Research (?) - GFSA/ OSF / IDASA

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Research (?) - GFSA/ OSF / IDASA

Postby Martin_tu » Tue, 2006-11-28 20:23

NB. All tabular data from the original document i.e. sections 4.2 and 5 have been deleted, (as they were exceptionally boring and apparently merely used to pad the report unnecessarily, (Martin_tu).

The recovery and destruction of firearms in South Africa. Commissioned by Gun Free South Africa Undertaken by Idasa Funded by the Open Society Foundation. (IDASA Pretoria), and Claire Taylor (Gun Free South Africa) August 2003


1. INTRODUCTION ................................................................................3

2. METHODOLOGY ..................................................................................4

2.1 INTERVIEWS.................................................................................. 5

2.2 DOCKET ANALYSIS ........................................................................ 5

2.3 FOCUS AREAS ............................................................................... 5

2.4 LIMITATIONS OF THE STUDY............................................................ 5

3. SAPS POLICY AND THE LEGAL FRAMEWORK ..........................................6

3.1 SAPS STRATEGY ON FIREARMS .........................................................6

3.2 LEGAL FIREARMS..............................................................................7

3.3 ILLEGAL FIREARMS......................................................................... 7

4. SUMMARY OF THE FINDINGS ................................................................8

4.1 INTERVIEWS................................................................................... 8

4.2 POLICE STATIONS AT A GLANCE.................removed........................ 13

5 PRESENTATION OF DATA AND ANALYSIS ........Removed..........................17

6 CONCLUSION ........................................................................................55

7 RECOMMENDATIONS ..............................................................................56

APPENDIX 1: FIREARM STATISTICS ...........................................................59

APPENDIX 2: LIST OF INTERVIEWEES…………..........………………………………………….…61

REFERENCES ............................................................................................62


This study assesses the effectiveness of police efforts to recover firearms that are used illegally or criminally and explores whether such firearms are in fact destroyed, as required by government policy.


Firearms are said to “feature prominently in violent crime and contribute directly to the distinctively high murder rate in SA”1. In its analysis of firearm use and distribution in the country, the National Crime Prevention Centre reports that firearms were used in almost half of all reported murders committed in 19982. The problem is much more global in that of the 500 000 people that are killed every year across the world, 300 000 of them are killed with small arms3. A significant number of other crimes such as robbery and rape are also carried out using firearms.

12 Chetty, R. Firearm Use and Distribution in South Africa, 2000, p10. Ibid.
3 Kirsten, A. “Small Arms Scourge” Business Day, 23 March 2001

National statistics show that the number of firearms recovered by SAPS is lower than that of firearms reported negligently lost or stolen. Statistics from the Central Firearms Register (see Appendix 1) show that for the period 1 January 1995 to 31 July 2003, 198 438 firearms were reported as lost or stolen – an average of 66 guns per day. However, only 125 032 firearms were recovered during this period – which is 63% of the total that are lost and stolen. While this recovery rate is commendable, the fact is that 37% of these guns i.e. 73 000 are still in illegal circulation. Considering that lost or stolen firearms make up a percentage of illegal firearms in South Africa, this figure of 73 000 is an underestimate of the number of illegal firearms in this country. Since firearms are robust commodities that can be used over and over again to perpetrate crimes, the importance of concerted recovery operations, including an amnesty, becomes clear.

Gun Free South Africa

Gun Free South Africa was launched in 1994 to reduce the number of firearms in the country through stricter legislation and changing people’s attitudes and thus reducing the demand for firearms.

This research was commissioned by Gun Free South Africa as part of its efforts to lobby government and police authorities to make the link between the number of firearms in circulation and the level of gun crime in South Africa and to prioritise reducing the number of firearms in circulation. In addition, when the new Firearms Control Act (No. 60 of 2000) comes into effect, it will reduce the number of legal guns in circulation in South Africa by limiting the number of firearms that an individual can own. It is possible that individuals will surrender a number of firearms to the South African Police Service (SAPS) either to get rid of surplus firearms or in response to wider amnesty programmes. This research seeks to identify the current capacity of the police to deal with such firearms and makes recommendations to strengthen the system.

