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The Law around Firearm Offences, Firearm Licenses and Appeals

- Featured article by LAWYERS-ONLINE.CO.ZA - June 2019

South Africa does not allow everyone to carry a gun freely, nor does it make getting a licence to carry a weapon an easy task, in fact firearms are heavily regulated, thanks to the Firearm Control Act 60 of 2000.

For those who wish to obtain a firearm licence, there are stringent processes in place to ensure that everyone who owns a firearm is competent to do within the strictest safety precautions. So what do you need to get a firearm licence? Let’s take a look:

  • Prescribed gun training must be undergone at an accredited trainer, and once completed you must be issued with a competency certificate
  • Once this has been obtained, you may apply for a licence at the South African Police Service (SAPS) provided:
    • You are 21 years or older
    • Are a South African citizen
    • You have been declared mentally fit
    • You clear a background check and have no criminal record
    • Are not dependent on substances like drugs or alcohol

Once you have a firearm licence, it does not become a licence to hoard weapons, because the amount of firearms you are permitted to own depend entirely on the purpose you need them for. A hunter may have more weapons than the average person, a professional; such a pin shooter who does it for sport may perhaps have the right to own more guns. Section 13 of the Firearm Control Act sheds a bit more light on this, and we’ll list a few examples below:

  • One shotgun or handgun if the reason is self-defence
  • Hobby sports shooters may have up to four and there is a limit on the type of firearms
  • Professional sports shooters or hunters have an unlimited number provided they can prove their membership an organisation
  • Lastly, private security companies may have an unlimited number

Each of these categories also have their own expiry dates for the licences issued, but for the average person who only has a licence for self-defence, it is 5 years with 90 days to renew the licence before its expiration. If they fail do so, it is an offence to have possession of their firearm – instead if you’re firearm licence is at risk of expiring before you can renew it, it is best to hand it over to SAPS or to dispose of it responsibly.

There are also prohibited firearms that may not be possessed by an ordinary citizen and these include:

  • A fully automatic gun,
  • A cannon, mortars or launchers,
  • Grenades and recoilless guns.

Now let’s talk about the use of firearms, because having a licence to own one does not permit the owner the freedom to use their weapon with disregard for safety and the law, in fact it is only legal to discharge your firearm when the conditions fall within the gambit of legality and safety as established by the law. For example, if the firearm is used for self-defence it is imperative to prove that the attack on you was unlawful and that the circumstances were scary enough to warrant firing a gun. The law states that when force (in this case a gun) is used for self-defence, that force must not be excessive. So if someone is trying to climb your over your gate, firing a gun at them might seem like excessive force, but if they were trying to force you to open the gate while pointing a gun at you, the force may be seen as reasonable – essentially in order to use a firearm for legal self-defence your life must be in imminent danger.

There also offences created under the act, and although one may have a licence to own a firearm, there are rules that need to be observed. The following may result in being charged with a firearm offence:

  • If your firearm is not locked away safely in a safe or store room
  • Altering any documentation related to your firearm licence
  • Not reporting the loss of a firearm whether by negligence or through theft
  • Not reporting the destruction of the firearm

These offences carry a punishment of a fine or imprisonment depending on the severity of the offence, with the maximum being up to 25 years in prison.

But what happens when your application for a firearm licence is rejected? Don’t fret, the act makes provision for the right to appeal a rejection, cancellation of competency or a licence that has been granted with conditions attached. To do so, the applicant need only lodge an appeal, preferably through a legal representative to the Central Firearms Registrar who will move the application to the appeal board.

Of if you have any questions or queries regarding the law around firearms, and firearms offences, please do not hesitate to contact us and we will refer you to a lawyer who will be able to provide expert insight.

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