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A history of deceit

To fully understand the process some background information on the Firearms Control Act and the groups that have made some effort to ensure continued opposition to Gun Control in South Africa is needed. It is thanks mainly to the efforts of these groups that your rights have been brought to notice of the public and government. However we should not be apathetic or complacent in believing that this is all that needs to be done. Or foolishly believe that some champions of the organisations can reason with government who will see the light and react accordingly, while firearm owners sit back and relax or throw a small amount of money at the problem. This is every firearm owner’s fight and will take the combined efforts of everyone to win. Any organisation or person that claims differently is simply out of touch with reality.

The National Firearms Forum - Chairman Alex Holmes

The National Firearms Forum (NFF) was founded in 1997 to attempt to bring all of the different firearm groups together. Particularly knowing that we would soon be faced with antigun legislation.

The concept was to create a single lobbying group to;
  • counter growing anti-gun activities
  • collect and disseminate useful information
  • suggest and co-ordinate projects for the member bodies.

There was wide initial support for the concept and a lot of work was done in preparing strategy guidelines, media plans, lists of lobbying targets etc.

Unfortunately very few groups believed there would be a real threat so they did absolutely nothing. Of the thirty-three organisations that made up the NFF perhaps five made any attempt to implement the plans or even to inform their members. That is until the Firearms Control Bill (FCB) suddenly appeared.

Creation of the FCB - Governments deception

Before we can really discuss the Firearms Control Act we need to clearly understand the ideology at work. Too many gun owners fail to grasp the true meaning of the FCA and believe it to be a misguided attempt at controlling crime or reasonable legislation to ensure the safety of the public. We must understand the threat to firearms ownership before we can try to counter it. Forget for a moment the content of the Act and let's look at its context.

The ideology of the Firearms Control Act

The FCA has nothing to do with controlling crime. Various ANC speakers repeatedly stated this in parliament. It is simply the first step in the ANC's stated goal of a civilian gun-free society. The ANC's position on this was spelled out to the Goldstone Commission in 1993 by Azar Cachalia, Cachalia later became the head of the Secretariat of Safety & Security responsible for direction and control of the SAPS. He was one of the leading forces behind the new Act.

This ANC policy clearly stated the ultimate goal of a total ban on private possession of firearms, including sportsmen and collectors. It also stated that the general population would not accept this at the moment. Therefor it would be necessary to achieve this gradually with incremental legislation and in concert with other programmes to convince the general public that firearms are undesirable.

This policy has been confirmed at every ANC convention since then. This was also confirmed in public by the pasts Ministers, S. Mufamadi, and S. Tshwete.

Minister S. Mufamadi created a committee to investigate new legislation. His instructions were, and I quote, "to formulate progressive legislation that would result in a drastic reduction in the number of LEGAL firearms". Not illegal, not criminal but legal licensed firearms were the target.

During 1997 the Minister for Safety and Security initiated studies on a Policy for the regulation of legal firearms, an investigation of allegations of mismanagement and corruption at the Central Firearm Register, and an audit of all State-owned firearms. The first two of these reports were presented to the Minister during 1998. At the same time the SA Police Services were developing a plan for the control of illegal firearms. The Minister then instructed that a comprehensive strategy be developed for the control of both legal and illegal firearms. -   National Crime Prevention Centre Presentation THE POLICY ASPECTS OF THE FIREARMS CONTROL BILL, PMG, SAFETY AND SECURITY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE 15 February 2000 FIREARMS CONTROL BILL: BRIEFING

This committee formed consisted of South African Police Services (SAPS) members, Gun Free South Africa (GFSA), SA Communist Party (SACP), the Secretariat of Safety and Security and the Attorney General's office. Adv. John Welch represented the Attorney General and managed to get this composition changed to include the South African Gun Owners Association (SAGA) as well, despite the Minister having initially and repeatedly refused this.

It must be realised that to remove legal licensed firearms from law abiding citizens requires deceit, ideological laws and false claims of public interest or safety. The committee progressed very slowly with John Welch and later helped by SAGA countering GFSA and the Secretariat of Safety and Security while the SAPS supported most suggestions of gun control. The SACP member simply never attended.

