PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma must completely ban gun ownership by civilians in the country.

This law should also apply to the police and army when they are off duty, Azapo general secretary Strike Thokoane said in a statement yesterday.

This after Zuma said at the official launch of the presidential hotline in Pretoria on Wednesday: "Its worrying. There are many guns floating and many people are killed. Everyone with a gun becomes a hero even the cowards."

Thokoane said: "It is estimated that there are more than seven million illegal guns in this country. With legal ones we have more than 14 million guns in the hands of civilians.

"Why are we surprised at the levels of violent crime involving firearms? It is the legal gun ownership market that is feeding criminals with guns. Every illegal gun was once legal."

He said neighbouring countries had stricter gun laws and their crime levels were lower and less violent.

Gun Free SA chairperson Pam Crowsley said: "Guns feed directly into escalating levels of fear and violence so we call for a gun free South Africa.

"All South Africans want to live without fear and a gun free South Africa will go a long way to preventing the devastation and trauma we see daily in our media brought about by gun violence. It is not a right in this country to own a gun. In our Constitution we have a right to life. Guns in no way contribute to that right."

But the SA Gun Association (Saga) and Black Gun Owners Association (BGOA) dismissed the claims.

Saga spokesperson Martin Hood said: "The government should not blame its failed policies on licensed gun owners. If they ban guns people will not be able to protect themselves."

BGAO chairperson Abios Khoele said: "The president must lead by example. He also has bodyguards. They are not carrying knives, are they?"