Gun Free South Africa (GFSA), an organisation dedicated to reducing gun-related violence in South Africa, welcomed the ruling of the Constitutional Court last week which requires all gun owners to have their firearm licenses renewed on a regular basis.
Under the new ruling, each person who wishes to possess a firearm must first possess a competency certificate. This certificate will expire after two, five or ten years, depending on the nature of the firearm license.
Before the Firearms Control Act of 2000, a firearm license was valid for a lifetime and required no renewals.
The Constitutional Court ruling now states that all gun licenses must be renewed at least 90 days before the expiry of the five-year period.
Sections 24 and 28 of the Firearms Control Act of 2000, which states that all gun licenses must be regularly renewed, were challenged by the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association in 2016. The association claimed that these sections were ‘vague and irrational’, and deprived gun owners of their property; a gun owner who fails to renew his license in time must forfeit his gun to the state.
The Constitutional Court ruled that gun ownership is not a fundamental right under the Bill of Rights, but rather a privilege regulated by the Firearms Control Act.
The Act states that:
- No person may possess a gun without a valid license
- A firearm license is valid for only a limited period of time
- Unless a gun owner has renewed his gun license before expiry, he or she has committed a criminal offense and is subject to penalties, including a fine or imprisonment
- GFSA acted as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case, resulting in the Constitutional Court taking into account the evidence that the organisation provided:
- The Firearms Control Act, including its licensing and renewal provisions, brought South Africa’s gun control regime within an international legal and political gun control
- The Act recognised government’s responsibility for public safety by instituting a system of checks and balances through regular license renewal to ensure that a gun owner remained ‘fit and proper’ to own a gun, thereby helping in the prevention of gun-related crime.
Adéle Kirsten, director of GFSA, said that the cornerstone of the Firearms Control Act cannot be emphasized enough. “In the context of the recent spate of children being shot and killed following defensive gun use, the significance of the Constitutional Court judgement upholding regular license renewals as a cornerstone of the Firearms Control Act cannot be emphasized enough,” she said.
She also added that the ruling meant nothing unless the law is enforced by the police and complied by gun owners. “Since 2010 there’s been a steady erosion in the effectiveness of the Firearms Control Act to save lives as a result of actions by the police and gun owners: In a vacuum of effective police leadership, the SAPS has consistently failed to enforce the law, either through deliberate fraud and corruption or a dereliction of duty; while many gun owners have sought and exploited loopholes in the law to bypass controls and accumulate guns.”
In May, the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Police, Francois Beukman, said more needs to be done to effectively deal with the rapid increase in illegal firearms used by criminals in violent crime throughout South Africa.
Incidents such as cash-in-transit heists and robberies with high-calibre automatic firearms, has caused a great deal of distress.
“The high incidents of gun deaths on the Cape Flats, especially of young children, should be tackled head-on by the relevant law enforcement agencies,”Beukman said.