The implementation of Act 60 (new firearms act) required all firearm owners to renew firearm licences by 30 June 2009. At that time, this process was badly communicated and managed by SAPS' Central Firearms Registry (CFR). In terms of the old Act, all licences would have expired on 30 June 2009, which would have criminalised approximately 1,3 million citizens due to unlawful possession of their firearms simply because they did not apply for renewal in time.
In June 2009, SA Hunters filed two applications against SAPS in the North Gauteng High Court. The main application requested some of the transitional arrangements provided for in Act 60 be declared unconstitutional. An accompanying urgent application requested the Court to declare all licences issued in terms of the old Act to be deemed to remain valid until the main application had been finalised. This request was to prevent criminalisation of firearm owners who did not apply for renewal in time.
The Court ruled in favour of SA Hunters' urgent application and large numbers of people escaped criminalisation. The main application was not pursued any further, firstly because SAPS have yet to respond to the founding affidavit in the main application; and secondly because SA Hunters did not deem it necessary to proceed with the case because the Court's ruling in the urgent application protected the interest of its members.
Following the Court ruling, numerous discussions and negotiations were held in an attempt to settle the matter, but to no avail. At that time, a good understanding prevailed between SA Hunters and the SAPS, and the CFR's service delivery gradually improved. However, during 2014, CFR's service levels deteriorated considerably and firearm owners were experiencing numerous problems with the licensing of firearms. Major fraud was also uncovered at the CFR and several staff members were dismissed.
Run-up to the Present Application
In 2011, the first firearm licences that were issued in terms of the new Act expired, and firearm owners had to apply for the renewal of their licences. For various reasons, many of which were legitimate, a large number of firearm owners did not apply in time for the renewal of licenses. In many instances people simply forgot that the licences expired.
Section 24 of the new Act requires an individual to apply for renewal of a firearm licence at least 90 days prior to the expiry date. The Act does not provide for late application for a firearm licence renewal, even if the licence holder has a legitimate reason.
However, since 2011, SAPS accepted and processed renewal applications and issued new licences despite the fact that the applications may have been made late. It is quite possible that SAPS issued thousands of such licences for which renewal applications had been submitted late.
On 2 February 2016, the newly appointed acting Commissioner of Police issued a directive instructing designated firearm officers (DFO) at police stations to deal with late licence renewal applications as follows:
- When an application for renewal of a firearm licence is submitted after the 90 day period started but prior to the expiry of the licence:
- the applicant must submit reasons for the late application
- the SAPS must accept and process the application
- the applicant may remain in possession of the firearm
- the “old licence” will remain valid until the application process for renewal has been concluded
- If an application for renewal of a firearm licence is submitted after the licence had expired, the individual should be informed that:
- he/she is in illegal possession of firearm
- he/she must surrender the firearm at the nearest police station
- the person would not be prosecuted if the firearm is voluntarily surrendered at a police station
This notice created more uncertainty about the process and raised the following questions:
- Why is a person whose late application was acceptable yesterday, penalised today (surrendering a firearm to the police station) and threatened with prosecution (if the firearm is handed in voluntarily, no prosecution will follow)?
- Why must the firearm be surrendered? The only mechanism for individuals to surrender firearms to the Police is for it to be destroyed.
- What about those persons who are still in possession of a licence issued in terms of the old Act and who never participated in the relicensing process in terms of the new Act?
In principle, individuals that adhered to the conditions of Act 60 are now being punished. They may be prosecuted or lose their firearms, while those who have not complied with Act 60 are not affected at all. This is unjust, unfair, and unreasonable.
In spite of numerous efforts by SA Hunters to discuss the matter with SAPS, the police have not yet responded to any requests for a meeting. Meanwhile, firearm owners and members of SA Hunters are facing potential criminalisation and are being treated unfairly by police officers. Currently, there is no consistent handling of renewal applications, which adds to the confusion.
There are approximately 123 000 people that might be criminalised because they did not timely apply for the renewal of their firearm licences. During a private discussion with an Assistant Commissioner of Police in November 2015, it was confirmed that 123 000 licences have already lapsed for which no renewal applications had been received.
The Court Application
The application that SA Hunters filed in the High Court, requests the court to, among others:
- Declare sections 24 and 28 of the Act as unconstitutional
- Compel the State to finalise and implement the draft Amendment Act that was introduced in 2015
- Simultaneously amend the two sections (Section 24 and 28) to adhere to constitutional requirements
- Regard all new licences that had expired as deemed to be legal until the amendments for a revised renewal process have been implemented
SA Hunters is committed to a process that supports responsible ownership and use of firearms. Similar to the views of other roleplayers in the RSA, SA Hunters wishes to live in a country where the interests of legal firearm owners and users are protected and where the illegal firearm owners and users are removed from society without compromising legal firearm owners.
Furthermore, SA Hunters is committed to co-operate with the State and the Police to implement sensible and user-friendly firearm legislation.
Issued by the SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association
Editorial queries: Fred Camphor, CEO of SA Hunters on 082 445 0498
General media queries: Magda Naudé, 082 452 5878 or firstname.lastname@example.org