Firearms Control Act

The new Firearms Control Act No. 60 of 2000 was not in effect at the time data was collected for this research, and thus there was no limit to the number of firearms an individual could own. This legislation will definitely reduce the number of firearms in circulation if implemented and enforced properly. Some of the practices such as giving negligent firearm owners a chance to sell their firearms as well as allowing police stations to auction firearms does not contribute to the reduction of firearms in the country.

Research Focus

Research was done between July and October 2002 in fourteen police stations in five provinces in order to understand what are the possible interventions that can be made at a micro level to increase the recovery and destruction rates of illegal firearms.

The task of the research was to look at three main areas:
First, the recovery and destruction of legal firearms, considering that the Firearms Control Act will limit the number of firearms an individual can own and will require individuals to get rid of surplus firearms if they do not qualify to be exempted.

Second, the recovery and destruction of illegal firearms, looking at recovery strategies to assess if they can be improved and ensure that recovered firearms do not remain unaccounted for in the SAP13 store in police stations.

Third, inquiring into the possibility of a national amnesty whereby people in possession of illegal firearms can hand them in without fear of reprisal in an effort to reduce the number of firearms in circulation in South Africa.

As will be seen later in the study, the bulk of the study focused on the recovery and destruction of illegal firearms. The police stations surveyed had not experienced handling of legal firearms except for the standardisation process referred to in section 4 of the report. This process was pitched at such a senior level of management that ordinary police officials did not engage with the process.


The study used qualitative and quantitative research techniques, including semi-structured interviews with key police officials and an analysis of closed dockets over a period of five years. Analysing dockets gives a broad picture of what happens to a firearm when recovered. The statements from police and complainants tell the story of what happened in each case and what crime was committed. Even in instances where the police did not recover a firearm, the dockets tell why a firearm was not recovered. As will be seen later in the report, the research is able to show for which category of crime a firearm was used, and (where relevant) the location it was recovered from and the circumstances under which it was recovered. This gives a sense of what works and what doesn’t for police authorities.

The interviews were used to corroborate and fill in the gaps in information that the research gleaned from the docket analysis. Also, the interviews were used to draw a much bigger picture in the process of recovering and destroying firearms, as the sample of the dockets was only 5%. Thus the experiences of the police start telling the story of the practicalities surrounding the issue of firearms and not just what the law says and the story told by the dockets.

2.1 Interviews

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with different categories of officials at police stations, including the station commissioners, heads of the detective branches, designated firearm officers, heads of crime prevention, clerks of the SAP13 stores and ordinary police officers. In addition to the police, local civic leaders that are involved in structures and organisations that are engaged in community safety were interviewed to establish their views on the issues and problems around firearms. A list of interviewees is appended in Appendix 2.

2.2 Docket analysis

An analysis of 5% of closed dockets for the period between 1997 and 2001 was undertaken at participating police stations to track the processing of firearms and the time it takes from recovery to the time the docket is closed and an instruction is given on what should happen to the firearm. The aim of the docket analysis was also to help identify problems and constraints during the recovery process that may be contributing to the apparent low rates of recovery. A total of 2 483 dockets in 14 police stations were analysed.

The categories of crime looked at for this period were murder, attempted murder, armed-robbery, illegal possession of a firearm and pointing of a firearm. With the assistance of staff in most of the police stations, a list of dockets falling within these categories was drawn up, a sample of 5% of each of the categories was worked out and then dockets were pulled for examination. Three of the 14 police stations did not have access to the electronic Crime Administration System (CAS). Researchers in these stations manually pulled out the dockets and did a physical calculation of the sample.

2.3 Focus areas

After consultations with officials in the research department of the SAPS Head Office, areas were selected using the high level of crime committed by firearms as the criterion while trying to maintain a good geographical spread. Police stations with a high incidence of firearm-related crime were then selected as research sites. Fourteen (14) police stations were selected that are spread over five provinces. The research sites for the Western Cape were Cape Town Central, Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain police stations. Sites for Gauteng included Hillbrow, Katlehong, Moroka, Pretoria Central and Sebokeng police stations. KwaZulu-Natal province consisted of Empangeni and KwaMashu police stations while Kanyamazane and Nelspruit police stations in Mpumalanga province were looked at. Finally, the sites for Eastern Cape were KwaZakhele and Umtata.

