SA gun control ruling puts spotlight on police

SA gun control ruling puts spotlight on police.
SA gun control ruling puts spotlight on police.

The South African Arms and Ammunition Dealers Association (Saaada) has labelled a firearms-control ruling by the Constitutional Court as "a travesty of justice" and has resolved not to help with its enforcement‚ saying the ruling deprives many responsible gun owners of their property and the ability to protect themselves in a crime-ridden society.

In June‚ the court upheld the constitutionality of regular firearm licences‚ after an appeal by the minister of safety and security‚ by dismissing a high court order that had declared that two sections of the Firearms Control Act of 2000 were unconstitutional.

The court ruled that gun ownership was not a fundamental right under SA’s Bill of Rights‚ but a privilege regulated by the act. The ruling means gun owners with unlicensed firearms must surrender them to the police without compensation. It means also that about 400‚000 people are now deemed to be illegal firearm owners.

The litigation‚ brought by the Hunters and Game Conservation Association in 2016‚ challenged sections 24 and 28 of the Firearms Control Act of 2000‚ which stipulated that gun owners were required to regularly renew their firearm licences. It said the sections were vague‚ irrational‚ breached the right of equality and deprived gun owners of their property. Under the act of 2000‚ gun owners who have not renewed their licences must forfeit their firearms to the state.

Under a previous act‚ a gun licence lasted a lifetime.

On Monday‚ Saaada said it acknowledged the court’s ruling in June as "technically correct"‚ but that the consequence was akin to one's motor car being confiscated because the licence had lapsed.

"Such a harsh penalty is inappropriate for simply failing to renew a licence in time‚ often with good reason. Furthermore‚ Saaada has no confidence in the ability of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to confiscate hundreds of thousands of firearms‚ plus millions of rounds of ammunition‚ and securely store these until their destruction.

"History shows that many of these will end up in the hands of criminals and gangsters. The cost and effort required to take in these firearms and ammunition‚ manage and store them‚ conduct ballistic testing and ultimately destroy them is simply not justified. There is no benefit to society at large. In fact‚ such fruitless and wasteful expenditure harms society‚" said the association.

Lobby group Gun Free SA‚ acting as a friend of the court‚ welcomed the ruling‚ but also expressed its lack of confidence in SAPS's ability to enforce the law. Director Adèle Kirsten said that since 2010 there had been a steady erosion in the effectiveness of the act to save lives because of actions by the police and gun owners.

"In a vacuum of leadership‚ the SAPS has consistently failed to enforce the law while many gun owners have sought and exploited loopholes in the law to bypass controls and accumulate guns."

Saaada said police resources should be directed towards fighting real crime and that its members would not assist SAPS to take away people's guns‚ "not with advice to SAPS [on how best to do so]‚ not with spreading SAPS communications [on how to hand in guns] nor by offering SAPS our resources".

It said it and other associations had offered proposals to the SAPS to resolve this situation within the prescripts of the act‚ so that people did not simply forfeit their valuable property‚ and that it remained willing to discuss and assist SAPS to implement such options.

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