National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi has forcefully rejected Education Minister Kader Asmal's proposal to give schools rifles for target shooting.
Selebi said there "is absolutely no way in this country" that schools would be given weapons.
"It can never happen," he said.
Rather than giving schools additional guns for target shooting, Selebi has vowed to collect and destroy weapons from those schools with weapons dating from the cadet system.
His view directly contradicts Asmal's plan, in a growing dispute between two state departments.
The Council of Education Ministers, comprising Asmal and the nine provincial MECs, last week approved the introduction of target shooting as a school sport.
Asmal has requested his defence colleague Mosiuoa Lekota to supply schools with redundant defence force .22 rifles as "gifts".
The proposal flies in the face of state policy to remove weapons from society - one of the main aims of the Firearms Control Act.
The act also seeks to declare areas like schools and shebeens firearm-free zones.
Selebi, who was speaking on Wednesday to the national assembly's safety and security committee, said in response to a question from Paul Swart of the Democratic Alliance that he was aware that an announcement had been made about the target-shooting plan.
But whoever had made the announcement was not aware of plans in the government's justice and crime prevention cluster to control firearms.
Opposition parties and organisations such as Gun Free South Africa have roundly condemned the target-shooting idea.
The chair of the national assembly's influential safety and security committee, the African National Congress's Mluleki George, said afterwards of the target-shooting plan: "It doesn't make sense. Those people are misguided.
"While we want to demilitarise society, others want to give guns to schoolchildren. What kind of message is this sending to society?"
George added there was no guarantee that weapons supplied to schools would not fall into the wrong hands.
African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe said he was shocked at Asmal's proposal to extend target shooting as a sport to disadvantaged schools.
"The fact that there have been murders in schools using guns brought onto the premises illegally concerns us. What will happen when guns are there legally?" Meshoe wondered.
"We call on all South Africans who are tired of crime to oppose the madness coming out of the department of education," he said.
Selebi also vowed to move swiftly to destroy the more than a million weapons which were distributed to various state departments during the apartheid years to counter the "total onslaught".
He said there were transport containers full of redundant weapons, including a "trainload of bullets", that would have to be destroyed "before they fall into the hands of the wrong
Before speaking on the school gun issue, Selebi said one of the police's priorities this year would be to counter the proliferation of illegal firearms. - Political Bureau