This is long. Very long. So let's do an executive summary.
What follows is not my work, it was shamelessly stolen from the SA Firearm Forum
First I would like to give 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.
It is thanks mainly to the efforts of these groups that your rights have been brought to notice of government and public. However we should not be apathetic or complacent in believing that this is all that needs to be done. This is every firearm owners fight and will take the combined efforts of everyone to win.
Knowing that to win this fight it would not be a case of sending in the champions to do the fighting for firearms owners. 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 anti-gun legislation and a concerted effort by government to put its stated policy of civilian disarmament into place.
The concept was to create a single lobbying group to;
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.
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 this Act and believe it to be a misguided attempt at controlling crime or reasonable legislation to ensure the safety of the public. How wrong they are. The FCA has nothing to do with controlling crime. Various ANC speakers repeatedly stated this in parliament. We must understand the threat to firearm ownership before we can try to counter it. Forget for a moment the content of the Act and let's look at its context.
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. Cachalia was one of the leading forces behind the new Act.
ANC policy clearly stated their 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 now. Therefore it would be necessary to achieve this aim gradually with incremental legislation and in concert with other programmes to convince the public that firearms are undesirable.
This policy has been confirmed at every ANC convention since then. It was also confirmed in public by both the past Ministers, S. Mufamadi, and S. Tshwete.
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 of this legislation.
This committee 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 eventually managed to get the South African Gun Owners Association (SAGA) included as well, despite the Minister having initially refused SAGA’s participation.
The committee progressed very slowly with SAGA countering GFSA and the Secretariat and the SAPS in the middle while the SACP member simply never attended. International Security Services (ISS) in the hopes of receiving government grants released a study "the Gastrow report" on possible new legislation which contained much of the restrictions to be used later in the first draft.
The Secretariat for Safety and Security was unhappy with this lack of progress and without anyone's knowledge or cabinet authority they employed International Security Services (ISS) to draft a new Bill. Both A. Cachalia (Safety and Security) and Sheena Duncan (GFSA) serve on the board of ISS. Because this was done without approval there was no funding in the budget to pay, the Secretariat went overseas to obtain the funding. 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 ISS.
Parts of this ISS 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 and that firearms groups had not been informed as the goals of the Bill were not negotiable.
Every call for submissions, meetings and workshops have had the selfsame conditions applied. The policy of the Act is not open to negotiation and will not be discussed. At no stage or point in time have the public, firearm owners or organisations been given the opportunity to question the validity or reasonableness of the policy of the intended Act.
This was in July 98 and the Bill was scheduled to become Law by October at the latest.
This draft was a wish-list for the anti-gunners. Amongst other things it would have banned;
Government ignored the delivery and contents of a televised petition of 380,000 signatures.
Thousands of submissions had been discarded unopened and found in this state. The first draft received 2000 submissions which were never read.
The second draft received 450 submissions. No other bill has ever received as many submissions.
Submissions were opened and read by the SAPS who supposedly incorporated the points noted. The only summary ever produced shows that the SAPS simply incorporated what they deemed appropriate. Many of the suggestions are simply marked "Policy issue" and from the 450 submissions only a handful are quoted. No tally of the number of requests for any changes is presented and it appears that every submission of the very few that agreed with the policy or conditions was mentioned or included.
The Portfolio Committee has abdicated its responsibility to the public, not once has a proper summary of submissions been presented by the SAPS for consideration by the committee nor requested by the Committee. Not once has the Committee bothered to check that all points made were even considered or incorporated.
Verbal submissions were curtailed in time as the Portfolio Committee knew what firearm owners wanted to say and were tired of hearing it or had no intention of taking any notice of such submissions. The Portfolio Committee Chairman M. E. George openly expressed his contempt of public submissions and stated that the public did not make law.