2.4 Limitations of the study

This research was both qualitative and quantitative in nature. Based on the fact that it focused on only 14 police stations, it does not claim to give a representative picture of what is happening in all the police stations across the country, not even at a provincial level. However, it does draw out issues around recovery and destruction of firearms at a micro level.

Second, not all police stations keep statistics on firearms that get sent for destruction. Even though keeping track of what happens to firearms at the end of each case requires a tally, this process does not take place in all the stations visited. The more organised police stations keep files for each year with instructions on the firearms that are in the SAP13 store but not the number that get sent for destruction. It was thus not easy to track the number of firearms that have been sent for destruction. One SAP13 clerk did not even remember sending firearms for destruction, despite the fact that he has been working at the station for more than ten years. It could have been that such information was restricted.

Third, there were a sizeable number of dockets that were not legible either because of the handwriting of the detective that investigated the matter or because of bad docket management, such as not entering facts in the investigation diary.

Fourth, it proved to be difficult to select a sample of dockets in police stations that did not have a CAS list. In some cases, their filing systems were not well organised, and we ended up with cases of some categories of crime and not others looked at by this study. In addition, researchers were not allowed in the docket stores of many police stations, and in two stations, the team was only given access to dockets involving illegal possession and pointing of a firearm.
Fifth, there was concern from the SAPS Head Office research department that certain questions relating to strategies of recovery would compromise the existing rate of recovery. The sensitivity of this information dictated that we did not ask in-depth questions around the success of operations with the police. It was therefore difficult to assess the role the community can play to help increase the level of recovery.

Finally, the focus areas are all in the major urban centres of the five provinces, and thus the study has a strong urban bias. Crime involving firearms in rural areas is therefore not part of this study, and thus the findings cannot be applied to police stations in rural areas.


3.1 SAPS Strategy on Firearms

The SAPS has a strategy on firearms, which aims “to eradicate the proliferation of firearms for use and availability in crime and violence in South Africa”4. The objectives of this strategy are to:
♦ Develop and maintain appropriate firearms related regulators through legislation, regulations, standing orders and national instructions;

Ensure effective control processes and procedures regarding firearms through the Central Firearm Register; Reduce and eradicate the illegal pool and criminal use of firearms through police operations to combat crime; and; Ensure the prevention of crime and violence through public civil awareness, crime prevention initiatives and education campaigns.

3.2 Legal firearms

Legal firearms include state-owned firearms as well as those that are legally owned by individuals and other juristic persons such as companies. The legal framework for privately held firearms is currently in transition. The current Arms and Ammunitions Act No. 75 of 1969 is soon to be replaced with the Firearms Control Act that contains provisions for stricter firearms control. The Firearms Control Act will more strictly control, for example, the number of firearms that people can own, as it allows individuals to own only one firearm for self-defence purposes. Schedule 1 of the Firearms Control Act will put in place a five year transitional period, when people who own more firearms than they are allowed in the new Act can dispose of their surplus firearms “in a lawful manner”5 – e.g. through selling them, giving them to new legal owners or destroying them. After this transition period, surplus firearms will be forfeited to the state and destroyed.6

The Arms and Ammunitions Act, it should be noted, already allows firearm license holders to request the destruction of their firearms. The procedure to be followed when seeking that a firearm be destroyed involves approaching a police station with the firearm and a copy of the licence to fill in the SAP 300 form “Cancellation of License to Possess an Arm”. On this form, the applicant states that the firearm should be destroyed and within a month the applicant’s name should be removed from Central Firearms Register and the firearm destroyed.7

SAPS Firearms Strategy, 2000 Firearms Control Act No. 60 of 2000, Schedule 1, Item 1(2)(a) and (b) Firearms Control Act No. 60 of 2000, Schedule 1, Item 1(3). GFSA,
“Getting rid of your legal firearm”, 2000

3.3 Illegal firearms

Over and above the legislation regulating firearms, there are internal national SAPS standing orders regulating processes in the police stations, including the handling of illegal firearms that are reported stolen or recovered. Standing Order 332 provides that stolen, lost and recovered firearms must be circulated.

