Possession of an unlicensed firearm is, for good reason, a serious offence carrying heavy penalties, and law abiding citizens will support the police in their efforts to rid our country of illegally-held firearms. It’s a major problem, with media reports suggesting that only 3m out of a total of 5.3m guns are registered and legally owned. That’s 2.3m illegal firearms out there!
Caught up in this are the almost half a million South African gun owners who have always held their firearms legally in terms of valid licences but have, for whatever reason, not renewed them on time. Not only private citizens are involved but also security service providers, and it’s a big issue – the Court in this case estimated that up to 60 million rounds of ammunition are involved.
These gun owners are faced with a serious quandary in that, following a Constitutional Court finding that the Firearms Act’s provisions pass constitutional muster, the police have been pressuring them to surrender their firearms for destruction or face arrest and prosecution. The argument is that once a licence has expired it comes to an end and cannot therefore be renewed, rendering possession of the firearm/s unlawful.
Of course the best advice is to always apply for renewal of your licence in good time (at least 90 days before expiry). But now holders of expired licences at least have some interim respite following a High Court decision. The Court has, pending determination of a full application by GOSA (Gun Owners of South Africa) to resolve the situation, ordered that SAPS “…are prohibited from implementing any plans of action or from accepting any firearms for which the licence [has] expired at its police stations or at any place, for the sole reason that the licence for the firearm expired and… from demanding that such firearms be handed over to it for the sole reason that the licence of such a firearm has expired…”.
Note that this is only interim relief and that there is still much uncertainty over what the final outcome of this case will be, over the validity of old “green” licences, over talk of a possible upcoming amnesty, and over an initiative to amend the Firearms Control Act to allow grace periods in which to apply for renewals.
Until there is clarity on all these issues ask your lawyer urgently for specific advice if you have a problem.