By now the politicians had discovered that there was no policy document and there never has been one that has been subjected to public comment. The document that was presented to parliament was declared a national secret consisted of a propaganda slide show presentation from Safety and Security. Another document published in 2000 by Safety and Security, full of misleading and unrelated statistics, unproven assertions and no possible value as evidence of the claims made by government of reducing crime or the supply of guns to criminals, claims to be "The Policy for Firearms Control in South Africa."
Never in the history of South Africa has a government so openly and blatantly subverted the due process of legislation.
The Draft Bill that was not a bill then it was a policy document that was not a policy document.
The NFF responded by mobilising and alerting everyone they could. Setting three goals;
The 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.
Other organisations 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 or 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 about five organisations and a handful of personal donations.
Obviously more may have been done had there been more funds available or if more organisations and people had become directly involved. Even at this moment there are shooting organisations that have not bothered to inform their members of the status of the act or the implications for members beyond a vague claim of you will still be able to shoot.
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 that 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 process of writing the regulations is currently under way. The regulations are very important in influencing the practical effect of the Act. This phase is also useful in highlighting the practical problems with the Act and persuading the bureaucrats to go back to the politicians to have the Act changed before it is implemented. There has already been one amendment to the Act and the regulations have taken more than two years to write.
Currently the regulations have been discussed by the Portfolio Committee and an attempt has been made to sneak through as administrative more than fifty pages of additions incorporating ideological requirements that were removed from the Act, such as psychological testing.
There is no doubt that never in the history of South Africa have the SAPS and government stooped to such low levels and dishonest processes of law making. What is even more surprising is that the Law Society and Human Rights watchdogs have yet to make a single meaningful comment on this flawed process and legislation.
Implementation has been given many starting dates however the difficulties of implementing foolish ideological law was not seen by either the politicians or SAPS as a problem. Completion dates come and go and the SAPS even in the final stages continue to give completion dates they have no hope of meeting. More surprisingly the SAPS continue to claim that they can meet the requirements of the Act of manpower and resources while at the same time registration under the old Act is taking longer and longer.
The SAPS once again are being economical with the truth and have no intention of ever meeting reasonable time periods of relicensing existing licences. No doubt it is hoped that the costs involved will persuade many to hand their firearms in without compensation to the police for destruction.
The Act is scheduled to come into effect over two years followed by a five year transition phase. 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 is merely the first step in civilian disarmament and by continuing to oppose it we discourage the future steps.
The SA Firearm Forum arose from a need not covered by the then only firearms internet email list "SA-gunners", originally started by Dale Towert. A more focused and dedicated interest group in countering the falsehood of gun control was seen by Alex Holmes the SA Firearm Forum list owner and also National Firearms Forum chairman.
With small beginnings at the start of the millennium and much hope that others would see the same need, South African Firearm Forum has grown from strength to strength. Giving motivated people the chance to discuss and act on important issues relating to gun control and crime control.
Dedicated to raising public and government awareness of the fallacy and very real possibility of endangering peoples lives with the results of gun control legislation. The forum members have enjoyed much success in being noticed and published by the media as well as gaining the attention of some political parties. This success needs to be built upon by the contribution of many more people concerned by the removal of rights and the high crime levels in South Africa. So that the public become aware of at least the very serious possibilities of increased crime in South Africa. As well as the governments public façade and diversionary tactics of punishing licensed firearms owners for its failure to control crime.
The Firearms Control Act is a reality all South African citizens will have to face. The almost certain increases in crime from a government backed guarantee of a safer criminal workplace. Nobody will be spared. The potential for abuse by the police is even greater than the old law. The Department of Safety and Securities study found that daily there were many hundreds of abuses of the old Act in warrantless searches and entering people’s property without informing the occupants of their rights.
Firearm owners will have to face draconian penalties for just forgetting to carry a licence. Giving up treasured or inherited firearms or sporting firearms because of the limits placed on non- dedicated firearms owners. Significant increases of costs of ownership can be expected. From increased renewable licensing fees, training and membership of accredited organisations.
