Pretoria — The dispossession of illegal and unwanted legal firearms during the new firearms amnesty period will significantly help in the fight against crime, says Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.
Addressing reporters on Monday on the firearms amnesty period which kicked off today and will end on 11 April, Mthethwa said the reduction of the number of firearms in circulation was an important part of the police's strategy to combat violent crime.
"What prompted us to declare this amnesty, amongst other factors, is that South Africa has a significant pool of illegal firearms in circulation which contribute to the high rate of serious and violent crime as well as firearm-related crimes," he said.
Parliament declared a firearms amnesty period in November last year, aimed at calling all citizens in possession of illegal, unwanted legal firearms and ammunition to surrender them.
"Through this amnesty, we are also advocating for voluntary surrendering for destruction of licensed firearms through the process prescribed in the Firearms Control Regulations.
"We therefore emphasise 'it is voluntary'. In other words, this is the call-to-action to all individuals to surrender such firearms which they may be in possession of but no longer need," he said.
Mthethwa said the period should also be seen as part of government's programme to promote responsible gun ownership.
The period will also allow people who missed the cut-off date for applying for licenses to be able to license their weapons in terms of the Firearms Control Act (FCA).
Mthethwa clarified that it was not government's stance to criminalise law-abiding citizens who missed the period to renew their firearm licenses, adding that the deadline is often missed mistakenly.
However, National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele did not mince his words, saying those who ignored this last call to submit their license applications would be dealt with severely.
Life, he said, will be tough for those who do not want to surrender the firearms, ammunition and firearms parts, adding that police will leave no stone unturned to ensure that those firearms are removed from society.
Both Mthethwa and Cele appealed to the public in general to strengthen partnership with government by reporting the whereabouts of these firearms, ammunition and parts of firearms.