Circulating a firearm means entering the details of such a firearm on the SAP 324 form and sending it to the Central Firearms Register, which keeps a national database of firearms. Therefore, when a firearm is reported lost, stolen or recovered the Central Firearms Register can identify the owner of such a firearm and whether it was reported stolen or lost.

When a firearm has been recovered, the responsible police officer has to complete a SAP 324 form and furnish the Central Firearm Register with the following details: SAP13 number case number name and address of the police station a full description of the firearm serial number of the firearm or the etching report from ballistic testing an IBIS report in the case of state-owned firearms.

There are instances when a firearm is recovered and a serial number has been filed off. Such a firearm has to undergo a chemical process to try and identify the serial number – this process is called “etching”. An IBIS report is completed after a ballistic test has been completed.

The SAPS can destroy confiscated, forfeited and surrendered firearms, where there is no longer a valid owner, where the valid owner cannot be found or where the valid owner wants to get rid of the firearm. However, and in contradiction to the government’s commitment to destroying such firearms as part of efforts to reduce violent crime in South Africa, instead of destroying these firearms, SAPS also auctions them off.8


This section examines some of the key findings of the study and gives an overall picture in the police stations assessed. It then briefly looks as each police station and its findings. Section 5 gives a detailed analysis of each police station looked at by this study.

4.1 Interviews
4.1.1 Only a fraction of firearms used in crime get recovered

A total of 2 483 cases of crime involving firearms for the period 1997-2001 were analysed. Of these cases, only 713 firearms were recovered, making the recovery rate a mere 28.71%. A large number of these firearms are found on suspects during police operations and in the suspects’ homes during an operation or investigation. The crime is usually illegal. 8 (Say what?! *Martin_tu*)

Section 38B of the Arms and Ammunitions Act and section 136 of the Firearms Control Act. Possession of a firearm and pointing of a firearm.

A crime that is mostly committed with a firearm is armed robbery, yet not many firearms are recovered from this category of crime. The majority of these crimes are unsolved and the dockets get closed “undetected,” denoting that no suspects were found. Dockets closed in this manner may be opened when a suspect can be linked to the crime.

Because firearms that are criminally used are often not recovered, it is impossible to trace the owner of these firearms. Some interviewees stated that they were starting to suspect that legal firearms were used to commit crime. The ISS study on the use of firearms in crime found after analysing 787 police dockets that both legal and illegal firearms are involved in firearm-related crime in South Africa.

Some of the cases analysed in this study, in which complainants were robbed of very small amounts of money, could be seen as proof of this (the rationale being that if you have an illegal gun, a crime already, why limit yourself to small pickings?) In one case a street vendor was robbed of R15 at gunpoint, in another case a complainant was robbed at gunpoint of his “Levi’s jeans”. “We see school children being robbed of their lunch money by the gangs in the neighbourhood on their way to school,” one interviewee also mentioned.

Whether legal or illegal guns were used in these cases, the point is that guns are being used to commit very serious as well as very petty crimes, so highlighting what happens when poor socio-economic conditions resulting from high unemployment and poverty rates are coupled with easy access to firearms.

Further, if illegal guns were used in these cases, or in any of the cases studied in this report, the question to be asked is ‘where did they come from?’ International and national research indicates that the vast majority, if not all illegal guns were once legal, and that they were diverted through negligent loss or theft into the illegal pool of weapons.

Added to this is that legal owners of firearms sometimes mishandle them. The findings of this research project indicate that licensed firearms are often misused in domestic violence settings, but that the all too often the complainant withdraws the charges, indicating that they know the perpetrator (see 4.1.2 below). Furthermore, one interviewee recounted how “people who have firearms take them [along] to social gatherings and show off…and this often provokes problems”.
All of this points to the benefits of tightening up on regulations controlling legal gun ownership – as the Firearms Control Act aims at doing.

