400,000 people in SA in illegal possession of guns
As many as 400,000 gun owners who failed to renew their firearm licences on time will have to get rid of their guns or hand them over to the police as they are now deemed to be in illegal possession of the guns.
The Constitutional Court yesterday upheld an appeal by the minister of safety and security by dismissing a high court order which had declared that two sections of the Firearms Control Act of 2000 were constitutionally invalid.
The sections concerned the expiration and renewal of firearm licences.
Under the previous Act, a licence to possess a firearm lasted for life. The Act of 2000 changed this. Under the new regime, each person wishing to own or possess a firearm must first possess a competency certificate, which expires after periods of two, five or 10 years, depending on the nature of the firearm licence.
The Act contained provisions for the transition from the previous Act to the current one. This allowed previous licence holders a five-year licence, which had to be renewed, on application, at least 90 days before the expiry of the five-year period. Many old order licence holders complied while others failed to do so.
The SA Hunters and Gamer Conservation Association obtained a judgment in its favour in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria last year. The high court held that the provisions of the Firearms Control Act were constitutionally invalid on a number of grounds.
In a unanimous ConCourt judgment, Justice Johan Froneman said the provisions in the Act were not vague. "They cannot be clearer. It is an offence to possess a firearm without a licence obtained in terms of the Act.
"Once one has obtained a licence, one needs to renew it at least 90 days before the date of expiry," Froneman said.
He said if the application was done timeously, the licence remained valid until the application was decided. If that was not done, he said, the licence terminated and possession of the firearm constituted an offence and was subject to criminal penalties.
The association's Fred Camphor said the judgment meant that about 400000 gun owners who did not apply timeously were now illegal and should hand the guns to the police.
Meanwhile, Adele Kirsten, director of Gun Free SA, which acted as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case, welcomed the judgment.