File picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso

Johannesburg - The police have lost a shocking 2 356 firearms in the past three years, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko revealed in a reply to a parliamentary question by the DA’s spokeswoman on police on Tuesday.

Dianne Kohler Barnard’s question sparked the revelation of extreme negligence by public law-enforcement and raised renewed concerns of a hike in crime in a country with some of the world’s worst crime statistics, and where the number of murders committed is rising at an alarming rate.

Of the 2 356 firearms that the SAPS lost, 840 were lost in 2012-13, 773 in 2013-14 and 743 in 2014-15.

Another shocker was that out of the total figure, 239 were lost over three years by police headquarters.

Most of the firearms – 523 – were lost in KwaZulu-Natal, followed by Gauteng with 516 and the Eastern Cape 408.

Few firearms were lost in the Northern Cape, with 41, and there were 91 lost in the Free State.

Gun Free South Africa spokeswoman Claire Taylor expressed grave concern at the “vicious cycle” in the number of firearms lost by the police, which she said was “the most significant source of illegal firearms”.

“The reality is that all firearms started out as legal before they ended up in the hands of criminals,” Taylor said.

“Fraud, corruption and poor implementation of the Firearms Control Act mean that people who are not fit to carry a gun are issued with firearm certificates, licences and permits. We need to close the gap where these legal guns leak into the illegal pool,” she added.

The loss of firearms by police officers was among the concerns raised at a National Firearms Summit in Parliament in March.

“The rate is five times higher than the global average, of six murders per day, and that’s too high,” police secretariat Revena Fourie told the summit at the time.

The summit followed in the wake of the cabinet approving amendments to the Firearms Control Act in February.

Taylor said she was optimistic that the proposed changes would help tighten laws around gun ownership, and eventually reduce the number of illegal guns on the streets. She said a gun-free society remained the viable way to reduce crime.

“We still have this vicious cycle of guns being leaked into the illegal pool.

“We need to mop up illegal guns through the national amnesty and police operations, including stop and searches.”

Senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies Johan Burger noted that the loss of firearms by the police had decreased over the past few years.

The proliferation of illegal guns on the streets remained a concern, he added.

“Just under 1 000 firearms are still lost by the police, while they retrieve only about 10 percent of lost firearms. This means that many firearms end up in the hands of criminals.

“Police negligence is largely responsible for the firearms that end up in the hands of criminals,” Burger added.

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The Star