Gun Policy Briefs

Gun Free South Africa has developed a range of policy briefings to locate gun violence prevention within broader violence prevention efforts; a selection of our most recent briefings is available below.

Briefing 6 of 2018: Licence renewals: A cornerstone of gun control

The sixth Briefing of 2018 coincides with a debate on proposed amendments to the law governing the renewal of firearm licences in Parliament on 6 November.

It locates firearm licence renewals within a global context in recognition that regular gun licence renewals are integral to public safety: Renewals ensure that licensed gun owners remain “fit and proper” for this responsibility and that registered guns have not been lost or stolen but are still in the possession of the licensed owner. They also help the state keep accurate records of who owns what gun for which purpose.

As such regular renewals are not just a ‘tick box’ technical procedure, instead they are a key principle of effective gun control. Consequently, any amendments to laws regulating firearm licence renewals must be carefully scrutinised to ensure that the overall objective of regular gun licence renewal – namely public safety – will be met.

Click here to read Briefing 6 of 2018: Licence renewals: A cornerstone of gun control.

 

Briefing 5 of 2018: Are guns effective for self-defence? Examining the evidence

This fifth Briefing of 2018 coincides with Disarmament Week, which is marked globally from 24 to 30 October. This year, the United Nations is highlighting the link between arms races, disarmament and the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030 – see https://www.un.org/en/events/disarmamentweek/.

It shows that in the context of rising crime and mistrust in the police, some South Africans are choosing to buy guns for self-defence. However, the evidence (internationally and in South Africa – summarised in the Briefing) overwhelmingly shows that guns are ineffective for this purpose and that South Africa’s domestic arms race and associated violent crime is being fuelled by guns, particularly handguns, bought for self-defence.

It concludes by unpacking the implications of this evidence, calling for careful interrogation of those sections of the Firearms Control Act dealing with who can own what weapons for which purpose to restrict the type, calibre and number of firearms that an individual may own to address SA’s domestic arms race and associated violence.

Click here to read Briefing 5 of 2018: Are guns effective for self-defence? Examining the evidence

 

Briefing 4 of 2018: QUICK FACTS: Guns and violence in South Africa

Brief 4 summarises the latest statistics and data on guns and violence in South Africa, including on gun-related death, disability and the impact of the Firearms Control Act.

Click here to read Briefing 4 of 2018: QUICK FACTS: Guns and violence in South Africa

 

Briefing 3 of 2018: Constitutional Court unanimously rules regular gun licence renewal is constitutional: what next?

On 7 June 2018 the Constitutional Court unanimously ruled that sections 24 and 28 of the Firearms Control Act (2000), under which gun owners must renew their firearm licences on a regular basis or forfeit guns for which licences have expired to the state, are constitutional.

In making its judgement, the ConCourt ruled that gun ownership is not a fundamental right under the Bill of Rights, rather it is a privilege regulated by the Firearms Control Act (FCA). Under the Act:

  • No person may possess a gun without a valid licence;
  • A firearm licence is valid for a limited period of time; and
  • Unless a gun owner has renewed his gun licence before expiry, he has committed a criminal offence and is subject to penalties.

After tracing the history of firearm licence renewals in South Africa to identify loopholes in enforcement and compliance, this third Briefing of 2018 answers the question, what next? It identifies five actions that need to be undertaken following the ConCourt’s ruling:

  1. The SAPS needs to urgently finalise and publicly communicate a strategy to deal with gun owners who are in illegal gun possession for failing to renew their licences.
  2. The Minister of Police must immediately challenge the 2009 North Gauteng High Court ruling which exempts gun owners with “green licences” issued under the Arms and Ammunition Act (1969) from having to comply with the stricter provisions of the FCA, including regular licence renewal.
  3. The SAPS must immediately put in place measures to stop guns leaking from SAPS stores and other secure facilities in which forfeited, surrendered and recovered weapons are stored; this entails safeguarding stores and ensuring that guns destined for destruction are destroyed.
  4. A forensic audit of all licences, permits and authorisations issued following the 2010 turn-around strategy of the Central Firearms Registry must be undertaken to ensure that due process was followed as it’s likely that the “remarkable increase” in the processing of applications noted by SAPS resulted from fast-tracking licence applications.
  5. Require that all firearm licences, irrespective of the category, be renewed every three years, in line with global norms. This will also standardise the renewals period and avoid any potential confusion for gun owners.

