Critical Evaluation of the FCA Amendment Bill Social-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA)
The Civilian Secretariat of Police published proposed amendments to the Firearms Control Act of 2000 (FCA) for public comment on 21 May 2021. It also published the document upon which the proposed amendments are based – the Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA).
Considering the important role of the SEIA as the foundation, it is vital that a thorough appraisal is performed of its contents. The document must meet certain minimum standards to be considered useful, with specific reference to the following:
- Is the SEIA problem-statement(s) formulated honestly?
- Is the SEIA’s treatment of the data and figures accurate?
- Does the SEIA give an honest look at the position contrary to the bill?
- Does the SEIA provide honest alternatives to the bill, or does it take it as given that the bill is the only justifiable way forward?
- Is the SEIA’s costing exercise accurate, i.e., are all the relevant costs (to society, the economy) honestly recognised and considered?
- Does it appear as though the SEIA drafters had any scope for coming to any other conclusion, or is there an evident confirmation/selection bias in favour of the bill?
Unfortunately, there are a legion of extensive and crippling problems with almost all of the above. To such a serious extent that I advance the considered opinion that the document in its entirety should be discarded as unusable.
We will now proceed to dissect and discuss the most noteworthy findings.
The Problematic Problem Statement
The SEIA problem-statements are not formulated honestly. It starts by stating that the “proliferation of firearms creates a serious social problem in South Africa”. There is no clear indication as to what the serious social problem is – one is led to infer that it is violent crime and murder. It is also, in many respects, untrue.
Firstly, there is no correlation (in fact, there is rather a reverse correlation) between civilian firearm ownership and violent crime. It is also a fallacy to confuse correlation with causation. Something that the SEIA repeatedly does by explicitly referring to civilian firearm ownership as a causal factor of violent crime.
Secondly, there is no proliferation of firearms in South Africa – according to the 2017 Small Arms Survey, South Africa placed 89th with a mere 9,7 guns in civilian possession per 100 people. This is fewer than Chile (12,1), Russia (12,3), Australia (14,5), Germany (19,6), New Zealand (26,3), Austria (30,0), Serbia (39,1), and the USA (120,5). All of which have markedly lower homicide rates than ours.
The problem-statement essentially claims that South Africa has suffered a marked and consistent increase in violent crime and murder, which is caused by the increased availability of firearms and that their licensed owners aren’t required to redo competency tests, and that the problem is sustained because the FCA doesn’t sufficiently limit civilian firearm ownership (as well as the “problem” of the High Court ruling in favour of firearm owners).
Now, pertaining the latter, it is incredible for the author of a SEIA to claim that a High Court judgement is problematic. Laying the blame for increased violence and criminality at the feet of a court upholding the law as written is bizarre.
As for the other claims in the problem statement – they are unsubstantiated, unreferenced, and unrealistically narrow. The problem-statement takes the complex issue of crime and violence in South Africa, and lays it squarely and solely at the feet of civilian firearm ownership. It is entirely incorrect and wholly unrealistic to treat civilian firearm ownership as a causal factor for crime and violence – there is no proof or evidence thereof at all.
The document also totally ignores the documented drivers of crime and violence – economic (high rates of poverty and unemployment) and social factors, low levels of social trust and high levels of social friction, failures of the criminal justice system, et cetera – as if they do not exist, or have no material effect at all. Which is farcical to the extreme.
Shockingly, no elaboration on the current state of the SAPS as a significant (and perhaps even dominating) factor of the high rate of crime and violence is made.
South Africa is the 6th most-homicidal nation on Earth (as per the World Bank’s publicly available data after correcting for outliers), and our homicide rate has increased every single year since 2011. The SAPS is presently in the middle of three years of consecutive budget cuts amounting to 19-billion Rand, and the National Commissioner of Police (prior to these cuts being actioned) admitted to Parliament in October 2018 that the SAPS is already “overstretched”, and that it is “impossible” for the police to fulfil its constitutional mandate.
This means that the SAPS cannot fulfil the following obligations:
- Prevent, Combat, and Investigate Crime.
- Maintain Public Order.
- Protect and Secure the inhabitants of the Republic and their property.
- Uphold and Enforce the Law.
To the great detriment of the document, none of these highly significant factors are explored or even touched on.
For the problem-statement to be properly formulated, it needs to acknowledge the multitude of underlying factors correlated to crime and violence, and correctly incorporate and control for them with adequate referencing and quantification. Unfortunately the way it has been compiled creates the strong impression that the SEIA is agenda-driven for the purposes of reaching a preconceived conclusion.
Poor Treatment of Data and Figures
The SEIA does not treat data and figures in an accurate manner. The document is littered with numerous egregious examples, and for the sake of brevity I include only a few noteworthy ones.
First off, none of the claims made in the problem-statement are substantiated or even referenced. Fallacious reasoning along the lines of murder and robbery being “crimes most likely to be committed with a firearm” without providing proof as to the origins of such claims abound.
