Lobby wars over gun control are looming following Minister of Police Bheki Cele’s statement last week in support of stricter legislation on gun possession.
While the Firearms Control Act allows people to own more than one gun under certain conditions, Cele’s iteration that “individuals should not have firearms” because they add to security risks in the country was met with fury from lobby groups fighting to keep the Act as it is.
Adele Kirsten, spokesperson for Gun Free SA, however, said Cele’s statement was the start of much-needed leadership from government in the conversation around gun safety.
Though leaked versions of the draft amendment Bill suggested people would lose their right to own firearms for self-defence, the document had yet to be tabled in parliament before going for the final public consultation process.
Despite this, Kirsten was hopeful Cele’s remarks calling for an antigun ownership policy direction would this year see parliament finally put the matter to rest.
“This is the strongest signal we have had from the minister suggesting that there is an amendment coming before parliament this year.
“We support the minister’s calls and I think it’s providing the type of leadership needed for a society to imagine what it could be like without this gun crisis.”
But other organisations vowed to fight for the right to own arms for self-defence. Minority rights group AfriForum suggested that restricting this would be an infringement on the right to life.
AfriForum’s head of community safety Ian Cameron said Cele’s comments undermined the freedoms of citizens.
He also argued that the proposed restrictions on gun ownership and the campaign to disarm the general population was not practicable, especially under an administration struggling to optimise the policing system.
“Cele is again trying to limit the freedom of others while his own house is not in order,” said Cameron.
“Only recently, Cele answered parliamentary questions and acknowledged that 500 service pistols were ‘lost’ by SAPS officials [who are allowed to take firearms home] over the past three financial years.
“An additional 10,765 rounds of ammunition were also lost by officials while off duty. This – whether in addition to or as part of the 9.5 million rounds of ammunition and 4,357 firearms otherwise lost by the SAPS over the past six financial years – indicates a massive problem.”
Kirsten said it was necessary to restrict gun ownership based on proper research into the roots of gun violence in South Africa.
She conceded that some categories of gun owners were not the problem.
“What we need to be doing is unpacking what it means to have fewer guns in civilian hands and to figure out where the problems lie when it comes to gun safety.
“There is no evidence to suggest that hunting rifles are the problem. The evidence is very clear that handguns are the weapons of choice for criminals, and for good reason.
“They are easy to use, durable and easy to conceal. They are also the weapon of choice for civilians who want to defend themselves. We know that 25 guns are stolen every single day.”
The Confederation of Hunting Associations of SA said there had been limited engagement from the parliamentary portfolio committee for police, and they were cautiously optimistic this would continue.