The first draft Bill or ISS draft

During the rest of 1998, a strategy was developed by the National Crime Prevention Centre, together with the SA Police Services, and this was presented to Cabinet and to the Intergovernmental Forum in October 1998. The strategy was based on all available information. It proposed that, in order to control illegal firearms and firearm crime, it was necessary to shut off all sources of new illegal firearms and at the same time to mop up the existing pool of illegal firearms. The sources of new illegal firearms were identified as being thefts from private owners, thefts from the State, firearms smuggled across the borders, firearms from arms caches which had not been recovered, corrupt dealers and homemade firearms. The strategy indicated that it would be necessary to reduce the trafficking of firearms in the Southern African region, because this would always form a source of new illegal firearms.

The Secretariat for Safety and Security was unhappy with this lack of progress and without anyone's knowledge or cabinet authority employed the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) to draft a new Bill. The contract details and policy for this draft have never been released to the public. A large number of ISS staff and researchers are vehemently opposed to civilian firearm ownership. Both A. Cachalia (Safety and Security) and Sheena Duncan (GFSA) serve on the board of ISS. There was no approval and no funding in the budget to pay for this so the Secretariat went begging overseas to obtain the funds. The two main sources were the UK and the UN who both provided direct funding for this project of around R300 000 each. Canada and George Sorros amongst others also sponsored the ISS draft.

In July of 1998 parts of this draft were given to three groups, dealers, hunters and collectors with one week to provide comments. It was made perfectly clear that the intention was to have the Bill become law within a matter of weeks. That firearms groups had not been informed or consulted as the goals of the Bill were not negotiable.

The Bill was scheduled to become Law by October at the latest.

This draft was a wish list for the gun control lobby and many of the requirements were similar to those of GFSA and the Gun Control Alliance demands on government. Amongst other things it would have banned outright;
  • Any handgun with more than ten shots
  • Any firearm originally designed for military use
  • Anything of .50 or larger calibre

NFF response to the ISS draft Bill

The NFF responded by mobilising and alerting everyone they could, setting three goals;
  • to prevent the Bill becoming law in the short term
  • to try to amend the Bill so that it was something we could live with
  • to put up enough of a fight so that this issue would not quickly come up again.

During this period segments of the draft were presented and questioned in parliament.  Steve Tswhete the newly appointed minister of Safety and Security denied the existence of the draft and then had a copy which he could hardly deny waved under his nose by B. Geldenhuis of the NNP.  Tswete was incensed and claimed drafting was stopped.  It latter transpired that drafting continued and Tswete denied having claimed drafting had stopped.

At the beginning of 1999 a team consisting of the National Crime Prevention Centre and the SA Police Services, supported by the Institute for Security Studies, was commissioned to draft a Policy for the Regulation and Control of Legal and Illegal Firearms. Subsequently a team was established consisting of the National Crime Prevention Centre and the SA Police Services, supported by the Institute for Security Studies, to begin drafting working notes for a Bill.

The NFF approach was based on total opposition to the Bill but recognising the political realities it was decided to be constructive in opposition, or rather perceived as being constructive. This approach was particularly successful during the parliamentary phase.

It would take far too long to try to list everything done but pressure was exerted in every way possible at every level. The main projects were,
  • Working on the media to influence public opinion.
  • Attempting to support other organisations to change the perception that this was a black/white issue.
  • Informal contact with senior politicians from all parties.
  • Preparing formal submissions and specific suggestions for amendments.

Some of the organisations contributing a large effort supporting this fight of the intended legislation are SAAACA, SCI, SAGA and the SASSF in particular.

There were other organisations that felt opposition was too vocal in opposing the Bill and preferred appeasement to opposition. Other groups felt that there had been too much co-operative and total rejection should simply have been voiced and then sat back and watch it happen.

It is clear that appeasement, non-participation and total rejection are not likely to succeed. For total rejection to succeed the majority of citizens would have to be willing too not only voice their opinion but be willing vote the government out of power.

All of this took an immense amount of work and effort. It was also not cheap. Official NFF expenses ran to over R800 000 and there was probably another R200 000 that was covered by individuals.

These funds came from basically five organisations and a handful of personal donations.

Obviously more may have been done had there been more funds available or if more organisations had become directly involved.

A new draft Bill - Draft 1 - Firearms Control Bill

The Bill was rewritten by a SAPS team once again without consultation with firearm owners. 

