The South African Police Service (SAPS) is set to destroy more than 15,000 guns voluntarily surrendered or forfeited during the latest firearm amnesty period. The destruction of guns, ammunition, and components comes amid proposed changes to the Firearms Control Act which have drawn heavy criticism.
The firearm amnesty period, which started in December 2019 and ended in January 2021, allowed South Africans to surrender unwanted or illegal guns to the police without the fear of being prosecuted for the unlawful possession of the weapons, ammunition, or components.
Nearly 100,000 firearms – a quarter of which were legally owned – were surrendered to the police service during this period. While many legal firearms were handed in for relicensing, illegal and unwanted guns, along with 400,000 pieces of ammunition, have been “permanently removed from circulation”.
In the final week of the amnesty period, more than 35,000 firearms were crushed and smelted at Cape Gate Wire and Steel Manufactures in Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng. Nearly 60,000 guns met a similar fate in 2019.
The latest round of destruction was announced by SAPS’ national commissioner General Khehla Sitole in his capacity as registrar of firearms on Wednesday. The official government gazette confirms the State’s intention to destroy firearms, ammunition and gun components which have been surrendered or forfeited to SAPS.
The notice also offers any person with a valid claim to a firearm destined for destruction the opportunity to make a representation to the registrar by 30 June. The police service provides provincial lists of all firearms which are due to be destroyed, noting the gun’s type, make, calibre, and serial number.
More than 15,000 firearms are listed by SAPS, over a quarter of which were surrendered or forfeited in Gauteng. Pistols and revolvers account for more than half of all surrendered or forfeited firearms. Rifles and shotguns are more common in rural provinces such as the North West.
And although South Africans are willing to part with unwanted and unlicensed guns, the latest round of destruction comes amid a call for public comment on the controversial Firearms Control Amendment Bill.
In addition to proposing that persons who surrender firearms during the amnesty period lose their ability to reapply for a license for the relinquished weapon, the amendment bill also seeks to limit the scope of “valid reasons” for possessing a license for a firearm.
This includes rejecting “self-defence” as a valid reason for being awarded a gun license.
This amendment has drawn the most ire from opposition parties and pro-gun groups. The Democratic Alliance has launched a petition against the “draconian” bill and urged South Africans to submit their objections within the public comment period, which ends on 4 July.
“Government seems to be completely out of touch with reality and that Cabinet, ministers and many government officials in high positions, who are protected on a daily basis by security teams and SAPS, paid for by tax payers, now wish to leave ordinary South Africans citizens unarmed and at the mercy of criminals,” said Damian Enslin, chairperson of the SA Gunowners’ Association, which has also called for the public to oppose the amendment bill.
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