The benefits of more rigorously controlling legal firearms, as well as undertaking concerted efforts to recover and destroy illegal firearms are underscored by referring to earlier research by GFSA, which shows that “stolen firearms are used in further violent crimes … [and] are part of the reasons for the levels of violent crime in SA.” In this study, Altbeker further asserts that firearms are durable goods and using this as the basis, he found that “there were … 3.6 murders, attempted murders and aggravated robberies committed with firearms in 1998 for every firearm stolen.” Therefore, Altbeker argues that stolen firearms are very likely used in one or even many crimes over a number of years. 9

9 Altbeker, A. “Are South Africans Responsible Firearm Owners? Evidence from 1,000 dockets”, 2000, page 9.

4.1.2 A sizeable number of cases get withdrawn.

Complainants withdraw a number of cases, particularly those of pointing a firearm. From analysing the dockets of such cases, it is clear that the complainant knows the perpetrator. It is often people who are in a domestic relationship of one kind or another. In one case, the complainant was chased by her husband who was shooting at her. While this complainant did not withdraw the case, many others do. One finds that the perpetrator is a boyfriend or husband clearly highlighting the issue of firearms being used to perpetuate domestic abuse.

Other cases get withdrawn by the prosecutor due to insufficient evidence. Insufficient evidence ranges from the complainant and the police not being able to prove their case because no firearm was found to complainants not coming to court to testify. In one police station, there were a couple of dockets where the police official did not bring the docket to court. In such a case, the prosecutor can remand a case but not indefinitely. If it keeps happening, s/he has to withdraw the case against the defendant.

4.1.3 A large proportion of recovered firearms do not have an instruction on them

Of the firearms recovered, there was no instruction on 67.6% of them (see table below), making these firearms unaccounted for by the police stations as per the closure of dockets. These firearms could still be at the police station or even lost, as there is no way of telling where each one of these is. “Police stations are over-flowing with firearms in the SAP13 stores …some [police] stations are fast running out of space, and we are trying very hard to help them clear the SAP13,” an interviewee said.

The SAPS and the Central Firearms Register are attempting to push for a possible solution to this problem by looking at the legalities of photographs of firearms being admissible in court instead of the actual firearm. While this may go some way in alleviating the problem of keeping a firearm as evidence in police stations, it needs to be an airtight solution to the problem and not lead to acquittals on technicalities because a firearm cannot be positively identified for evidentiary purposes. Firearms are currently kept in the SAP13 store, together with other evidence ranging from marijuana plants to jewellery and money and other stolen goods, for the duration of the trial. Some trials drag for a long time in court, even up to three or four years. All this time a firearm is kept in the police station.

That dockets get closed without an instruction on a firearm is a human error problem in that investigating officers responsible for closing the docket do not sign off on a firearm. Almost all the interviewees mentioned that firearms with no instruction on them are a result of “negligent detectives.”

4.1.4 Very few firearms get sent for destruction

Of all the firearms that were recovered in the sample of the study, only 13.9% got sent for destruction. The fact that such a large number of firearms had no instruction on them could mean that there were some that were meant to be sent for destruction but instead are piling up in the police station. “This [piling up of firearms] makes the police station a target for criminal elements,” an interviewee stated.

Sometimes the fact that there are so many firearms not getting sent for destruction may have to do with the fact that police feel inadequate with the firearms that get given to them as standard issue. One interviewee stated “criminals have far [more] advanced weapons than we have, and we have to face them while they are carrying machine guns”.

A related point was articulated by another interviewee, “I have never shot my firearm, and I have been in the police force for some time now…criminals shoot everyday and get more practise than we have as police”. This may lead to some types of firearms not getting sent for destruction to make it easy for the police to match the level of skill or power of criminals when apprehending them.

It also emerged from interviews with police officials that a substantial amount of firearms that are recovered have the serial numbers filed off. One interviewee mentioned a figure of “up to 95% of firearms we recover do not have serial numbers”. This requires that such a firearm be sent to ballistic testing centres for the “etching” process described earlier. “If the etching process is not successful, it becomes a problem to trace it to the original owner”, an interviewee said. Such a firearm should then be forfeited to the state and then destroyed. The backlog in the police station accumulates, and it seems a prioritisation process then takes place in respect of sending firearms for etching and the ballistic testing linking them to other crimes. Firearms recovered in murder cases then get priority, whereas those that were recovered and no suspect arrested don’t get such priority because the dockets get temporarily closed. These are the firearms that pile up in the police stations.

