“GUN FREE SOUTH AFRICA welcomes draft Firearms Control Amendment Bill”
When I receive Servamus in the post, at the first opportunity, I remove the wrapping and scan through the contents. Typically, the in-depth reading would take place later.
The same happened when I received the July issue of Servamus. I noticed Adv John Welch’s article (“Firearms licensing 101: The validity of ‘old licences’ and exempted items”, pp40-41). I also saw the article (no author) entitled “Gun Free South Africa welcomes draft Firearms Control Amendment Bill” (pp72-73). Given my professional background, I am interested in the discourse on firearms in South Africa and I have been in conversations with people about this theme as and when the situation allowed for it. I consequently read the articles with more attention as what would be demanded from a scan-through exercise.
Adv Welsch’s article is a useful legal opinion and the advice given will most probably be of importance to many people. This, because many of the policy decisions in the firearms environment in our country is somewhat difficult to understand for many. The Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) article argues in favour of the draft amendments to the Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000 (FCA). It specifically supports a “reliance on evidence that reducing access to firearms reduces gun violence: South African research has linked lives saved, including the lives of women and children, to stricter gun control” (p72).
I have not read and interpreted the GFSA sources yet, although I am familiar with some of these sources, but I wish to draw attention to research that was completed during 2015 by the Wits School of Governance (WSG), an entity at the University of the Witwatersrand. The Civilian Secretariat for Police Service (CSPS) released this research on 25 June 2021, and it is in the public domain (available at www.policesecretariat.gov.za/downloads/reports/CSPS-WSG_Firearms_Report.pdf). Of course, given time-frames within the publishing environment, the GFSA article was already part of the Servamus printing process by the time the CSPS released the WSG report on its website. However, I argue that interested readers may find the WSG research report useful to inform their own sense-making of policy decisions in the firearms environment, such as the draft amendments to the FCA.
This letter, therefore, attempts to briefly describe the objective, method, findings and recommendations of the WSG report. It is hoped that it will add value to the discourse on firearms. (The WSG report, unfortunately, displays editing challenges in the numbering of the pages of the report. I have therefore re-numbered my copy of the report in the correct ascending order from the first to the last page. References to pages in this letter, is therefore references to the re-numbered pages).
The main objective of the research was to assess the effects of the Firearms Control Act on crime (assented to on 4 April 2001).
Method: Quantitative research - big data (detailed SAPS crime records between 2000 to 2014) was analysed quantitatively with advanced statistical applications. The researchers also accessed other sources of information, namely data from Stats SA (population estimates to appropriate crime per 100 000 of the population; victim surveys), research of the Medical Research Council (MRC), mortuary data of the National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS) and studies commissioned by other related structures in society.
The findings of the report
Findings (pp5-6 of the report):
F1: There is little evidence that the FCA has caused the decline in crime rates from 2004/2005 to 2013/2014. Rather, strong policing seems to be a necessary condition for reducing firearm-related crime. The FCA is not sufficient to reduce firearm-related crime in the absence of strong policing. (Strong policing is defined in the report as a coherent, resource intensive approach with high compliance to protocols and support from the whole Criminal Justice System.)
F2: The FCA is relevant to less than 5% of all crimes reported to the SAPS. In murder, firearms are used in only about a third of cases. Violent crime should consequently not be equated with firearms as they are often carried out with other weapons.
F3: Firearm-related crimes should be viewed in two categories, namely:
- Firearm choice crimes: where there is a choice between using a firearm or a different weapon such as a sharp object (for example in murder, attempted murder, robbery at residential premises); and
- Firearm-dependent crimes: committing this type of crime is dependent on the use of firearms (for example in hijacking, cash-in-transit robbery, bank robbery).
F4: The two categories of firearm-related crimes differ in their responsiveness to policing in the presence of the FCA, as follows:
- Firearm choice crimes: when the rates of (for example) murder, attempted murder and robbery at residential premises decline under strong policing, the level of usage of firearms in these crimes also declines; and
- Firearm-dependent crimes: when the rates of (for example) truck hijacking, cash-in-transit robbery and bank robbery decline under strong policing, the level of usage of firearms remains at the same level.
F5: That distinct legislation be compiled and applied in terms of the two categories of firearm-related crimes (in F3 and F4 above) to complement policing and the FCA in addressing firearm-related crimes. The Dangerous Weapons Act 15 of 2013, may possibly serve as an example of such legislation.
F6: Despite the FCA, the use of firearms in perpetrating murder during the period of absence of strong policing, tends to return to the higher levels that existed before the general decline during the period of strong policing. Therefore, strong policing must be maintained to sustain the lower levels of firearm use.
F7: The decline and rise of official crime statistics in the data mass of the police equals the decline and rise of crime as found in the analysis of the big data.
F8: There is little evidence that the increase in minimum age of firearm ownership (from 18 to 21 years) has changed the use of firearms in crime committed by young people. It appears unlikely that the shift to older accused in general is due to the FCA.
F9: Firearm recovery rates (of lost firearms) remain at around 20% and have hardly improved. The profile of stolen firearms mirrors the profile of firearms used in crime rather than the profile of the population of Central Firearm Register (CFR) licensed firearms.
F10: It is possible that the conditions for registering a firearm (applying for a licence) are so onerous that young people no longer apply for firearms. The age and gender of private firearm owners are very different to those of persons accused of crime.
The recommendations of the report
Recommendations (p9 of the report):
R1: Authorities need to shift their misplaced, unconditional faith in the ability of the FCA to solve crime, to policing - the FCA is not effective unless it functions under strong policing.
R2: There should be policies and legislation specific to addressing firearm-dependent crime, independent of firearm choice crime.
R3: There needs to be readily accessible data based on SAPS IT systems that can link the various SAPS databases, and that link SAPS databases to court records.
R4: On the safety of legal firearms, there need to be regular unconditional, anonymous illegal firearm amnesties so that private individuals can turn in unwanted firearms.
R5: On the amendments of the FCA, we need to realise that the population of legal firearm owners is ageing and increasingly stringent conditions for firearm licensing may be viewed as restricting their human rights to security.
R6: On the 3-D printing of firearms, the FCA may be inappropriate, and policing would once again be the effective strategy in the fight against crime.
R7: The official SAPS crime statistics should be more up-to-date and released more regularly. [Note: although more available, I am not making judgment on the reference to up-to-date statistics.]
In conclusion: perhaps Servamus should entertain the idea of an article dedicated to the current discourse around firearms in South Africa. If so, Servamus will do well to also access and analyse two other documents on the CSPS website (www.policesecretariat.co.za). On 11 August 2021, at the time of writing this letter, a media statement on the Firearms Control Bill, 2021 as well as the Report of the Committee on Firearms Control and Management in South Africa, 2016, were visible and accessible in the same space as where the WSG report can be found. Reading all three documents provides valuable information on the historiography of the current firearms discourse. In particular, the media statement explains that these reports (the WSG report as well as the Committee report) were made available “in the spirit of fairness and transparency” after a “decision has been taken” in this regard. It does not say directly why a decision was not taken during 2015 and 2016 respectively to release the WSG report and the Committee report “in the spirit of fairness and transparency”. The media statement however provides a clue: the 2021 decision was taken “after a number of requests for information” about these two documents, some of which through applications in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act 2 of 2000 (PAIA).
Perhaps a dedicated Servamus article can interrogate, on behalf of its readers, the process of releasing important government documents on a regular basis “in the spirit of fairness and transparency”.
(Chris Botha is a retired police official, and a governance and leadership professional with a special interest in societal safety.)