The South African Firearms Control Act, or FCA, became law on July 1, 2004, and the chaos that ensued was unbelievable. Although the government was warned extensively about the implications of such poor ideological legislation, what remains in summation is that the FCA supports and enables criminals to ply their trade with impunity.
The Act is nothing more than an incomprehensible set of rules destined only as a tool to disarm the people of South Africa. I, in fact, attended a meeting of the Safety and Security Portfolio Sub-Committee in Parliament, and a government official stated that the Firearms Control Act was just a tool to use for the total disarmament of the civilian population of South Africa.
The FCA was, right from the beginning, supposed to have been implemented in stages. This, however, was not done because in March 2004, the ruling party decided that the whole Act would be implemented July 1 of that year.
Many unforeseen challenges arose because of the sudden and full implementation of the Act. Many aspects of the law had not been thoroughly considered regarding their application because of the fact that they were going to be implemented over a long period. Certain requirements for training and accreditation processes had not been written. All standards were not even finalized at implementation.
There was chaos in the industry as many firearms-related businesses were prejudiced, because they did not possess the required accreditation or compliance certificates that were needed. Very few shooting ranges had been inspected and even less had received certification. Only a few training organizations had been certified by the South African Police Services, or SAPS, to give training for the Competency Certificates required by the new law. To top this, the entire administrative process driving the FCA is in disarray and has virtually collapsed. Processing of new licenses and renewals on average takes two years. The cost is not known, and the government refuses to audit the chaos, years after the forced implementation.
A group of dealers, security companies and the South African Gun Owners’ Association took the police services to court to halt the implementation of the Firearms Control Act, applying for an urgent interdict to stop the implementation, but unfortunately they lost the case. The judge believed that the South African Police Services, who claimed that they were ready to implement the Act, could do so. It appears that the SAPS misled the court. They pointed to 20 training organizations at that stage, when there were actually only four or five given on their website. At that time only four ranges had been inspected and certified, although the certification of the ranges was mandatory for the training purposes for those who wanted to apply for new licenses.
People applying for Competency Certifications literally waited for years to receive them. The Sector Education Training Authorities had not finalized the reporting mechanism for the South African Police Services to be advised of who had passed, and no written reports of passing had been issued to a single candidate in many, many months.
Collectors, dedicated shooters and hunters couldn’t even apply for firearm licenses because there were no accredited organizations, which they were being forced by law to join. The mechanism to accredit the organizations had not yet been put in place when the Act was implemented.
One new applicant for an arms and ammunition dealers license waited almost three years for his application to be processed through the bureaucracy before he could start trading in arms and ammunition.
The Central Firearms Register simply rejected all applications under the old law just to clear the one-year application for firearm licenses backlog they had. For many months, there was no chairman of the Firearms Appeal Board, so no appeals could take place. At one stage, there were over 60,000 outstanding applications that were rejected and 6,000 appeals that could not be registered. The Appeal Board until January 2005 made it impossible to question the Central Firearms Register on its stupid decisions or rejections.
Gunsmiths were also being denied license renewals and applications were being turned down with unsatisfactory reasons. The South African Police Services then started visiting shooting ranges and closing many of them down, mostly doing so illegally. Many of the ranges were closed because they apparently were not complying with the South African Bureau of Standards specifications, and yet there were no requirements in the Act for ranges to comply with, unless they were being used as training facilities for the necessary competency certificates for new license applications.
Hundreds of valuable international hunting tourists have been held up for many hours at South African airports, while the police services are aimlessly running around looking for the new required forms, which weren’t available for the temporary importing of firearms for hunting purposes. All these hunters are fingerprinted, many of them for the first time in their lives. Eventually they were given the old forms to complete, which are illegal, and so on many occasions the South Africa Police Services are applying illegal standards and creating their own ways of dealing with the law because of the chaos that ensued.
In the same year, 12 members of the Firearms Unit and Central Firearms Register staff were being charged for taking bribes and issuing licenses to unfit persons, including criminals. The amount of incompetence and inability of the staff of the South African Police Services to make any sense of this Act has been unbelievable.
