“I own a firearm which has always been validly licenced. I was out of the country for a few months with work this year and was unable to renew my licence before its expiry in June. On my return I went to the police, but they told me that because my licence was not timeously renewed it was now invalid and that my possession of the firearm is now illegal. Is this the case? Surely I have a valid excuse for not having renewed my licence?”
Renewal of firearm licences is governed by section 24 of the Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000 (“the Act”), which stipulates that the holder of a firearm licence who wishes to renew his licence must apply to the Registrar of Firearms (“the Registrar”) at least 90 days before the expiry date. In a recent High Court judgment, the constitutionality of section 24 and section 28 dealing with the termination of a firearm licence, was questioned.
It was contended in court that these sections caused confusion for firearm owners in respect of their obligations under the Act, in that if a person has not applied for renewal of his firearm licence and the 90 day period has lapsed, there is no way that he could renew or apply to renew his firearm licence and was therefore in unlawful possession of the firearm with no means to rectify the situation. Additionally, although section 28 of the Act provides for amongst others, procedures for the cancellation of a firearm licence and a declaration by the Registrar or a Court that a firearm holder is unfit to possess a licence, the section does not provide any process which ought to be followed by firearm owners whose licences have terminated due to effluxion of time, nor does it provide clarity as to how and where to surrender their firearm, should their licence be invalid due to such expiry.
Likewise, a person who has been declared unfit to possess a firearm is required to be given 30 days’ notice in writing of such declaration and intention to invalidate their firearm licence and is permitted to provide reasons why their licence should not be invalidated. There is no similar provision in the Act for a firearm licence holder whose licence has terminated due to effluxion of time, despite the fact that valid reasons could exist for the failure to renew the licence.
In the absence of proper procedures for the renewal of firearm licences, the court declared sections 24 and 28 unconstitutional and ordered that the Act be amended by Parliament within 18 months to address this aspect. In the interim the Court held that all firearms issued in terms of the Act, which are or were due to be renewed, shall be deemed to be valid. This order is at present suspended pending confirmation by the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of the particular sections.
Against this background it means that there is a good chance that the expiry of your licence may not be valid and we would recommend that you ask your attorney for assistance with formulating the necessary correspondence to the Registrar explaining your reasons for not having renewed your licence in light of the High Court decision.