The ConCourt ruling has the potential to kickstart the implementation of the FCA. It gives a clear directive to SAPS to properly enforce the law and to gun owners to comply with the law. As soon as one of these parties act, the other will be forced to respond, helping close the implementation ‘vacuum’ feeding gun violence in South Africa.

Click here to read Briefing 3 of 2018: Constitutional Court unanimously rules regular gun licence renewal is constitutional: what next?

Click here to read the Constitutional Court judgement ruling that sections 24 and 28 of the Firearms Control Act are constitutional

 

Briefing 2 of 2018: Cape Town proves strong gun laws save lives, lax enforcement kills, illegally supplied guns more dangerous in short term

Over the years we have consistently raised concern that poor enforcement of the Firearms Control Act (2000) has led to thousands of people being shot and killed. Published research from South Africa now proves this link, showing that strong gun laws save lives, lax enforcement kills, and that illegally channelled guns kill more people in the short term.

In sum, the researchers show that two known breakdowns in the enforcement of the Firearms Control Act by the police whereby guns leaked onto the Cape Flats has resulted in Cape Flats communities being shot and killed at a much higher rate than other Cape Town communities.

The two breakdowns are:

  1. Firearms meant to be destroyed by police were sold to gangsters in the Western Cape: An ex-police officer, Christiaan Prinsloo, has been sentenced to 18 years for his role in the ‘guns to gangs’ saga; his alleged accomplices have yet to stand trial.
  2. Fraud, corruption and lax processing by police in issuing gun licences: Firearm applications were fast-tracked by the police to deal with backlogs in 2010 while incidents of fraud in the issuing of gun licences (e.g. three police officials have just been suspended after issuing licences to a known 28s’ gang leader and his family) mean people who are not “fit and proper” have been granted gun licences.

From 7 to 14 May 2018 the world is marking the Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence. Launched by IANSA (International Action Network on Small Arms, of which Gun Free South Africa is a member) in 2003, the annual Week of Action is a chance to end the illicit trade and misuse of small arms and light weapons.

The theme for this year’s campaign is: “End the Crisis of Gun Violence”.

We call on government to take immediate action to stop the crisis of gun violence sweeping across our country, especially the Cape Flats, including by:

  1. Ensuring that all investigations into organised crime activities involving the deliberate leakage of legal firearms into the illegal market are urgently undertaken and are given the necessary resources.
  2. Holding a national no-questions asked firearms amnesty and public gun destruction, to ensure that firearms are taken off our streets.
  3. Enforcing the Firearms Control Act, including:
    • Immediate implementation of measures to stop guns leaking from SAPS stores and other secure facilities in which recovered weapons are stored.
    • Undertaking a forensic audit of all licences, permits and authorisations issued as a result of the 2010 turn-around strategy of the Central Firearms Registry, to ensure that due process was followed.
  4. Bringing the Firearms Control Amendment Bill to Parliament in 2018.

South Africa has a world class gun law, which, as this Briefing shows, has saved thousands of lives; if it’s properly enforced it has the potential to save thousands more.

Click here to read Briefing 2 of 2018: Cape Town proves strong gun laws save lives, lax enforcement kills, illegally supplied guns more dangerous in short term

 

Briefing 1 of 2018: Police killings: Protecting members and their families

In mid March Constable Buti shot and killed his wife before turning the gun on himself following an argument; the couple’s 6-year old child witnessed the shootings. A week earlier Sergeant Brooks shot and killed his girlfriend, her mother and himself during a hostage incident. While parliament and police unions have reacted with shock, the tragic reality is that police killing are not new and, while a range of police-led interventions have been introduced over the years to reduce such deaths, these have had little success.

