Gun owners take aim at firearms bill

Gun owner Steve de Lisle at the False Bay Firearm Training Academy in Glencairn.

The looting and riots that rocked the country last month blow out of the water the state’s case for a law to further curb firearm ownership, say gun-rights activists.

Publication participation on the Firearms Control Amendment Bill closed on Monday, August 2. SAPS published the draft in May.

According to the SA Gunowners’ Association (SAGA), the bill seeks, among others, to remove firearms for self-defence and for private collecting, to place restrictions on the types of firearms that can be used by security companies, as well as to restrict sports-shooting and hunting firearms. It also severely restricts the possession and collection of ammunition and prohibits the reloading of ammunition.

Gun Owners South Africa (GOSA) chairman Paul Oxley said gun owners would have a peaceful protest outside Parliament today, Thursday, August 19, demanding the bill be scrapped.

“We think this draft is dead, it’s a non-starter, and it was beautifully demonstrated by the violent riots and looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng a few weeks ago. It destroyed any possible justification for the bill,” he said.

There could not have been a better example to prove that firearms saved lives and were key to protection than the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, he said.

The constitution recognised the right to life and bodily integrity, which was meaningless without the means to protect that life, he said.

The matter in which the bill was drafted, he said, was concerning as the draft of any new legislation should reference and improve the constitution.

“They have deviated from that completely and have abandoned the pretense that the bill will improve the constitution. It’s frightening stuff,” he said.

Keith Biermann, owner of the False Bay Firearm Training Academy in Glencairn, said firearm sales had risen since the looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng and more and more men and women were doing proficiency training to get their competency certificates.

He said the changes to the bill hadn’t been thought through and would not only affect the average gun owner but the hunting fraternity, sports shooting, and the security industry, to name a few.

The bill made no provision to control the possession of illegal firearms, he said, adding that licensed gun owners were not the problem.

“It needs to be a consultative process with people in the industry,” he said.

Saga submitted a 37-page objection to the bill and the group’s chairman, Damien Enslin, wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa asking him to withdraw the bill.

Mr Enslin said ordinary citizens had been left to fend for themselves during the unrest, using the very firearms the state now wanted to take away from them, while a poorly trained and ill-equipped SAPS had failed to meet its constitutional duty to protect the country and its citizens.

The says: “You (Mr Ramaphosa) have reportedly said that you welcomed ‘ordinary citizens’ who had been ‘defending their areas and assets’. In Saga’s view, had it not been for such law-abiding and ordinary citizens defending the lives and property of others, using the very firearms that the Firearms Control Amendment Bill, 2021 seeks to take away, the situation would have been very different.”

The letter says it is clear firearms do protect law-abiding citizens and that even those who do not own firearms, support those who do, as those who do not own firearms feel safer knowing that there are armed law-abiding citizens among them.

Mr Enslin said according to a recent poll on Gun Free SA’s Twitter page, 86% of the respondents felt safer with someone who has a firearm, while 8% felt unsafe, and the other 6% were unsure.

Glencairn resident and gun owner Steve de Lisle said the new bill was unconstitutional given the high rate of violent crime in South Africa. The bill would disarm legal and competent gun owners while failing to deal with the problem of illegal firearms. He said the bill was being used to draw attention away from a large number of firearms and quantities of ammunition lost by the police as well as the poor state of the Central Firearm Register (CFR), which, like SAPS, could not fulfill its legal mandate.

Fish Hoek police station’s designated firearms officer Warrant Officer Peter Middelton said there had not been an increase in new firearms applications, but people renewing their licenses were concerned about the bill.

He said the bill had not been passed yet, and anyone who wished to apply for a licence for a weapon for self-defence was entitled to do so as such licenses were still being issued by CFR.

Despite several attempts made by the Echo to reach Gun Free SA, they did not respond at the time of going to print. However, a media statement on their website states that they welcome the Firearms Control Amendment Bill.