Rifles and the law

2015-07-15 06:00
Hermann Fourie

Hermann Fourie

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QUESTION: As a regular hunter I keep a hunting rifle in my home. I’m usually very careful and keep it locked up at all times. But with so many stories of rifle accidents in the news, I’m worried what might happen if someone got hold of my rifle and caused an accident. Will I be responsible?

ANSWER: Any professional hunter will tell you that the first rule of the game is rifle safety.

Before you consider handling a rifle, certain unwritten rules should be stated:All firearms should be presumed armed and ready to fire.All calibre firearms are lethal.If it is your rifle, it is your responsibility.

In South Africa the use and possession of a firearm is regulated by the Firearms Control Act (FCA). One of the main purposes of the FCA is to establish a comprehensive and effective system of firearm control and management. When a firearm that is owned by you is not under your direct personal and physical control, the FCA requires that it must be stored in a safe or strongroom that conforms to the SABS prescripts.

Our courts have also ruled that under all circumstances it’s the owner of the firearm’s responsibility to ensure that it is placed out of reach of any person who could possibly use the firearm negligently and unsupervised.

If the owner of the firearm fails to prevent an accident, even though such an accident was not foreseeable, but preventable, the owner can be held accountable.

The owning of a firearm and ammunition thus places a heavy burden on the shoulders of the gun owner, a burden that goes well beyond the joys that accompany the annual hunt.

Even the most careful and experienced firearm owner can be involved in a hunting accident. Reducing the risk of such accidents happening is therefore of the utmost importance. The following rules can assist in preventing unfortunate accidents from occurring:Always treat a firearm as if it is loaded.Regularly refresh your knowledge of rifle safety procedures.Always keep your firearms unloaded, wherever they are stored.

Always keep firearms in an approved safe when it is not under your direct supervision.It is an offence to point a firearm at any person without good reason to do so.

If you are unsure of your current rifle safety procedures, contact a firearms specialist or attorney who is an expert on the FCA to advise you on your situation. And remember, better safe than sorry is always the best policy and with rifles, this can even be extended to “better in a safe than sorry”.


Hermann Fourie, associate, Phatshoane Henney Attorney


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