4.1.5 Even fewer firearms are sent back to owners

Only 83 (11.6%) of the 713 firearms recovered were sent back to their owners. This figure includes those firearms that were also sent to the reporting stations. It happens that a firearm is reported lost in one station but gets recovered in another area falling under a different police station. Such a firearm gets sent to the police station where it was reported stolen. It is this police station that has to then contact the owner and notify him/her that the firearm has been recovered.

Members of the public whose firearms have been stolen could follow up the case to see if the docket is closed and what has happened to the firearm. A story was related of how a person whose firearm was stolen followed up the case and discovered that it had been recovered. He took it upon himself to inquire about the matter; he was taken to the SAP13 to point it out and was asked to choose another one when he could not find his. Police officials point to the caseload per detective that leads to the lack of such follow through in each case. One detective interviewed said “detectives are overstretched …each has about 300 cases at a time and has to attend to all of them… as such, they can’t to their work properly”.

4.1.6 A very small amount of firearms are sent for ballistic testing

Sending firearms for IBIS / ballistic testing is meant to trace the owner as well as examine if the firearms can be linked to other crimes under investigation. Therefore, not sending firearms for IBIS / ballistic testing makes it impossible to ascertain this information. This could be the reason for the many firearms piling in the SAP13 store. Many interviewees alluded to the amount of time it takes for a firearm to come back to the station.

Not sending firearms for ballistic testing means that the already low number of cases where a firearm is recovered are investigated in isolation, when the firearms could be linked to other crimes, even in the same area. It may be true that “the pool of illegal firearms may not be that big, but the same firearms [are] used over and over to commit more crimes,” as an interviewee stated. This point is linked to the one made earlier about the fact that firearms are not being recovered.

4.1.7 Amnesty not believed to help reduce illegal firearms that have been criminally used.

Interviewees in police stations and the community were asked about the efficacy of an amnesty as a way of reducing the pool of illegal firearms in South Africa. Both the police and community individuals did not overwhelmingly support the idea of an amnesty as a measure to net illegal firearms that have been criminally used. Most informants agreed that an amnesty would only be successful if it was limited to “illegal possession of a firearm” and not to other serious crimes. As one interviewee put it, such an amnesty would collect the large “number of firearms that are sitting in people’s homes after the owners die, and people do not know that they have to apply for a licence.”

Interviewees were less supportive of a blanket amnesty, which calls for the non-prosecution of people guilty of a crime. This was because they did not believe that an amnesty could lead to a significant reduction of firearms in the community. Some felt that “gangs will never let their [guns] go because they will be out of business… Their business is to shoot each other and commit crime with guns… They will not believe that the other side will also hand their guns over.”

These findings indicate that if an amnesty is declared, that it would have to involve a massive public education drive, to first alert people to the benefits of amnesty, and second, to alert them to the real risks of prosecution for not taking advantage of handing in illegal firearms during this period.

4.2 Police Stations at a glance (removed).
5. (removed)

This research has provided a snapshot of the processes involved in recovering firearms and has examined what happens in 5% of firearm-related cases in 14 police stations in the country. While this sample is hardly representative, it gives an indication of some of the problems surrounding firearm crime in the country and what happens to the firearms when recovered by the police.

In the 14 police stations the study focused on, the study has shown the following:
• Armed robbery is top of the list of crime committed with firearms. In 11 of the 14 police stations that were looked at by this study, more firearms were used in armed robbery than in the other categories of crime that were analysed. Firearms are used not only to rob businesses but also individuals, even for petty crimes such as robbing people of their cell-phones, small cash and clothes.

• Very few cases of firearm-related crime get to court as most of them go undetected or get withdrawn by complainants. This is particularly true of cases involving the pointing of firearms, where the complainant knows the perpetrator. The few cases that do get to court are often withdrawn in court, as the evidence is usually not sufficient to prosecute. In some instances, complainants do not appear in court for various reasons. With crime committed in the cities, complainants usually do not reside in the area and thus find it difficult to attend court hearings. Also for the type of crime that takes place in the cities, cases get reported to get case numbers to claim from insurance. The interest of getting suspects arrested in usually low.

• The rate of recovering firearms that were used to commit crimes was low in most cases analysed. This means that firearms can be used repeatedly to commit additional crimes. There is a growing suspicion that it might be people with licensed firearms that commit petty crime such as muggings with firearms. This assertion, of course, is not substantiated.

