Thousands of firearm owners face arrest
Pretoria - About 450 000 firearm owners in the country whose licences have lapsed no longer have the legal protection which was previously offered to them.
As things stand, they can now be charged for the unlawful possession of a firearm or have their firearms confiscated by the police – or both.
This follows a judgment issued by the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The court overturned an earlier interdict granted by the North Gauteng High Court which prevented the police from insisting that firearm owners hand in their guns if their licences had lapsed.
The Gun Owners of SA obtained an interim court order in 2018, preventing the police from confiscating firearms from people who had expired licences.
This temporary order was in effect until the organisation’s main case was to be decided. They wanted the entire relicensing regime to be set aside.
Following the interim interdict, the police minister took the matter on appeal. The Supreme Court has now dismissed the interim interdict as it had the effect of being a final interdict.
Gun law expert lawyer Martin Hood explained the interdict prevented the police from doing what they are compelled to do in terms of the Firearms Control Act, namely to control legal firearms and remove unlicensed firearms from circulation.
“The interdict had been promoted by the Gun Owners of SA itself as protecting firearm owners from prosecution if they had an unlicensed firearm. This was an incorrect interpretation of the value of the interdict and the existence of the interdict. Its interpretation had the unfortunate and unintended consequence of discouraging people from using the last amnesty that expired at the end of May,” he said.
According to Hood, the public’s response to the amnesty was poor because it was poorly publicised and because they believed that the gun associations’ interdict would protect them.
“Now that the interdict does not exist, the police can proceed to charge people with expired licences and they can confiscate those firearms,” he warned.
Hood said Parliament is considering the promulgation of a new amnesty to start next month.
“The only option the public has available to them, now that the interdict has been dismissed, is to use the amnesty in order to lawfully dispose of a firearm on an expired licence, or to hand in the firearm and to apply for a new licence,” Hood advised.
The high court earlier issued an interim interdict against the police preventing them from demanding firearm owners to surrender their firearms with expired licences.
This was pending a final order to extend the validity of expired licences.
The last leg of the application was never heard as the police appealed the interim order.
The appeal court, in favour of the police, ruled that the interim order granted by the high court is constitutionally inappropriate. The justices said it violates the principle of separation of powers and it guarantees the unlawful possession of firearms.
They commented that suspending the process of renewing firearm licences within the time frame as prescribed by the law, resulted in the risk that “lethal weapons” could be left in the hands of some who may no longer be capable of handling it safely.
The court said there may also be a risk that these firearms could be stolen or lost and land in the hands of criminals.