Gun bill 'could enfringe human rights'

Police would be given extensive powers of search and seizure in terms of a stringent new gun law and this could limit individual rights, said Dr Bernie Fanaroff of the National Crime Prevention Centre on Tuesday.

Briefing the national assembly's safety and security committee, he said the Firearms Control Bill, aimed at curbing illegal guns, created "powerful" new presumptions of guilt which would limit the rights of suspects.

"The constitution does allow the legislature to limit individual rights by statute, provided there is good reason," he pointed out.

Fanaroff said the presumptions would be used mainly in cases where illegal guns were discovered in a vehicle or house and could not be immediately connected to a specific individual.

"Because they are so powerful, police commanders, prosecutors, the internal complaints directorate and this parliamentary committee will have to keep a very sharp watch to ensure that they are not misused."

The police had complained for some time that the absence of presumptions on the illegal possession of guns, and the limitations of their powers to take fingerprints and DNA samples from people in the area where illegal guns had been found, had limited their ability to investigate.

The focus of the new licensing process was on the "licensing of the individual as a fit and proper person to own a firearm", Fanaroff said.

A person applying for a licence must state whether there is anything in his or her medical history which would have a bearing on their fitness to own a gun.

Two sworn affidavits dealing with the applicant's character are also required.

In terms of the bill, most handgun licences would only be valid for five years and rifles for 10 years.

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