On 7 June 2018 the Constitutional Court unanimously ruled that sections 24 and 28 of the Firearms Control Act (2000), under which gun owners must renew their firearm licences on a regular basis or forfeit guns for which licences have expired to the state, are constitutional.

In making its judgement, the ConCourt ruled that gun ownership is not a fundamental right under the Bill of Rights, rather it is a privilege regulated by the Firearms Control Act (FCA). Under the Act:

  • No person may possess a gun without a valid licence;
  • A firearm licence is valid for a limited period of time; and
  • Unless a gun owner has renewed his gun licence before expiry, he has committed a criminal offence and is subject to penalties.

After tracing the history of firearm licence renewals in South Africa to identify loopholes in enforcement and compliance, this third Briefing of 2018 answers the question, what next? It identifies five actions that need to be undertaken following the ConCourt’s ruling:

  1. The SAPS needs to urgently finalise and publicly communicate a strategy to deal with gun owners who are in illegal gun possession for failing to renew their licences.
  2. The Minister of Police must immediately challenge the 2009 North Gauteng High Court ruling which exempts gun owners with “green licences” issued under the Arms and Ammunition Act (1969) from having to comply with the stricter provisions of the FCA, including regular licence renewal.
  3. The SAPS must immediately put in place measures to stop guns leaking from SAPS stores and other secure facilities in which forfeited, surrendered and recovered weapons are stored; this entails safeguarding stores and ensuring that guns destined for destruction are destroyed.
  4. A forensic audit of all licences, permits and authorisations issued following the 2010 turn-around strategy of the Central Firearms Registry must be undertaken to ensure that due process was followed as it’s likely that the “remarkable increase” in the processing of applications noted by SAPS resulted from fast-tracking licence applications.
  5. Require that all firearm licences, irrespective of the category, be renewed every three years, in line with global norms. This will also standardise the renewals period and avoid any potential confusion for gun owners.

The ConCourt ruling has the potential to kickstart the implementation of the FCA. It gives a clear directive to SAPS to properly enforce the law and to gun owners to comply with the law. As soon as one of these parties act, the other will be forced to respond, helping close the implementation ‘vacuum’ feeding gun violence in South Africa.

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