Lack of consultation over the drafting of the bill – we hereby state for the record that no consultation has taken place with either the CTSASA or the South African Shooting Sports Federation - ORAL SUBMISSION BY CLAY TARGET SHOOTING ASSOCIATION OF SOUTH AFRICA

The team was headed by the State Advocate Louis Kok and included Ric de Caris.   The first draft was released for public comment and drew 2000 written submissions.   This draft was hotly debated in parliament and was withdrawn then not withdrawn.   It was described as a policy document and then not a policy document.

The submissions were never even read or opened and were seen by the thousand lying unopened on a table by Douglas Gibson of the Democratic Party (Now Democratic Alliance).  No summary was ever produced and the contents of public submissions were never incorporated in any redraft of the Bill.

The Safety and Security Portfolio Committee chairman M. E George gave a clear indication of the ANC attitude to pubic comment and hearings.

The Chairperson said the Committee must exchange ideas as parties. He warned the Committee not to rely too much on the public hearings, reminding members that the public does not draft laws, Parliament does. He said public hearings were to give suggestions to Committee members but usually resulted in small changes only, if any. They must not give the impression that laws are made by public hearings; they are to inform only. - SAFETY AND SECURITY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE 7 June 2000 FIREARMS CONTROL BILL - PMG minutes.

Oral hearings were held from a few cherry picked submissions.  As the hearings progressed and after hearing all the anti-gun submissions the chairman (M. E. George) introduced a time limit for presentation, reducing the time limit on an almost daily basis until 10 minutes was all that would be available.  Many who had been invited and lived some distance away simply considered the expense of getting to Cape Town for a 10 minute presentation ridiculous.

Many of the points that had been agreed to or seen as impractical, unimplementable or un-needed  during the hearing stage were overnight dispensed with by the Committee who presented a very different version for final voting by the Committee. This tactic was to become a hallmark of all future changes to the Act and Regulations.  

The second draft - Draft 2

How successful these efforts were is for you to decide. Largely due to these efforts the Bill was rewritten 93 times. In the final parliamentary phase alone some 270 amendments were made.

Many of these amendments involved subtle changes to the language. In this way the politicians felt they were achieving their goals. An example of this is in the age limit.

 

Under current law the age limit is strictly speaking 16 in practice it is effectively 21. Currently there are less than 200 people under 18 that have licences and another 2000 between 18 and 21.

 

In the new Bill the age limit was increased to 21 but with exemptions as suggested. These are any dedicated person, anybody who requires a firearm for business purposes or anyone else who has a compelling reason.

 

The politicians are happy that the age limit is increased but in effect even a 12-year-old can now obtain a licence.

 

The Present

 

The process of writing the regulations is complete and an indication of the difficulty of filling the ideological pipe dreams and foolish invasive requirements has been the length of time taken to completion, three years. The regulations have been produced in phases to make the impossible possible and were it not for the efforts of a few firearm organisations and the sacrifices of three probably would still be on the drafting table. As expected the duplicity of government was once again visible in the final draft which suddenly doubled in length bringing back all the ideological requirements including psychological evaluation. An attempt was made by ANC ministers in the Portfolio Committee to force it though without even discussion.

 

The regulations are very important in influencing the practical effect of the Act. This phase was useful in highlighting the practical problems with the Act and attempting to persuade the bureaucrats to go back to the politicians to have the Act changed before it is implemented. The SAPS drafting team as far as is known made no such attempts and continued informing the Portfolio Committee and the ANC that they were ready and that the regulations would be soon completed. That they foresaw no reasons for difficulty in implementation for which the SAPS were well prepared and ready. Some minor changes of definitions did take place and the Act has been amended. ANC Government ministers are unconcerned with the requirements or any aspect of the regulations. Their only desire is to see this Act implemented as soon as possible.

 

 

The Act is now scheduled to come into effect in June followed by a five year transition phase in which all licences must be renewed. Sections of the Act will be implemented in phases. The next few months are going to have a major influence on the Act and how it will be implemented.

 

It is absolutely vital that we maintain pressure now. We must not make the mistake of simply accepting the Act as a matter of fact.

 

We must also remember that this Act was merely the first step in civilian disarmament and by continuing to oppose it we discourage the future steps.


 

 

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