Governments stated intention is to increase the difficulty and cost of retaining or purchasing firearms. 500,000 firearms are expected to be collected in the first year. Obviously, those with more than two handguns or four rifles have the most to lose but every present firearm owner will be subjected to this new laws ideology and increased costs.
All firearm owners will be adversely affected in vastly increased licensing costs, training, joining of associations, limited numbers of firearms and ammunition and considerably less chance of being issued with a firearm licence. While criminals will enjoy less attention from the police as personnel and huge amounts of TAX (more than R2 Billion) are funnelled into gun control. Control that will not place one criminal behind bars or funds that could be better spent on upgrading the under- resourced police.
No government has found registration be of cost effective crime fighting or prevention use. Criminals do not register firearms and most cases are solved before the firearm is found. Few if any cases are ever solved and all information held is of no real use for any other purpose. The only use is for confiscation of firearms.
What is painfully obvious is that many organisations have been incredibly reluctant to get involved either directly or by informing members of the implications of the Firearms Control Act. Which simply means that the people who should be concerned the most by the new legislation have not been informed of the implications or how they could help in fighting this legislation.
All is not lost unless we give up or do nothing and there are many that have absolutely no intention of giving up the fight. Concerned people wanting to make a difference and contribute towards obtaining sensible legislation, lower crime levels and a safer environment for all South Africans should join the SA Firearm Forum. You should also seriously consider that doing nothing to help the fight is no different to just giving up and excepting the eventual total loss of all firearms.
The South African Firearm Forum has come a long way but there is still much left to do.
What is quite clear is that if you want something done then you have to do it yourself. There are few organisations that are ideally placed to take on this task. This possibly because they do not see any campaign that attempts to influence public opinion or change laws as worth the effort. Or they do not have the infrastructure and expertise to take on such a project, as they were not convened for this specific task. Sadly this includes the one firearm owners organisation that should have taken a front seat in the fight. Currently paralysed by infighting and petty party politics of unelected officials who do not represent the members.
We cannot rely on sports and recreational organisations to take on the mantle of firearm owners or public protector. The majority of such organisations think that they are all right and look forward to increased forced membership and the opportunity to further swell club coffers with training and ammunition sales. A short-sighted view as membership will decrease in a short time due to the additional costs and difficulty of firearms ownership. Any growth will probably be negated after the first round of relicensing.
Some have even gone so far as to welcome the Firearms Control Act and support it. Others are willing to sell their souls in the hope that they will be the controlling body or have exclusive rights to training. Money talks louder than sense for the greedy that care not about the future of all firearm activities and possession of firearms, being more concerned with their own greed than their future survival.
There is only one way of persuading firearm owners and organisations to take a more proactive roll. That is to start the ball rolling. Somebody had to make a start and sitting around waiting for that somebody or something is a pointless waste of valuable time. Time that we no longer have.
All we have to do is give people the will and desire to be proactive and take an interest in how the Firearms Control Act will impact negatively on their interest. Encouraging people to look after themselves and protect their rights because nobody else is going to or can mount an effective counter to the present or future situation is all we have left. It is also the most likely to succeed plan of action.
Many simply do not see and still need to be convinced that success can only come from the publics objection to draconian ideological laws intended to make paranoid and irresponsible Ministers feel safe to implement whatever public tyranny they wish.
There is absolutely no doubt that the new Act will increase the cost of ownership dramatically. Be this from vastly increased licensing costs or requirements of ownership, from payment of renewable license fees and training, to bureaucratic demands of evidence of good character, mental stability, appeasement of neighbours and safe storage. Even finding a shooting range that meets specifications will be an impossible task for many areas of South Africa.
License fees will be several hundred Rand per firearm and ongoing depending on the period for that class of firearm. The government is determined to extract the cost or a major part of implementation of the Central Firearms Registry from firearm owners by falsely claiming the register is used by firearm owners.
Membership of suitable organisations requires payment of annual membership fees. This will not just be a once off payment as ownership is dependent on membership. These organisations must record and report members activities so absentee and sleeping membership will be notified to the SAPS.
