Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police has referred the draft notice declaring an amnesty on firearms back to Police Minister Bheki Cele for reconsideration.
The South African Police Service (SAPS) recently briefed committee members on the proposed amnesty, which would grant indemnity against the possession of illegal firearms, allowing owners to hand in firearms without being prosecuted.
The aim of removing illegal firearms was to reduce their use in violent crimes, which would be in the public interest, the SAPS said in its submission.
The proposed period of the amnesty would have been from 1 October 2019 to 1 March 2020.
According to Major General Maropeng Mamothet, who presented the submission, the purpose of the amnesty would be to reduce the number of illegally owned firearms and provide firearm owners with the opportunity to hand in unwanted firearms, as well as prevent crime and violence, thereby promoting safety and security in the country.
However, members were not convinced that such an amnesty would result in lowering the crime rate, and therefore questioned the readiness of the SAPS to carry out the planned amnesty.
According to Fred Camphor, CEO of the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association, this was “good news for firearm owners”. “The amnesty as proposed by Cele was definitely not in the best interest of gun owners with expired licenses.”
He said that if amnesty was approved, it would not provide firearm owners with expired licenses the opportunity to reapply for a new firearm license.
Gun Owners of South Africa had previously obtained an interdict against the SAPS that prevented the removal of firearms from owners whose licenses had expired, and also prevented the SAPS from filing charges of illegal possession of such firearms against these owners.
The licenses of more than one million firearms had not yet been renewed under the old ‘green’ and ‘white’ licensing systems.
“If the Minister [of Police] wishes to declare an amnesty he has to determine the terms and conditions thereof, which is then sent to [Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police] for debate and approval, after which Parliament has to approve [it].
“This time round, due process was not followed and the portfolio committee told the SAPS to ‘go back and redo their homework’,” Camphor said.
He added that there would not be any clarity on the matter of expired licenses for the foreseeable future.
“Our advice to members is to lock firearms with expired licenses away safely and do nothing for the moment. Let us wait and see how the process develops over time. Your rights are protected by the interdicts granted by the High Court.”