a cartridge do not remain the same indefinitely.

Ben Coetzee, arms management project manager of the Institute for Security Studies, says the striations on a cartridge will change with use over time.

“They can also be altered because of rust from a lack of maintenance and care or even by cleaning the weapon with brushes and scrapers that are harder than the surfaces they are used on,” he explains.

Traceability Solutions’ Kyle Parker, who specialises in the marking, management and reporting of weapons, says it is not difficult to purposely alter these striations.

Using microdots to trace firearms is just as impractical, Martheze believes, as standard gun cleaning will easily remove microdots over time.


The implementation of the amendment bill poses challenges too, Coetzee believes.

Testing firearms will require them to be brought to a specific testing location.

“The most serious concern is the number of firearms that will be congregated at a specific point for the test to be performed. Security during these tests will be a nightmare, and every person that is on his way to the test site will be at risk,” he says.

The manpower to carry out tests is also lacking. With an estimated 2.5m privately owned firearms, it would take years to carry out the process, Coetzee estimates.

This year, a similar law in the United States was repealed after attempts to implement an imaging database for 15 years. The law was described as “simply not working”.

AlternativesParker believes there are other solutions that will be easier to implement if management issues are ironed out.

“All the weapons (over 99%) in the police are marked with our technology. A legal battle with the company that did the software that uses our marking systems means they are not able to use the solution as it was intended. Get a new provider of the platform, use what is marked now and get a tighter grip on the police as well as private security and civilian weapons,” he suggests.

The proposed sampling will have significant impact on legal firearm owners, says John Welch of the South African Gun Owners’ Association. “The firearm owner is supposed to supply at least five rounds of ammunition for ballistic sampling. Some ammunition is priced up to R2000 per cartridge. Collectors’ pieces are to be kept in pristine condition and are not to be fired,” he says.

Ballistics still needed

Although the process will have significant costs “with little return on investment”, there is still a place for ballistic sampling. “There are many different uses for firearms and taking ballistic samples may help to recover these firearms or at least contri­bute to the process of linking the firearm to a crime. As prevention, state-owned firearms should be sampled because they are rumoured to be rented to criminals,” Coetzee says.

The process may also be a deterrent to criminals but there is not likely to be a significant decrease in firearm-related crime, he says. “I cannot reconcile the idea of a legal firearm owner lurking about in the dark shooting people and then going home to lock their registered firearm safely in the SABS-approved safe in his home. I also do not think the criminal will care if the firearm that he obtained illegally was ballistically sampled and I do not think that will deter him from using the weapon in any crime.”

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