About 190 000 potential firearms customers might know as early as next month if they can re-apply for expired licenses, or if they will have to forfeit their weapons. The Constitutional Court (Concourt) is expected to hand down judgement any time from early March to the end of April in the court application by SA Hunters and the Minister of Police on the constitutionality of certain sections of the Firearms Control Act.
The Concourt heard their arguments on February 7th following the Gauteng High Court ruling on 4 July 2017, when Judge Ronél Tolmay agreed with SA Hunters that sections 24 and 28 of the Act was unconstitutional. The Minister of Police appealed against the ruling, while SA Hunters applied for ratification of the same ruling in the Concourt.
A ruling in favour of the SA Hunters application could create opportunities to not only address the problems regarding the problematic sections, but also to review other shortcomings in the Act, said CEO Fred Camphor. “Should the Concourt refer the Act to parliament to revise sections 24 and 28, it would make sense to use the opportunity to review the Act in totality.”
Alternatively, the Concourt could provide guidance on the interpretation of the disputed sections and give instructions how they should be implemented, he added.
Section 24 of the Act stipulates that a firearms holder must re-apply 90 days before the license expires, while Section 28 stipulates when a license will be terminated — one of the conditions is when re-application is made after the 90-day deadline. While the Act sets out procedures to be followed when a person is declared unfit to possess a firearm “no similar provisions exist when a licence expires,” says Camphor.
The organisation argued that it was nearly impossible for a license-holder to become legal again if the 90-day pre-expiry application deadline is missed.
The High Court identified the following problems with the Act: lack of clarity of how a licence-holder who missed the deadline can rectify the situation; the lack of due process when a licence expires; uncertainty of how a licence-holder should dispose of a firearm when the license expires and the fact that there is no provision for compensation when a firearm is surrendered — nor is there provision for these license-holders to sell their firearms or deposit them for safekeeping with a firearms dealer or the police.
The Minister of Police argued that the High Court’s declaration that the sections were unconstitutional was going overboard and that the defects could simply be remedied. SAPS also argued that the forfeiture of a firearm once a license expires was appropriate and in accordance with a law of general application towards promoting public health, welfare, safety and security.