Gun owners with expired licences must hand them in or face arrest - ConCourt

2018-06-07 21:30
(Getty Images/Gallo Images)

(Getty Images/Gallo Images)

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Gun owners whose licences have expired will have to surrender their firearms to the police immediately.

This was confirmed by a Constitutional Court judgment on Thursday, with national police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo confirming that those who failed to do so would be arrested.

"We welcome the judgment and we are calling on all those who haven’t renewed their firearm licences to bring them in. If we find them, [they will be arrested]," Naidoo said.

This ruling comes after a long court battle between the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association (SAHGCA) and the minister of police.

Justice Johan Froneman ruled that owning a firearm was not a fundamental right, but a privilege regulated by law under the Firearms Control Act.

The SAHGCA argued that the police did not have the capacity to handle the surrender of thousands of firearms.

But Naidoo said the police would manage and make it work.

"Much of SA Hunters’ founding papers in the High Court focused on alleged problems and complaints about the administration of the Act," Froneman said in his judgment.

"While the apparent problems in the administration of the Act are cause for legitimate concern, it is not relevant to a proper interpretation of the impugned provisions of the Act."

'The gun holder must get rid of the firearm'

The association also argued that there was irrationality or vagueness flowing from the time-lapse termination.

Froneman, however, found the law to be clear.

ALSO READ: Self-defence the top reason for gun licence renewals

"There is a short answer to this: the gun holder must get rid of the firearm," he said.

"But, goes the argument, he cannot do so lawfully because he immediately becomes guilty of a crime when the licence has lapsed. But this consequence, even if correct, is not vague or uncertain, or irrational in terms of the end sought."

"The gun owner knows that he must either apply in time for renewal or dispose of the firearm before expiry. If he does not, he will be guilty of an offence," Froneman said.

Further, he found the SAHGCA to be wrong in its contention that there were no lawful means of disposal after the termination of the licence.

"I can see no legal obstacle to handing the firearm over to the police after termination. The fear that the gun owner may be liable for prosecution if he takes steps to hand over the unlicensed firearm to the police is overstated," he said.

READ: Guns ‘go missing’ from police station in Cape Town

Gun Free South Africa, which was allowed to be part of the case as a friend of the court, welcomed the ruling by the Constitutional Court.

'SAPS has consistently failed to enforce the law'

Director Adèle Kirsten said the ruling upheld the constitutionality of regular gun licence renewals.

"Unless a gun owner has renewed his gun licence before expiry, he has committed a criminal offence and is subject to penalties, including a fine or imprisonment," Kirsten said.

"In the context of the recent spate of children being shot and killed following defensive gun use, the significance of the Constitutional Court judgment upholding regular licence renewals as a cornerstone of the Firearms Control Act cannot be emphasised enough," she said.

Kirsten said, despite the ruling, Gun Free SA was relying on the police to enforce the existing legislation.

"Since 2010, there’s been a steady erosion in the effectiveness of the Firearms Control Act to save lives as a result of actions by the police and gun owners," she said.

"In a vacuum of effective police leadership, the SAPS has consistently failed to enforce the law, either through deliberate fraud and corruption or a dereliction of duty; while many gun owners have sought and exploited loopholes in the law to bypass controls and accumulate guns."

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