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Updated: 10/24/2018 10:54:11 AM

By Gideon Joubert. Cartoon stolen shamelessly from Jerm (with his permission).

I was recently tasked with providing a government official with statistics comparing civilian firearm losses with those suffered by the SAPS. He was presented with a claim that the SAPS lose approximately 8 times as many firearms as private citizens, and asked me to investigate whether or not this is plausible. As discussed below, there are significant limitations regarding the available data, but it does paint an interesting picture.

This article has been revised with new information as of 17 October.

In the six-year period from 2005 to 2011 the SAPS lost a total of 18 196 firearms, which equals approximately 3030 firearms per year. In newer statistics sourced by Afriforum, it is revealed that the SAPS lost 7892 firearms between 2009 and 2014, which averages around 1578 per annum. In the 2014/15 cycle the SAPS had a personnel count of 150 950 officers. This means that the SAPS lost on average 1045 to 2007 firearms per 100 000 officers every year. The variance in the figure is significant.

There are numerous limitations in ascertaining the rate at which private individuals lose firearms:

  • We do not know the exact number of civilian firearm owners. Our current estimate is between 2.5 to 3 million. It can well be a higher number.
  • Losses from security companies are counted among civilian firearm losses, inflating the figure with plausibly great significance.
  • We must bear in mind that the very nature of the work performed by security companies and their personnel will expose them to situations where they are more at risk of having their firearms stolen, as is the case with the SAPS.
  • We only have data for one year’s worth of reported losses, sourced from the SAPS annual report for 2015/16. This lack of time-series data for civilian losses will affect the accuracy of our conclusions.
  • We cannot differentiate between negligent losses, and cases where people were robbed of their weapons by violent confrontational criminals. This is an important differentiation for obvious reasons.

The statistics therefore obfuscate far more than they reveal, and the losses suffered by security businesses and other organisations unfairly exacerbate the perceived firearm losses from private civilian sources. The difference in recovery rate is also very important: the sooner a lost or stolen firearm is recovered, the less opportunity there is for it to be used in the commission of a violent crime.

In the 2015/16 year civilians (including businesses and organisations) reported 7289 firearms lost or stolen. When using the most conservative estimate of 2.5 million firearm owners, and making absolutely no adjustments for businesses and organisations (therefore we make the highly unrealistic assumption that all civilian firearm losses are from private individuals only), civilians lose firearms at a rate of 292 per 100 000 population per annum. If we use the figure of 3 million firearm owners, then civilians lose firearms at a rate of 243 per 100 000 population per annum.

These figures, as flawed as they are, indicate that SAPS at best lose only between 3.6 to 8.3 times as many firearms as civilians do. Therefore the claim that the police lose 8 times as many guns as civilians is entirely plausible.

If we alter the civilian firearm losses to take into account the proportion lost by the security industry and businesses (both having sizeable stocks of firearms), and we make the assumption that private individuals lose half of all the reported firearms from civilian sources, the picture changes considerably.

Under these conditions private individuals are responsible for losing 3645 firearms during the 2015/16 cycle. This is equal to between 122 and 146 lost firearms per 100 000 people per annum. Although the numbers are now based on conjecture (although I do not believe it to be unrealistic), we come to the conclusion that the SAPS can be losing between 7 to 16.4 times as many guns as civilians.

Depending on the exact share of losses that businesses and organisations contribute, this figure can even be significantly higher. Alas the required data eludes us at present. It is important to note that it is completely impossible for private citizens to have lost all 7289 firearms reported as such in the 2015/16 year, so it is in my (admittedly layman’s) opinion that claiming the SAPS lose 8 times as many firearms as private citizens is not remotely unreasonable, and entirely plausible.

Lastly, we must compare the recovery rates of these firearms to complete the picture. According to the 2015/16 SAPS annual report, 116.13% of all civilian firearms reported as stolen were recovered during the period in question. This means more firearms were recovered than reported stolen, indicating that losses from previous years were also recovered. Conversely, only 7.82% of SAPS firearms reported as lost during this period were recovered.

To conclude, not only do private citizens lose their firearms at a rate of 1/8th that of the SAPS, they also have their lost firearms recovered at a rate 15 times greater.

Senior SAPS generals and colonels have frequently indulged in unlawful intimidation and persecution of law-abiding firearm owners, whilst simultaneously failing utterly at exercising control over their own firearm stocks, and even being complicit in supplying criminals with guns. A firearm surrendered to or confiscated by the SAPS is very likely to end up back on the street in criminal hands.

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