Minister guns for firearms legislation

Police Minister Nathi Nhleko.
Image: Ntswe Mokoena Police Minister Nathi Nhleko.

Police Minister Nathi Nhleko has set up an investigation into ways of tightening gun-control laws.

Nhleko told delegates to the National Dialogue on Crime and Violence in Boksburg on the East Rand at the weekend that guns were used in many serious crimes.

He said that, of the 6000 murders most recently reported in this country, 2500 were committed using guns. About 80% of the weapons used in attempted murders were guns.

"We've challenged ourselves to find solutions. For example, we are in the process of amending the Firearms Control Act as a way of responding to the violent nature [of crime] ... We want to ensure that we have effective gun control and non-proliferation of firearms," Nhleko said.

There are an estimated 3million licensed firearms in South Africa. Reliable statistics are not available because the police's Central Firearms Registry has been a shambles for years.

The registry receives 12000 licence applications a month.

Nhleko said that of particular concern was firearms ostensibly obtained for sporting purposes.

"There are people who acquire firearms and firearm licences on the basis that they are part of a sporting category. One of the loopholes [in the act] is that [there is no] threshold when it comes to that.

"You find one individual with almost 5000 firearms and licences for sporting purposes. We need to find a way to address this," he said.

Another weakness in the current legislation is lax control of the amount of ammunition gun owners can purchase.

A licensed firearm owner is allowed to purchase 200 rounds of ammunition at a time.

"But the problem is that a person can buy a 200 rounds of ammunition from shop A and then move to shop B to buy a similar quantity. There is no system that traces that you have already bought your 200 and so cannot make another purchase," Nhleko said.

He also raised concern about the perceptions citizens had about guns.

"There is a belief in our society that if you own a gun you are safe. But you are not. Anybody who has undergone military training will know that once the other side draws first and you still have your gun in your holster, you are as good as not having it.''

Research shows that at the centre of the problem [are] societal and psychological [issues]. It is [not the gun itself] but the attitudes out there," he said.

Nomfundo Mogapi, executive director at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said the country's past was a prime cause of violent behaviour.

"Having guns in a society that has such high levels of trauma is a disaster. At a psychological level, guns make people feel invincible. They make people feel powerful and they think they are safe, but they are not.

"In most instances when people have used guns it is not because they wanted to but because the guns were available.

"We cannot, knowing the violent history of our society, allow guns to be easily available. That is a recipe for disaster," she said.

Adele Kirsten, a director of Gun Free SA, said South Africans mistakenly assumed that illegal guns were at the centre of the problem.

"Most guns come from a legal source. You have to control your legal stock to reduce the risk of guns moving from the legal to the illegal market. We need to apply universal principles of good gun laws," she said.

Kirsten said legislation should focus on the types of gun causing problems, and restrictions on access to weapons should be strengthened.

"Evidence tells us that handguns are the problem. They are easy to use, concealable and durable. We would like to see amendments and severe limitation on handgun ownership," Kirsten said.

But firearms lobbyist Martin Hood said hunters, in particular, had been failed by police "administrative incompetence".

"There is no consistent policy, no consistent decision-making, and the police do not comply with internal and legal requirements to make decisions. Firearms applications should be done in 90 days but it can take up to a year," Hood said.