This Briefing looks more closely at the circumstances under which police are killed or kill to identify risk factors and interventions to protect those entrusted to protect us. It shows that while a number of interventions are needed to protect the police and their families, the ready availability of guns increases police members’ risk of being killed, of killing themselves and of killing others. It goes on to identify two key interventions that, if implemented immediately, could protect police members and their families:

1. Reduce availability of service pistols to off-duty police members
Section 98 of the Firearms Control Act (2000) clearly states that off-duty SAPS members may not take service weapons home without special permission, stipulating that unless a SAPS member has a permit indicating otherwise, the member must, “at the end of each period of his or her duty, return the firearm in question to the place of storage designated for this purpose by the Official Institution.”

Section 98 of the Act has been operationalised by SAPS through various Instructions and Orders (specifically Standing Order 48 of 2011 and National Instruction 4 of 2016), which clearly spell out the process to be undertaken for an off-duty police member to take a service weapon home.

While government policy is clear, it appears that enforcement thereof has not been standardised countrywide; and that off-duty police members taking service weapons home is the norm rather than the exception. SAPS is urged to look at the on-the-ground operationalisation of Section 98 of the Firearms Control Act, as restricting the availability of service weapons to off-duty police members would reduce:

  • the lethality and thus the success of suicide attempts
  • the lethality of domestic violence
  • the risk of police officers being killed off-duty

2. Reduce levels of civilian gun ownership
Most police members killed in violent-related incidents in South Africa are shot dead. Research internationally has shown that the more guns that are owned by civilians, the greater the risk of police officers being killed. Under the Firearms Control Act, the SAPS is responsible for ensuring that only people who are “fit and proper” are granted the privilege of owning a gun. Unfortunately, since 2010, the Act has been poorly enforced by the police, with a range of instances involving fraud, corruption and poor adherence to the law resulting in people who should not have guns being granted licences. It’s in the SAPS’ interest to audit all licences issued since 2010 to ensure that due process was followed and that every licensed gun owner meets the necessary criteria to own a gun. Moreover, proposed amendments to the Firearms Control Act (providing these are implemented) will help protect police members from being killed by further raising the barrier for civilian gun ownership.

Click here to read Briefing 1 of 2018: Police killings: Protecting members and their families

 

Briefing 8 of 2017: The life-cycle of a gun: Tracking how guns leak between cradle and grave

The purpose of the Firearms Control Act (FCA) is to “establish a comprehensive and an effective system of firearms control.” In other words, the FCA aims to create an integrated system which regulates all guns in South Africa, from cradle to grave; including their manufacture, trade, possession, use and destruction. By controlling all these aspects, South Africa’s FCA-informed firearms control management system creates a sealed container in which all guns entering into, being used within and exiting from are documented, to ensure that these activities comply with the law. However, since 2010 a range of incidents have come to light which show that SA’s firearms control management system is not a sealed container. This Briefing:

  • Starts by tracing the life-cycle of a gun from manufacture to possession, from use to destruction, as the first step to identifying how breakdowns in the firearms control management system (whether intentional or not) create holes through which guns leak into the illegal pool.
  • Identifies high profile incidents to highlight how breakdowns at different stages of a gun’s cradle-to-grave life-cycle facilitate leakage.
  • Concludes with three key action steps to close holes in South Africa’s firearms control management system to address the tide of gun violence sweeping across the country: Accurate firearm-related record-keeping by the CFR; systematic gun licence renewals; and comprehensive stockpile management, including regular destructions.

Click here to read Briefing 8 of 2017: The life-cycle of a gun: Tracking how guns leak between cradle and grave

Briefing 7 of 2017: SA needs a #TopCop with Right Skills Set

As South Africa marks the fifth anniversary of the Marikana Massacre, this Briefing unpacks a key lesson emerging from the tragedy: If the National Commissioner of the South African Police Service (SAPS) had had the necessary skills, knowledge and experience, Marikana would never have happened. But Marikana is not an isolated incident; poor police leadership over the years has led to a steady decline in SAPS’ performance, despite budget increases: Murder has increased, the number of people killed by the police has increased and trust in the police has declined. The solution is identified in South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP): A professional and demilitarised police service based on a clear merit-based process to appoint leadership at all levels. This Briefing marks a change from our usual Briefings, as Gun Free South Africa has partnered with Corruption Watch and the Institute for Security Studies in support of a #TopCopSA campaign to operationalise the NDP. Civil society urges policy makers and enforcers to take urgent action to ensure that South Africa’s next National Police Commissioner is appointed in line with the country’s NDP. An experienced, knowledgeable and respected leader of a professional and demilitarised police service is the foundation of effective policing in which lives are saved not lost and public safety is built not undermined.