Recent figures (from the 2019/20 crime statistics published by SAPS) state that out of 126 493 contact crimes, only 20 927 (16,54%) were committed by use of a firearm. This directly and meaningfully contradicts the abovementioned claim published in the SEIA document.
The author then continues by stating “an additional 1,362 illegal firearms and rounds of ammunition were recovered in the same reporting period. This could possibly indicate the greater availability of firearms.”
This is again a baseless statement and supposition at best. The tenuous link between the number of firearms recovered and the number in circulation is not even estimated or compared. The recovery would more likely be linked to the increase in the number of robberies with aggravating circumstances. It stands to reason if there are more robberies, there are more opportunities for recovery.
Another problematic statement is the claim that “in 2012, research by the Medical Research Council (MRC) of South Africa claims that 57% of women killed in South Africa are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends and that licenced firearms are used in 75% of cases where a firearm is used.”
This research needs to be made available – there is no reference, link, or footnote identifying which research this is. It is therefore impossible to ascertain what research methodology was used, how statistical inference was applied, and if the sample sizes were sufficient or if the published outcomes are even remotely valid.
Additionally, there is no mention what so ever regarding the actual proportion of intimate partner violence perpetrated by use of firearms: so it is impossible to obtain a remotely accurate estimation of the overall picture. Equally significantly, the research in question was published 9 years ago, inferring the dataset it contains must be well over a decade old.
The rest of the data and figures within the SEIA are of the same quality as these examples – which illustrate cherry-picked research, correlation confused with causation, and either deliberate or negligent misrepresentation of the statistics without meaningful context.
Curtailing my own cynicism, but this inaccurate treatment of data and figures is incompetent at best, or blatantly dishonest for the purpose of supporting an agenda at worst.
Contains No Other Positions Contrary to the Bill
The authors of the SEIA do not even once attempt to explore the advantages of proficient and lawful firearm ownership among civilians. There are many relevant discussion points in this regard, such as Ronald Noble (the former Secretary General of Interpol) stating the national security advantages of an armed and trained citizenry, which are wholly omitted. Instead the SEIA is utterly one-sided, and treats the existence of civilian gun owners entirely as a driver for crime and violence.
The SEIA document states that the problem of “high levels of gun-related crime and violence in society” arises and persists because the “FCA does not sufficiently limit the number of firearms”. This statement is not quantified or expanded upon, and no references in support of its rather terminal conclusion are provided. It is merely stated as fact, sans substantiation.
The authors continue by asking which “groups whose behaviour give rise to the identified problem (of crime and violence)?” and then supply their answer as “licensed gun owners”. Their reason? Purely because licensed gun owners allegedly drive the “availability and proliferation of firearms”. Again this is simply stated as fact without any substantiation at all.
To summarise – because gun owners exist, South Africa suffers from rampant violence and crime.
This is not a well-reasoned or rational argument. The fact that no supporting evidence bar unquantified conjecture is supplied, is nothing less than shocking.
Continuing along this trend, the SEIA identifies “licence holders” as a “problem” because they won two court cases against the Minister of Police – one which ruled that all licences in terms of the 1969 Act remain lawful, and the other which found the renewal provisions of the FCA (sections 24 and 28) to be unconstitutional.
In this instance the authors of the SEIA blame lawful firearm owners for the prevailing high rates of crime and violence because they successfully challenged unconstitutional and harmful provisions of the FCA in a court of law.
This is again an utterly bizarre conclusion not only devoid of rationality, but which also constructs a false causal direction wholly based on a perverse misinterpretation of legal process and procedures. Another shocking display of poor and malicious reasoning.
This is the full extent of the SEIA’s consideration of contrary positions. No examples are given pertaining the successful lawful use of firearms in the defence of life, of which there are thousands (if not tens of thousands) of cases every year. Nor are the social and economic benefits and importance of sport shooting and hunting even mentioned.
Hence by not even acknowledging the existence of highly-legitimate contrary positions, the SEIA severely undermines its own objectivity and legitimacy.
Total Absence of Honest Alternatives
When conducting a socio-economic impact assessment, it is of critical importance that all viable practical alternatives are explored and tested. This was simply not done in the SEIA underpinning the proposed FCA amendments.
In every section where the proposed problem of high levels of crime and violence are unpacked and discussed, the underlying issue is almost always identified as the FCA not being prohibitive enough. A position that is not supported by any statistics, facts, or reasoned surmising – like nearly all claims in the document, it is merely stated and the reader must simply accept what is written at face value.
To exacerbate this issue further, the authors consistently bemoan the lack of effective implementation of the FCA as a major contributing factor to the identified problems, yet offer not a single proposal in order to rectify this shortcoming and make the implementation of the Act more efficient and effective. Instead they take the irrational route of proposing more onerous legislation in order to offset the inability of the authorities to effectively enforce existing legislation.