• Firearms are recovered from cases of illegal possession of firearms and murder usually on the suspect at the crime scene and through stopping and searching suspects on the streets.

• Very few firearms get sent for ballistic testing to determine if they are linked to other crimes under investigation. This is despite the fact that so much crime goes undetected. This perpetuates the notion that each crime is committed with a different firearm, making the pool of illegal firearms seem bigger than it may actually be. It is possible, though the extent is not very clear, that firearms get used repeatedly to commit crime.

• Very few firearms get sent for destruction, or if they are sent, this is not indicated in the dockets. The docket analysis indicates that the majority of recovered firearms remain in the SAP13 store long after the docket has been closed. This makes it very difficult for the firearms to be properly managed and accounted for, and so uncontrolled. Some of these firearms make their way back into the pool of illegal firearms.


There is definitely space for further research into the recovery and destruction of firearms. Firstly, a larger sample and more focused areas could be looked at to give a much more representative picture of what happens to firearms that have been recovered. Also, tracking firearms with an instruction could be useful to ensure that firearms do reach their owners. There were many cases in which firearms were reported stolen from one police station and recovered in another. The duty of the latter police station is to send it back to the first police station to get it to the owner. This research could not track such firearms

Based on the study conducted the following are the recommendations that could improve the processes of recovering and destroying firearms to reduce the number of firearms used for criminal purposes.

1. Stricter regulations

The Firearms Control Act controls the number of firearms that an individual can have. It also stipulates the conditions under which a firearm licence can be granted to an applicant. For instance, an applicant needs to own a safe to keep a firearm, and police officers need to do an inspection to ensure that the applicant complies with the legislation. Also applicants need to obtain competency certificates making it difficult for people with certain criminal records to get a licence to own a firearm.

While these provisions will also impact on the pool of illegal firearms, attention needs to be paid on the negligent use of firearms by legal owners. Even legal firearms get used negligently by owners, and very few such cases ever get to court because they get withdrawn by complainants. Once such a charge is laid, it should not be the prerogative of the complainant to withdraw the case, but a criminal process needs to be pursued by the state. If found guilty, the licence needs to be revoked, and the person should not be allowed to own a firearm.

2. Awareness campaign about the Firearms Control Act

There needs to be campaigns targeted at educating the public on firearms and specifically at the requirements of the Firearms Control Act. The public needs to know that they need to get rid of their excess firearms and how they can go about doing so.

3. Effective and visible policing
Visible policing is necessary in communities as most illegal firearms are found on the suspects during specific operations to reduce crime. Special operations to stop and search suspects, roadblocks and home searches currently conducted need to be reaffirmed.

4. Better docket management

This research has shown how poorly some of the stations manage dockets, which leads to surplus firearms remaining in the police stations even after the dockets have been closed. Investigating officers do not always write an instruction on the docket as to what should happen to the recovered firearm. Proper docket management will rid the SAP13 store of excess firearms and will prevent firearms from leaving the police station without authorisation. Strict measures need to be taken if the latter happens.

An accurate up-to-date record of firearms in police custody should also be kept by all police stations in order to keep track of them. Having such a record would enhance the national firearm strategy to reduce illegal firearms in that reliable statistics at police station level could be regularly fed into this national process. It is important that documentation of all the processes that the firearm goes through be put back into the docket for reference purposes, as dockets are kept for some time after they are closed.

5. All firearms need to be tested.

According to the data collected, not all firearms that are recovered are sent for ballistic testing, yet so much firearm-related crime goes undetected. While it is understood that testing centres are currently inundated by the number of firearms needing to be tested, establishing more centres may prove worthwhile in reducing firearm-related crime.

6. Firearms without serial numbers should immediately be sent for destruction

Up to 95% of recovered firearms do not have serial numbers, according to interviews with police. Some of the numbers cannot be recovered even after the etching process. Such firearms should be forfeited to the state and sent for destruction as soon as it is possible to do so. They must not be kept in police stations when owners cannot be traced.