At implementation there were, for instance, no forms available to apply for a permit to possess more than 200 rounds or more than 2,400 primers. There was confusion over when a receiver or a frame, that is now considered a firearm, had to be licensed. The computer databases demanded by the Act had never even been tested or piloted by the Police Services, and one wondered if they even had the software to deal with the issues that needed to be considered under the Act.
“Self-defense” given as a reason for a self-defense firearm is somehow not acceptable; one has to write pages and pages trying to convince government bureaucrats why you need a firearm for self-defense in a country where around 22,000 murders take place every year.
Those who have recently been divorced or who have lost their jobs need not apply for at least two years because their applications would get turned down. Interviews with neighbors are an absolute embarrassment, and even spouses and bosses need to be interviewed by the police before you can be given a firearm license.
Richard Boothroyd, Gun Owners of South Africa Executive Committee member and long-time firearm-rights activist, hit the nail on the head when he commented on the forced renewal of firearm licenses: “Basically, there was such great resistance to the extent that less than 10 percent of those scheduled for renewal had complied by the end of December 2005, despite police threats of incarceration. Recognizing the nature of the problem, the minister extended to March to buy time to, as we now know, figure out other ways of getting the same result. In particular, and this is vitally important, he didn’t have the stomach for arrests and the adverse publicity that would follow, and I am not aware of a single arrest for non-compliance.
“GOSA warned that he would be no better off by the end of March and sure enough, compliance in the Western Cape was well under 20 percent and presumably the same elsewhere.”
One of the effects of the FCA was that around 500 arms and ammunition dealers had to close down with the resultant loss of jobs for their staff. But when Minister Charles Nqakula was asked where the government stood on this issue, he replied, “Government did not consider the economic effect of the Firearms Control Act; they will not consider changing the law if it is found to be adversely affecting certain businesses in the country.”
International filmmakers have moved to greener pastures, i.e. countries with more firearm friendly legislation; tourist hunting has dropped formidably with one professional hunter admitting to only a third of his usual clients arriving in 2005. This industry generated revenue touching R2,5 billion per annum.
The outright rejection of 71 percent (56,000) of new license applications in a few weeks of 2004 and the claimed inability of the same officials to process 14,000 re-license applications in more than one year caused its fair share of chaos.
The most disconcerting issue was the jackboot tactics of the SAPS in harassing those displaying legal firearms, e.g. museums, collectors and anyone else they could use in the media to make an example of.
As was always claimed right from the beginning, the FCA was used not to deal with the illegal firearms that remain in the hands of criminals who stalk our streets, but rather to take firearms away from, or disarm, law-abiding citizens.
Nqakula replied to a parliamentary question on Nov. 8, 2004, on the economic implications of the Act by stating that “no economic impact study was done” prior to implementation.
Compensation remains a sore point of the law – nobody in South Africa has ever received compensation when handing in his or her weapons to the SAPS. Arms and ammunition dealers who closed shop because of the law have also not been paid a cent of compensation for their stock handed over to the police; some owners lost their livelihood and retirement funds because of this law. This begs the question: What happens with international investments and properties? Will it be lost without compensation and will the African way of expelling/deporting foreigners prevail here?
Many people are angry since their firearms have been in their families for generations and are seen to be cultural artifacts; these also have to be handed in under the law. The cultural historical value and acknowledgement of the citizens of South Africa to own and keep arms has been well documented in the “Freedom of Vereniging” charter of 1906, yet inheritance of firearms is not recognized as a reason to own a gun in South Africa.
Many complaints were put forward to government regarding the implementation and application of the new FCA, which included incomplete or bad training of the designated firearm officers, the lack of understanding and application of the law in the proper and lawful manner, the constant loss of applications/documents, inconsistency in decision-making and the amount of time taken to process the competency certificates and the license applications. Some people are waiting up to four years for a license application to be processed.
Worst of all, the crime wave goes on. Fewer firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens just make emboldened criminals. The only other time that disarming of the public was done with greater success was by Hitler and his Nazi’s before the Second World War