Considering the above, it is therefore bizarre that the impact of policing, and significant challenges facing it (at national, provincial, regional, and metropolitan levels) and potential solutions for them are not even mentioned. Neither is the present state of the criminal justice system, which is reportedly near-collapse.
Most surprisingly, for a document titled as a “socio-economic impact assessment”, the socio-economic factors driving crime and violence that urgently require significant attention (such as record-high unemployment) are given the merest of mentions only, with no analysis or even attempts at discussion.
And here another egregious error is committed – firearm ownership is treated as a causal factor of violent crime (no evidence of this claim is given), which in turn is positioned as a causal factor of low economic growth (no evidence is provided here, either). This goes contrary to the accepted fact that economic factors (such as low growth and the associated negative externalities thereof) are, in fact, a significant driver of crime and violence.
Of course one can rationally treat violence and crime as a significant “tax” on any economy, but then it must be thoroughly quantified and adequately explored. Including the various manners in which crime and violence manifest themselves. Yet assigning such a disproportionately colossal weight to civilian firearm ownership as a causal factor, especially when it is inversely correlated with crime and violence, is unreasonable to the extreme, and infers malice.
Lastly, our national crisis of education and the immensely negative impact it holds for our entire society is not even mentioned.
Instead only two possible policy options are listed – the preferred one of amending the FCA in order to restrict lawful firearm ownership, or keep the status quo as is.
By boiling an immensely complex set of challenges and issues down to a grossly oversimplified binary choice is simply not acceptable in the context of a SEIA.
Absent, Perverted and Inaccurate Costing
The authors of the SEIA calculated no direct or indirect costs for the relevant stakeholders and sectors what so ever.
The negative effects and externalities of the proposed restrictions on civilian firearm ownership on the safety and security of private citizens is not quantified or explored. This is a debilitating omission in no small part due to the extensive identified problems affecting policing mentioned earlier.
The proposals’ negative effects on the agricultural, hunting, and conservation industries and sectors are equally unlisted and unquantified. Considering that tens of thousands of jobs in these sectors, and entire communities dependent upon them, are at risk of being obliterated, the failure of the authors to account for these effects is shocking. Equally, nothing is said about the potential impact on conservation itself – which is another glaring omission due to the vital link between hunting and conservation. Instead, the “Environmental Sustainability” cost is perversely listed as “not applicable”.
Lastly, the firearm industry – including wholesale, manufacturing, retail, gunsmithing, et cetera – and the sport shooting sector is entirely ignored. No forward and backward linkages (both economic and societal) are quantified, listed, or even mentioned. This is yet another industry which directly creates tens of thousands of meaningful employment opportunities and billions of Rands of revenue annually.
With an inexplicable absence of logic, the authors readily proclaim the disastrous effects of crime and violence on economic growth and employment, yet completely fail at exploring said effects pertaining their own proposals.
Instead the SEIA provides a disgracefully amateurish and dishonest attempt at a costing exercise, in which blatantly untrue statements (such as the claim that firearm owners “do not have to undergo a competency assessment to obtain a firearm licence) sit alongside criminally oversimplistic and inaccurate claims (such as that businesses and society’s only costs in this regard originate from firearms circulating in society). None of the costing claims are referenced or quantified.
Confirmation Bias and Foregone Conclusions
There is a clear thread of confirmation and selection bias that runs through the entire document – from the problem statement right through to the conclusion and summary.
Due to the complete absence of honest engagement with workable alternative options, or even the remotely adequate exploration of the variety of existing drivers feeding the problem, the authors deliberately pave a yellow brick road to their conclusion.
In the SEIA’s summary, the authors simply state that the “only way” to address their problem statement, is to impose their preferred option of amending the FCA as per their recommendations.
This indicates that the contents of the Bill were preconceived, and the SEIA then tailored in order to lend support to the predetermined outcome, regardless of the myriad of facts, positions, and alternatives to the contrary.
The SEIA is a document plagued by fatal flaws. Its problem statement is deceitful, the treatment of data and figures shockingly substandard and academically dishonest – bordering on fraudulent, there is a complete and deliberate omission of honest alternatives, all contrary positions are entirely ignored, costing is perverted and hardly present, and the entire effort is tied together with a ridiculously transparent foregone conclusion.
That this document now serves as the foundation for a seriously-proposed legislative amendment is outrageous. It transgresses every basic parameter of what can be considered a reasonable socio-economic impact assessment.
We therefore reiterate that the SEIA must be withdrawn and scrapped as invalid and unusable. By implication this means that the proposed FCA amendment bill, which is constructed upon the erroneous and false conclusions contained within the SEIA, must equally be withdrawn and discarded.
Written by Gideon Joubert.
This document forms part of the Free Market Foundation’s submission to the CSP.
Gideon Joubert is the owner and editor of Paratus, an online resource advocating for responsible firearm ownership. He is also a firearm instructor and security consultant.