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South African Firearms Control Act well wide of its' target

AUTHOR: Wyndham Hartley

Business Day (Johannesburg, SA)

Implementation of the Firearms Control Act is threatening to spiral out of control with government's Central Firearms Registry processing only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of reapplications for gun licences it was scheduled to process this year.

The owners of legal firearms required to apply for new licences this year (those with birthdays in January, February and March) total about 600,000. So far, however, only 20,000 people have applied, and these are being processed slowly.

South African Police Services (SAPS) officials briefing Parliament's safety and security committee last week were unable to say how many reapplications had been processed to conclusion, but said of the 4,224 new applications made in the first eight months of this year only 813 had been processed.

This translates into a scant 100 gun licences approved each month across SA.

Figures for competency certificates applied for this year give an indication of the trouble the firearms registry is in.

Registry director Jaco Bothma told the committee that 21,291 applications were received in eight months, and fewer than 4,000 had been processed to conclusion.

A competency certificate specifying ability to safely handle a firearm is needed before a licence renewal can be considered.

A recent report said only 16 firearm licences had been renewed in Western Cape, and that no new licences had been issued in the province since the Firearms Control Act came into effect

The funding for licence transfer process is also under pressure. The Canadian legislation, on which SA's gun law is based, after an original estimated cost of C$2m ended up costing C$860m, according to lobby group the National Firearms Forum.

The forum says the process could cost SA as much as R2,5bn over the next four years.

Democratic Alliance MP Roy Jankielsohn said: "The Firearms Control Act is destined to fail. Neither government nor civil society were prepared for this act when it was launched by Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula on July 1 2004. As a result, the SAPS is still struggling to implement the act, and only a fraction of those who have to renew have done so because the bureaucratic process is so costly and time consuming," he said.

Last year the Central Firearms Registry briefed the committee that there were 2,5-million legal firearm owners in SA.

"This implies that 625,000 individuals would have to renew their firearm licences annually for the next four years. Now the registry indicates that they are not sure how many firearm owners there are in SA, and that this is why the renewal process has to take place."

Martin Hood, spokesman for the South African Gunowners Association, said the association had consistently warned that this situation would arise, and "we would urge Nqakula to reconsider this process".

Bothma told the committee the licences of people who had applied for renewal before December 31 this year would remain legal and valid until the renewal application had been processed to conclusion.

However, the registry faces a new round of applications in January, on top of the current backlog, when gun owners with birthdays in April, May and June have to apply for firearm relicensing.


John B Holdstock
BC Wildlife Federation
Kelowna, BC

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