Click here to read Briefing 7 of 2017: SA needs a #TopCop with Right Skills Set

 

Briefing 6 of 2017: Reducing Illicit Flows: Contributing to Sustainable Development

In September 2015, the United Nations member states, including South Africa, adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, replacing the Millennium Development Goals, with a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. A significant shift in the development of these new goals was the recognition that a broader range of factors such as violence and insecurity contribute to ongoing underdevelopment, and that unless these are addressed in a comprehensive manner, the main aims of the 2030 Agenda, namely, to reduce poverty and promote health and education, will not be achieved. Goal 16 which focuses on promoting peaceful and inclusive societies makes a clear connection between development, peace, security and arms control, with Target 16.4 of Goal 16 making the link explicit: reducing ‘illicit arms flows’ is an important contributor to building peaceful societies. Briefing 6 explores Target 16.4 of Goal 16 in more detail, with a particular focus on what steps South Africa needs to take to ‘significantly reduce illicit… arms flows by 2030’, which in effect means mopping up the existing pool of illegal guns and reducing the movement of guns from the legal to the illegal market.

Click here to read Briefing 6 of 2017: Reducing Illicit Flows: Contributing to Sustainable Development.

 

Briefing 5 of 2017: Protecting Children from Armed Violence

In February 2010, three-year-old Leshay Arnold was killed by a stray bullet in Delft on the Cape Flats. The reason Leshay’s murder made headlines is that it was the first death to be linked to a nationwide gun smuggling syndicate in which a police officer, allegedly working with a gun dealer and a businessman, sold guns handed in to the police by members of the public for destruction to gangsters on the Cape Flats. The corrupt police officer, Christiaan Prinsloo, has admitted he stole 2,400 guns. To date ballistic tests have linked just some of these stolen guns to the shooting of 261 children (aged 18 or younger) on the Cape Flats, of which 89, including Leshay, were killed. That so many children were shot and killed or injured by corruption is tragic at so many levels; including that shootings like this are preventable. To coincide with Youth Month (June), Briefing 5 looks at the growing risk of armed violence for children within an urban context before unpacking three key interventions to protect children, and the broader community, from armed violence. In sum, these are:

  1. Reduce the availability of guns by:
  • Enacting and enforcing comprehensive national gun laws;
  • Ratifying and applying international arms control instruments;
  • Undertaking comprehensive disarmament campaigns e.g. amnesties, gun buy-backs and audited gun destructions; and
  • Running awareness campaigns to alert the public to changes in gun control policy or practice, and the risks of gun ownership.

2. Limit access to alcohol, because of the close association alcohol has to violence.

3. Plan urban upgrades within the context of rapid and unplanned urban growth, which is an important driver of armed violence.

Click here to read Briefing 5 of 2017: Protecting Children from Armed Violence

 

Briefing 4 of 2017: Firearms Amnesties: The Brazil example

In response to Briefing 3, GFSA was invited to make a presentation on the ten elements of a successful firearms amnesty to the Portfolio Committee of Police on 15 March; at this input Brazil was identified as one of the countries that had been successful in removing hundreds of thousands of guns from circulation through a national buyback programme. Briefing 4 discusses the key factors that contributed to the success of the Brazilian firearms amnesty and explores lessons learned that could assist South Africa in making sure that the way in which the 2017 firearms amnesty is conducted has the best possible chance of success. As with the FCA, Brazil’s national gun law, the Disarmament Statute, makes provision for a national buyback programme for the voluntary collection of firearms coupled with an amnesty for the registration of unregistered weapons.  The weapons buyback programme in Brazil was held over an 18 month period (from 15 July 2004 to 23 October 2005). A total of 460,000 firearms were surrendered during this period, and all of these weapons were publicly destroyed. As with the 2005 firearms amnesty in South Africa, the Brazilian amnesty also provided an opportunity for those gun owners who did not want to register their guns under the new law, to dispose of them safely and legally. Some of the distinguishing features of the Brazilian firearms amnesty campaign included cash compensation and a highly sophisticated and intense communications campaign by both government and civil society organisations, with significant cooperation with major media houses such as O Globo.

