Durban - Police Minister Bheki Cele has fired another salvo in the war against illegal high-calibre weapons, but critics say it misses the target.
Cele said the draft amendment to the Private Security Industry Regulation Act aimed to remove high-calibre weapons from public spaces and make them safer.
The draft proposals would limit security companies’ use of such weapons. Armed response teams would be able to use only shotguns or handguns. Use of semi-automatic weapons would be allowed only in the transportation of cash or assets.
Security companies say their criminal adversaries have vast arsenals and the regulations put security staff and the public’s lives at risk. They said they would challenge the regulations.
Cele denied the companies’ claims in a statement yesterday.
“These regulations have limited impact on the security officers and will assist those who are at high risk. It will force employers to use appropriate guns, as well as to control the use of firearms and uniforms,” said his spokesperson Reneilwe Serero.
The laws would “control the use of certain calibres in public areas and mostly bar security service providers (companies) from using calibres similar to the ones used by the South African police”.
Among the draft proposals is that security companies be limited to the use of handguns and shotguns for armed response, private investigator services, environmental protection or anti-poaching services, close protection and protection and security at national key points.
Legal adviser at Marshall Security, Dave Campbell, said if the proposals were enacted they would “endanger our staff and the public we seek to protect”.
Speaking to Independent on Saturday about the proposed regulations gazetted on May 31, he said they sought to disarm the security industry, limiting their ability to protect the citizens they vowed to protect.
“We come up against gangsters with automatic weapons which fire several rounds of ammunition at once and we are expected to use shotguns and handguns which fire only one round at a time.”
A proposed regulation restricts the use of armed guards to accompanying valuables in transit.
“So you have the ridiculous situation of a vault containing R1 billion but you may not have an armed guard to protect it,” said Campbell.
He also questioned a discrepancy about school security.
One part of the draft says a security company can use a firearm at a school if that was explicit in the contract between the parties. In the same draft it says it is an offence for a security officer to carry a gun at a school premises.
“The law also prohibits them to leave a gun unattended in the car. In such a situation, the security guard cannot carry out their duties of responding to an emergency at a school,” said Campbell, who said they intended to challenge the draft.
CPS Security general manager Angela van der Merwe said the risk implications of removing high calibre-weapons from its security guards would be very high.
She added that in most cases, criminals had unlicensed firearms so the change to the amendment would just be taking away from those who owned firearms legally.
Wahl Bartmann, the chief of Fidelity Security, said: “Our legal team is reviewing the regulations. At this point it is too premature to comment.”
KZN violence monitor Mary de Haas said only police and military should possess automatic firearms. She said she believed the draft was the government’s bid to remove weapons from people who should not be in possession of them.
However, she said, the government must first devise ways of repossessing all the weapons from criminals before passing the draft as law.
Adele Kirsten, director at Gun Free South Africa, said reports showed gun violence in the country had increased from 18 people shot a day in 2009 to 23. She attributed the hike to the availability of guns. Kristen added that last year civilians reported 8 867 lost or stolen guns. She said guns held by security companies were classified as civilian-owned.
“Unfortunately, we don’t know how many of these guns were lost by or stolen from security companies, but it’s certain some ‘leak’ from security companies into the illegal market.” After a robbery in Brickfield yesterday, a witness said he saw one of three suspects take a bag of money and a firearm from one of the security officers. Two suspects were wounded and all three fled. Police could not confirm that a weapon had been stolen.
Blue Security operations director Brian Jackson said: “Law abiding security firms which offer alarm monitoring and armed response services should not have any cause for concern regarding the changes because they already comply with the existing laws and amendments and it should not impact on our operations.”
Martin Hood, an attorney representing various sectors in the security industry, said a number were affected. He said it would have a drastically negative impact on the industry because it limits security officers’ ability to perform their duties.
“We need these weapons. This will result in job losses which will, in turn, have a negative impact on the economy,” he said, referring to security companies which use arms, but provide security services not listed in the draft’s section 6. He said there would no longer be a need for their services, which would then result in their retrenchment.
Detailing its next course of action, Hood said they would engage with the regulator (Psira) to share information why there was a need for the draft amendment. The aim is to identify the problem leading to the draft, and then find solutions. “We will take it to court if we are not satisfied with the resolutions of the meeting.”