Many of these arise out of understandably frustrating circumstances. There are a number of instances where the administrative handling of their applications has left even the most seasoned applicant wondering what on earth is going on.
For the sake of mutual understanding though, let's be clear: DFOs are not chosen for their passion for firearms. In fact, many of them have no significant background in firearms to speak of. It's just another administrative station role within the SAPS that needs to be filled. There are certainly some internal prerequisites that have to be met before someone can be placed in that role. Loving firearms is not one of them, however.
The Firearms, Liquor, and Second-hand Goods (FLASH) unit of the SAPS does provide some training to DFOs, related to the administrative processes and basic elements of the Firearms Control Act (FCA) – within the limits of how FLASH understand and implement them, of course. A DFO is then issued regular updates from FLASH on modifications made to the administrative plan along the way.
While a lot of DFOs go out of their way to become familiar with the FCA and some of the contentious points around it, part of the challenge that we as firearm owners face is that DFOs only have one source of information that they can act on – namely what they receive from FLASH. Their own personal research may lead them to form an opinion, but as employees of the SAPS they're obliged to act on what they're instructed to do, whether they like it or not.
We do indeed see some atrocious answers given to applicants by DFOs, and that needs to be dealt with. Yet on the other hand, when I look at social media posts and see the attitude of some applicants, I can't help wondering if there isn't a little bit of the old "he said, she said" routine at play here. And that muddies the waters somewhat. How do we cut through the middle and find a fair solution?
In an ideal world, we'd like DFOs to be as enthusiastic about firearm ownership as we are. We'd love to have them suitably informed on the subject, geared for efficiency, and approachable for advice. The reality though is that they're often doing a job they didn't actively seek out within the SAPS, within very difficult constraints. One of GOSA's projects in future will be to establish a line of communication with DFOs, through which GOSA can deliver educational material on different aspects of the FCA and firearm ownership in general to them.
For the moment (and indeed indefinitely), mutual respect and consideration is most likely the best route when dealing with a DFO. We need them on our side in the bigger picture. And likewise, they (and the SAPS as a whole) can always stand to gain from our support. Achieving a situation where that kind of healthy relationship is the norm will take time and patience, but needs to be done. Why not keep our sides clean to start with? Winning our DFOs over one at a time is a huge part of ensuring a stronger foundation for the right to private firearm ownership to be respected and nourished in South Africa.
By: Craig Pederson