SA gun amnesty welcomed 'but surrendered weapons must be safeguarded'

People who hand in guns must be given a receipt for the weapon.
People who hand in guns must be given a receipt for the weapon.
Image: 123RF/Roger Lamkin

SA's experience of firearm amnesties confirmed they were effective in recovering guns, including unwanted, unauthorised and illegal weapons, Gun Free SA said on Thursday.

The organisation welcomed the declaration by police minister Bheki Cele on Wednesday of a six-month national firearm amnesty, starting on December 1.

The group said it was the fourth such amnesty. Previous rounds had seen the recovery of more than 120,000 firearms and 1.8-million rounds of ammunition.

“Over one third of the guns [45,133] and ammunition [738,028] recovered in the 2005 and 2010 amnesties were illegally held,” the organisation said. It said the impending amnesty was being implemented within the context of a national gun violence “emergency”.

The latest crime statistics showed guns to be the leading cause of murder (47% of murders in 2018/19 were from gunshots). In Gauteng, gunshots had overtaken motor vehicle collisions as the leading cause of death in the province.

“If the 2019/20 amnesty is undertaken as part of a comprehensive strategy aimed at recovering and destroying the existing pool of firearms and limiting the flow of new firearms into communities, it holds the potential to begin reversing SA's gun violence crisis,” said Gun Free SA director Adele Kirsten.

Gun Free said a concern around the latest amnesty was whether police had systems in place to ensure that guns and ammunition handed in were permanently removed from communities. This was based on various incidents in which weapons handed in for destruction in the past had leaked from police stores back to the streets.

Kirsten said the safeguarding of guns and ammunition from the point of hand-in through the chain of storage and transport until the moment of destruction was paramount.

“To verify the effectiveness of these systems, it is absolutely critical that an official independent observer with monitors in all provinces is appointed to ensure oversight and transparency and to identify problems as soon as possible so that these can quickly be dealt with,” she said.

The amnesty allows people with illegal guns or whose licences had expired to turn them in without facing prosecution.

SowetanLIVE's sister publication BusinessLIVE reported on Thursday that people will have to surrender weapons and  ammunition to a designated amnesty officer, who had to provide a receipt.

Cele said ballistics tests would be conducted on all surrendered firearms to check if they were used in a crime.