Last chance for gun owners with expired licences

Police have urged illegal gun owners to take advantage of the new six-month firearm amnesty.
Police have urged illegal gun owners to take advantage of the new six-month firearm amnesty.

A new firearm amnesty has provided a lifeline for gun owners with expired licences.

Parliament this week approved a six-month extension to a weapons amnesty which will give gun owners with expired licences until the end of January 2021 to renew their licences.

Police spokesperson Brenda Muridili said 46,714 firearms had been surrendered to the police service under the previous amnesty period — but that more were circulating.

“However, we believe that there are much more firearms out there that still need to be surrendered and we are confident the response to the previous amnesty would have been even more resounding if it were not for the pandemic,” said Muridili.

Muridili said lockdown level 4 and 5 restrictions prevented people from turning in illegal, unlicensed and unwanted firearms and ammunition.

This prompted police minister Bheki Cele to approach parliament to approve a new six-month amnesty period.

“We are urging people to take advantage of this period either to hand in those firearms and ammunition either for destruction or renewal of a competency certificate and a valid licence,” said Muridili.

In 2018, the North Gauteng High Court granted an interim order which provided protection to gun owners with expired licences.

The court order, which prevented police from confiscating firearms from people who had expired licences, was obtained by Gun Owners SA.

In a judgment published two weeks ago, the Supreme Court of Appeal stripped firearm owners of this legal protection after overturning the previously granted interdict.

The SCA said the interim interdict had a nationwide effect, and constituted an impermissible intrusion by a court upon executive authority.

“The SAPS is prohibited from exercising its powers and carrying out its obligations under the act. For this reason alone, the interim order is appealable.

“The interim interdict granted against the appellants is constitutionally inappropriate, it violates the principle of separation of powers, it guarantees the unlawful possession of firearms, and therefore it must be set aside.

“The application is dismissed with costs, including the costs of two counsel,” the court order read.

The court further said that gun ownership was not a fundamental right, but a privilege.

“Once a licence is terminated for whatever reason, including the holder’s failure to renew it timeously before it lapsed, the holder is then in unlawful possession of a firearm, which is a criminal offence,” the SCA said.

According to AfriForum’s legal and risk manager Marnus Kamfer, the new firearm amnesty provided a last chance for those with expired licences to legally possess their firearms.

“The amnesty period is their last hope with regards to keeping their firearms in a legal possession, because they can go to the police now and surrender their firearms and immediately reapply for a licence.  

“After they reapply and it is granted they can collect their firearms and they will be in a legal possession of a firearm.

“If people don’t make use of this amnesty period and January comes and the amnesty period comes to an end, if the police find a weapon in your possession and you have an expired white licence, they probably will arrest and charge you with being in possession of an illegal firearm.”

Gun Free SA researcher Claire Taylor said they welcomed the new amnesty.

“It recognises the impact of Covid on gun owners and gives gun owners more time to surrender their weapon. It also takes into account the court of appeal's judgment,” she said.

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