7. Capacity building for police officials

Linked to improving current docket management practices, police officials need capacity building generally. This ranges from taking of statements to advising complainants of their rights. Some police stations are already doing this, especially around issues of child and domestic abuse. It is, however, important to note that some police officials received training only when they joined, and they feel inadequate when faced with situations such as robbery. The comment that criminals have more experience with different firearms should not be taken lightly. It is a fact that most of the violent crime involving firearms needs a police force that is equipped to deal with the criminals.

8. Amnesty

An amnesty can only be considered in cases where a person is in illegal possession of a firearm. An awareness campaign around this is necessary, considering that there are people that have unwillingly been left with firearms that they do not own: when owners die, for instance. These people are unknowingly in violation of the law. An amnesty in this regard can help reduce the pool of illegal firearms.

While the state may want to prosecute suspects for having firearms that are linked to crimes, if there is a commitment to reduce firearms a concession may need to be made by way of an amnesty. Whereas ballistic testing may be used to link firearms to crimes for the purpose of closing dockets, people handing in guns during an amnesty must be assured of non-prosecution. This will increase the rates of recovery of illegal firearms.

A limited time period may need to be imposed for such an amnesty. It is however, disappointing that while government says that it is committed to ridding the country of illegal firearms, one still finds that police stations hold auctions, at which they auction off excess stock of recovered firearms.

APPENDIX 1: FIREARM STATISTICS Provided by the CFR (Central Firearm Register) in Pretoria.
Year Firearms Stolen Firearms Lost Total – Lost & Stolen Recovered Firearms & %13 Firearms sent back to legal owners & %14 Firearms Destroyed & %15
1995 14 011 1 034 15 045 9 834 3 123
(41 per day) 65% 32%
1996 17 079 1 541 18 620 11 185 4 184
(51 per day) 60% 37%
1997 24 792 4 217 29 009 10 750 3 443
(79 per day) 37% 32%
1998 22 859 6 373 29 232 11 971 3 362
(80 per day) 41% 28%
1999 23 400 91 23 491 12 231 3 997
(64 per day) 52% 33%
2000 22 862 68 22 930 14 773 3 643 12 416
(63 per day) 64% 25% 84%
2001 22 871 57 22 928 18 311 3 972 30 023
(63 per day) 80% 22% 164%
2002 25 047 85 25 132 22 509 4 062 42 379
(69 per day) 90% 18% 188%
2003 11 968 83 12 051 13 468 2 452 36 866
31/07/03 (57 per day) 60% 18% 274%
TOTAL 184 889 13 549 198 438 125 032 32 238 121 684
(66 per day) 63% 26% 97%

Clearly, there are a number of points to note and questions to be asked about the above table:16

Director H. Burger
Senior Superintendent Coetzee
Inspector de Bruin
Captain de Jager
Mr. Dludla
Captain du Plessis
Senior Superintendent Erasmus
Superintendent M. Esterhuizen
Ms. Cheryl Griffiths
Inspector Hendricks
Constable Janjies
Captain Kleynskeldt
Inspector Lekalakala
Captain Linde
Director D. Louw
Inspector Lubbe
Inspector Mabitle
Mr. Khehla Mahlala
Superintendent Maji
Inspector Makgatho
Senior Superintendent Manyathela
Mr. Ashely Masena
Director E. Mawela
Inspector Mkheswa
Sergeant Mnisi
Ms. Portia Mokgawa
Inspector Mphahlele
Mr Benjamin Mthembu
Senior Superintendent Ndlovu
Director Ndophu
Inspector C. Ngcobo
Superintendent Pedro
Captain Petsana
Director Reddy
Superintendent Roelfse
Superintendent Smit
Director Solomons
Mr. Kgosana Thekwane
Captain Themba
Inspector S. Titus
Captain van Rensburg
Inspector van Wyk
Director Zondi
Superintendent Zondi
Superintendent S. Zondi

Altbeker, A. “Are South Africans Responsible Firearm Owners? Evidence from 1,000 dockets”, 2000
Chetty, R. (ed) Firearm Use and Distribution in South Africa, National Crime Prevention Centre Firearm Programme, 2000.
Gun Free South Africa Newsletter, vol. 5, no 3, 2001.
Kirsten, A. “Small Arms Scourge” Business Day, 23 March 2001
South African Press Association, 26 April 2002
"I'd rather have a gun and not need it than vice versa."
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