Police committee supports illegal gun amnesty

The National Assembly’s police committee on Tuesday recommended the green light be given to a proposed amnesty for surrendering illegal firearms from January 11 to April 11 next year.

However, a proposal that firearms be handed in anonymously during the amnesty was withdrawn, and those making use of the offer will have to provide personal details to police when handing in weapons.

In documents before the committee, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said President Jacob Zuma recently announced that everything possible should be done to reduce the pool of firearms in the country, to combat serious violent crimes committed with guns.

As part of the strategy, Mthethwa intended declaring an amnesty for surrendering illegal firearms in terms of the Firearms Control Act for the period January 11, 2010 to April 11, 2010.

Such an amnesty would only be valid if approved by Parliament.

In his draft notice of the declaration, Mthethwa outlined the conditions for amnesty.

Illegal firearms could be handed to a police officer on duty at any South African Police Service (SAPS) station. It also stated that no details of the person handing in the firearms would be taken down if the person wanted to use the anonymous process for amnesty.

The notice further outlined the procedure to be followed if the person wanted to apply to licence the illegal firearm.

Proper processes would be put into place to ensure auditing of the records of all firearms surrendered in terms of the amnesty, he said.

But, members of Parliament from all parties raised strenuous objections to the provision for anonymity.

Police would have no way of coupling a firearm with the person anonymously handing it in if it was found to have been used in a crime.

Actual criminals would never hand in their guns anyway. They would rather “throw them in the bush or the ocean” to dispose of them.

In any event, the amnesty would provide the reassurance to people giving their names that they would not be prosecuted.
That was the whole point of the amnesty, so there was no reason not to give their names, various MPs contended.

Dianne Kohler-Barnard of the Democratic Alliance said if the clause stayed, “we’re on a highway to nowhere. We’ll never track it [the gun] back.

“Absolutely, that clause must go,” she said.

The African National Congress’s Annelise van Wyk said there was clearly a need for amnesty.

“I don’t doubt that. I also don’t doubt it’s an excellent idea to provide amnesty, also for those people who have missed [previous] deadlines so they are not criminalised, either to hand in their weapons or to then apply for licences.

“But I seriously have a problem with this anonymous issue. It doesn’t make sense to me,” Van Wyk said.

The head of the Central Firearms Registry Director Jaco Bothma, said the amnesty was aimed at getting illegal firearms off the streets.

Previous such amnesties had been quite successful.

Secretary of Police Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane said they were happy to take out the anonymity clause.

“Because I don’t think it’s fundamental to what we’re trying to do.

“If you look at who the amnesty is focused on, I don’t think that fundamentally we will be altering the intention of the amnesty by taking out the anonymity clause,” she said.

The committee unanimously approved a report recommending that the National Assembly approve Mthethwa’s draft declaration of amnesty as amended.—Sapa

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