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Expired firearm licence holders get relief from SCA

The SCA has ruled that firearm owners whose licences have expired may reapply without waiting for another amnesty period, notes a Pretoria News report. The SAPS initially refused to consider new applications for firearm owners who did not renew their licences in time. Its refusal to accept these applications was based on a letter from Police Commissioner General Khehla Sitole issued in February 2016, which stated that these applications should not be accepted by the SAPS and that people should be informed to hand in their firearms at their nearest police station so that they could be destroyed. At the time, Fidelity Security Services had about 600 firearm licences that had lapsed. It later realised that the licences had expired and tried to submit renewal applications to the SAPS. The police, however, refused to renew the licences. Fidelity turned to the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) for permission to renew these licences, but its application was turned down by Judge Natvarlal Ranchod, who found a firearm licence had to be renewed before it lapsed. Ranchod referred to a Constitutional Court case in Minister of Safety and Security v SA Hunters and Game Conservation Association, where Justice Johan Froneman ruled: ‘It’s an offence to possess a firearm without a licence. Once it is obtained, one needs to renew it at least 90 days before the date of expiry.’

However, the Supreme Court of Appeal clarified the position for firearm owners with expired licences. They may re-apply without having to wait for a following amnesty period. From the outset, SAPS refused to consider any new firearm license applications for firearm owners, who failed to renew their licences timeously. Once Fidelity Security Services’ application was turned down by Judge Natvarlal Ranchod, they appealed against the judgment. The SCA took a different view.

Neither in the Regulations nor in the Firearms Control Act (“the Act”) was it ever suggested that the termination of a licence by way of the operation of law, would perpetually prohibit the application for a new licence. The court emphasised the fact that eligible applicants include repeat applicants as well as newcomers. The court established that it is logically flawed to interpret the Act in such a manner that the firearm owners licences who have expired, are deemed to be precluded from re-applying for a new licence and were required to purchase new firearms.

Comments by Demi-Lee Hendrikse, Candidate Attorney at Faure & Faure Inc.

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