Click here to read Briefing 4 of 2017: Firearms Amnesties: The Brazil example

 

Briefing 3 of 2017: Firearms Amnesties: Ten Factors for Success

Briefing 3 responds to a 1 March cabinet briefing at which the Minister of Police announced his intention to declare a six-month national firearms amnesty under the Firearms Control Act (FCA). His announcement follows a groundswell of calls for action (including appeals for an amnesty) to stop rising levels of gun violence in South Africa dating from October 2014 when Senzo Meyiwa, the national football team captain, was shot and killed. Drawing on lessons learned from South Africa’s own experience of holding amnesties as well as the experience of other countries, Briefing 3 identifies ten factors that contribute to the success of firearms amnesties and explains why they are important to ensure that the 2017 amnesty has the best chance at contributing to safety in communities by successfully removing guns; the ten factors for a successful gun amnesty are:

  1. Conditions of an amnesty – no questions asked/blanket amnesty;
  2. Location of hand-in points – neutral venues;
  3. Disable the weapon at point of hand-in – crush the weapon;
  4. Civilian oversight – develop partnerships with civil society organisations;
  5. Compensation & incentives – encourage people to hand in their guns;
  6. Public destruction – ensure all guns handed in are destroyed;
  7. Timing – align with other initiatives;
  8. Duration – not shorter than 6 months;
  9. Strong internal organisation, planning and capacity – on the part of the lead agency i.e. SAPS; and
  10. Good communications & public awareness raising programmes – this includes using a variety of media & communications strategy to reach a wide variety of audiences.

Click here to read Briefing 3 of 2017: Firearms amnesties: Ten factors for success

Briefing 2 of 2017:  Crime: The reality, the fear and the response

Briefing 2 analyses three important sources of information on crime in South Africa that were released in February [Quarterly crime statistics, the most recent Victims of Crime Survey (VOCS) and the 2017-18 Budget] to better understand how the reality and perception of crime contribute to a domestic firearms race, which is fuelling gun ownership and gun violence. In sum, quarterly crime statistics and the VOCS show that: 116 more people – fathers, mothers, sons and daughters – were murdered between 1 April and 30 September 2016 than in the same period the previous year; and of all weapons used to commit crime and violence, South Africans fear guns the most. In response, increasing numbers of South Africans are opting to privatise their security, including arming themselves. The result is a domestic firearms race of fear, arming, violent death and injury, and more fear. Ending this “vicious cycle” rests largely on reducing crime levels, particularly gun-related crime – which is both feared and far more deadly; this in turn calls for a two-pronged approach to reduce the number of guns in the country:

  1. Reduce the number of guns in circulation; and
  2. Raise the bar for gun ownership to reduce the risk of misuse.

While the Annual Budget doesn’t detail what percentage of the policing budget will be spent on controlling firearms in South Africa; there is sufficient budget; the question is whether it will be correctly allocated to stop South Africa’s domestic firearms race. Not only will this save lives, thereby improving the country’s murder rate, it will reduce other serious crimes, thereby contributing to perceptions of safety in South Africa.

Click here to read Briefing 2 of 2017:  Crime: The reality, the fear and the response

 

Briefing 1 of 2017: Strong gun laws save lives; poor enforcement kills, disables and costs

By summarising the impact and costs of poor enforcement of the Firearms Control Act, Briefing 1 aims to put gun violence prevention firmly on the agenda for action in 2017; urging government to fully enforce the Firearms Control Act, strengthen the law by bringing the Firearms Control Amendment Bill to Parliament in 2017, and holding a national firearms amnesty to reduce gun violence and save lives.

Click here to read Briefing 1 of 2017: Strong gun laws save lives; poor enforcement kills, disables and costs