Many still believe they will simply have to join an organisation to get a license. Not so as any accredited organisation must keep a register of members attendance and activities and forward this data to the Central Firearms Registry. Where a member has been certified as "dicated" you can be sure that it is in the interest of the certifying organisation to report to the CFR of any change of circumstance. So fake or bogus registrations will be found out. Somebody has to pay for the clubs and organisations record keeping and reports that must be generated and the only way of recovering this cost is with increased membership fees.
No organisation is going to put its accreditation status at stake just for the convenience of people who want to own more firearms but could not be bothered to take part in club or organised activities.
Safes will become more expensive to meet the new SABS specification. There is a grandfather clause but how long it will last and apply to new license applications is open to debate.
The cost of training has not been accurately estimated because the regulations are not complete. However initial estimates indicate that the full course will be in the region of R1500 and payable for each class of firearm licensed. It is hoped that training organisations will make the final test available at a much reduced cost but in reality the costs of running such a facility are very high.
Shooting ranges must meet the new specifications and currently there probably is not a single range in the whole of South Africa that meets these specifications. Many ranges will simply close because funds are not available to upgrade the range. Ranges fees can be expected to increase dramatically and you will have to travel further to find a certified range if you can find one at all.
As dealers sales fall due to decreased demand (there is a direct relationship between cost of ownership and rate of ownership) there will probably have to be an increase of profit margins to compensate. When order quantities fall, the price increases, as there is less benefit from bulk buying. The ever present overheads eating up any profit that can be made. Many dealers have already closed their doors, many more will follow.
Disarmament by economic means is no different to disarmament by confiscation.
The second hand market will be flooded by owners trying desperately to sell firearms through a dealer inundated with stock that can’t be sold, that will in 60 days be confiscated without compensation. Buyers will be faced with costs and bureaucracy that only the well off can afford, thus those who need a firearm the most will be excluded from legal ownership. A very good reason to expect that the demand for stolen unlicensed firearms will increase while legal licensed ownership decreases even if second hand firearms sell for a tenth of their value.
The future of firearm ownership is in the balance and all the influences that decrease demand are well known to anti-gun organisations and government. All these influences will be used to decrease both the demand and desire for ownership.
There are many examples of how simple and relatively insignificant changes have had a major impact on firearm ownership. Cadets and shooting skills in schools for example will have major benefits to future potential firearm owners. Stopping or reducing such training and exposure to firearms will impact negatively in the future. The lack of conscription for military training will also remove many hundreds of thousands of people who have been trained or exposed to the use of firearms and could be considered firearms friendly.
All of these factors unless some concerted effort is made to reduce and counter the affects, will eventually lead to the demise of firearm ownership. When combined with the propaganda effort of gun control organisations and proponents including government, then unopposed it will happen all the sooner.
There is only one alternative if we wish to succeed and that is to take up the challenge of gun control, counter the propaganda and promote firearms sports and activities. How we react will determine not only our future but also that of future generations of South Africans, our children and grandchildren, in having the ability to enjoy sports of choice and retain the right to self-defence with the best means possible.
Remaining silent and believing that once this is all over government will be satisfied and leave firearm owners alone is madness that has no basis anywhere in the world. Gun control is never satisfied. In Ireland we now have calls for knife control.
You have a vote, use it.
You have a voice, use it.
You have the media, use it.
You have a choice, use it.
Or lose your rights and possibly a lot more.
Any firearm owner who does not vote in the next election needs to look long and hard at what can best be described as playing into the hands of government. Since in South Africa we have proportional representation every vote does count. Every elected official had better know that firearm owners had a hand in putting them in Parliament.
Vote for a political party that has a clearly stated policy that supports firearm ownership with declared values and not mealy mouthed statements of "responsible ownership". Firearm owners are already responsible, it is politicians we need to fear.
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Peter Moss & Alex Holmes
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