“Gun ownership is not a fundamental right under our Bill of Rights. It is a privilege regulated by law, under the Firearms Control Act (Act No 60 of 2000) (“the Act”)” – Per the Honourable Justice Froneman in Minister of Safety and Security versus South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association 2018 (2) SACR 164 (CC).
In terms of Section 3 (1) of the Act, no person may possess a firearm unless he or she holds for that firearm a licence, permit or authorisation issued in terms of the Act.
Licences issued in terms of the Act are only valid for a limited period. By way of example, a firearm licence issued for purposes of self-defence is only valid for a period of 5 years.
It is a criminal offence to possess a firearm without a licence, and on conviction, imprisonment up to a maximum period of 15 years may be imposed.
In terms of the amnesty, if one is in possession of an unlicensed firearm and wishes to regularise that position, one is afforded an opportunity until 31 May 2020 in order to do so.
The amnesty provides that:-
- a person in possession of an unlicensed firearm must, within the period 1 December 2019 to 31 May 2020, make a written application for amnesty. The application must state the full name, identity or passport number and residential address of the applicant, as well as the type, calibre, make, model and all marked serial numbers or other identification marks on the firearm or the particulars of the relevant ammunition (if any);
- the person applying for amnesty must surrender the firearm and/or ammunition to a Designated Amnesty Officer at a Designated Police Station. The Designated Amnesty Officer will issue the applicant with a receipt.
- the firearm will be subjected to a ballistics test;
- the person applying for amnesty is entitled, within 14 days after surrendering the firearm, to apply for a licence, failing which the firearm will be destroyed.
One cannot however apply for a licence in respect of a firearm where documentary proof of previous ownership cannot be provided.
A person who surrenders a firearm and/or ammunition in compliance with the amnesty may not be prosecuted for being in possession of the firearm and/or ammunition without the appropriate licence.
There is some controversy in regard to the amnesty. Some political parties and interest groups have raised concerns that the process followed in gazetting the amnesty was flawed. These parties have called for the amnesty to be withdrawn and re-issued. At present however, the amnesty stands.