We have all heard the rumours by now. The SAPS and the CFR have asked the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for permission to implement another amnesty. This one will supposedly run from February until July 2018. Now, I apologise for not having any real concrete information to give you. As things stand, nobody yet knows exactly how this thing will play out. All that I do know, is that it is a bad idea. A really bad idea.
SAPS’s dismal custodianship of firearms
Let’s start with a quick recap regarding the SAPS’s woeful record as custodians of firearms. The police lost a grand total of 18 196 guns between April 2005 and March 2011. According to newer statistics, the SAPS lost 7 829 firearms between 2009 and 2014. Even though many of these guns are police service weapons, firearms were also lost from SAP 13 evidence lockers and stores. Furthermore, back in 2012 the DA’s Dianne Kohler-Barnard estimated that approximately 14 000 SAPS guns were in criminal hands.
Just this year alone there have been a series of high-profile cases of SAPS firearms finding their way to criminals. The most infamous examples pertain to the theft of 35 firearms from Bellville South and Mitchell’s Plain police stations. Criminals also stole numerous R5 automatic rifles from various SAPS stations.
In order to contrast how citizens and the SAPS compare regarding firearm custodianship, I investigated the different rates at which civilians and police lose firearms. The conclusion was enlightening. The SAPS lose approximately 8 times as many firearms per capita as civilians do. Even more interesting, lost and stolen civilian firearms are recovered at an annual rate 15 times greater than SAPS guns. You can read into the latter what you will.
It should be obvious that the SAPS does not have a particularly good reputation regarding its custodianship of firearms at all. Yet this is the organisation that is entrusted with the successful implementation of a firearm amnesty. But more of that in a moment.
Amnesty guns leaked to criminals
Most of you will by now be familiar with the misadventures of former SAPS colonel Chris Prinsloo. Colonel Prinsloo recently received an 18 year sentence for selling police guns to criminal gangs. He was a busy man who succeeded in supplying more than 2400 firearms to criminals over an 8-year period, with many of the guns being SAPS service weapons. However, some of the firearms were weapons that citizens handed in during the previous amnesty. Until the SAPS coerced the owners of these guns to hand them over, they were safe and sound in lawful civilian hands.
The Western Cape Crime Intelligence Unit positively linked 1066 murders to some of these guns. This development completely turns GFSA’s “If your stolen gun was there, so were you” ad-campaign on its head. Considering that the previous amnesty was very much GFSA’s creation, it is ironic that they have thus far taken zero responsibility for its aftermath. It is easy to blame firearm owners who have their guns stolen by criminals as being complicit in the crimes committed with those guns. But it is clearly a lot harder when your amnesty causes the exact same result. What is good for the goose, should be good for the gander. “If your amnesty gun was there, so was GFSA?”
What exactly will this amnesty achieve?
As healthy, rational individuals we all know that criminals will not jump at this chance to surrender their illegally-held guns, turn over a new leaf, and become upstanding and productive citizens. Not even our out-of-touch politicians will entertain such ridiculous flights of fancy. But here we are, supposedly on the brink of launching another firearm amnesty.
A further problem is that only the SAPS can administer the amnesty. The exact same organisation that loses 8 times more guns per capita than civilians. The exact same organisation who recovers their own lost guns at a rate 15 times lower than that of civilian firearms. And, to put the cherry on top, the exact same organisation whose members sold thousands upon thousands of guns to criminals. Whether or not they even have the personnel and real estate capacity to pull this off is another question entirely.
Clearly nothing can possibly go wrong here.
If this amnesty will not result in the large-scale removal of criminally-held firearms from society, what is the point? If there is a high risk that the people who administrate the amnesty will leak the surrendered firearms to criminals, we are creating a bigger problem and not a solution.
We are making the same mistake
The supposed reason for the amnesty, is that people with expired licences can hand their guns in to the SAPS and then reapply. This doesn’t make any sense. Why not simply allow the expired licence holders to just reapply anyway? Their details reflect on the CFR’s database, so there is absolutely no reason to do things in this convoluted manner. The amnesty also defies Judge Tolmay’s court order which expressly states that all expired licences remain valid. Stubborn pigheaded refusal by the SAPS and CFR to comply with the ruling’s interim order is causing this mess. It is ironic that they are trying to dress the amnesty up as a concession of goodwill.
This amnesty will not make South Africa a safer country. I don’t think it is even intended to. What it will achieve, is to possibly circulate more arms to criminals. Again. It will sucker people into surrendering their lawfully-held property to the SAPS. Again. It will turn more people into soft targets by disarming them. Again.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. No, Albert Einstein did not in fact say that. But it is clever enough that he may just as well have. May sanity prevail.
Written by Gideon Joubert.
Gideon is the owner and editor of Paratus.