Firearm licence renewal hold-up

KAREN WATKINS

Thousands of gun owners who have submitted late applications to renew their expired licences could be in for a nasty surprise because the police have recently been issued with a directive to stop accepting late renewals, says Westlake lawyer Damian Enslin.

Mr Enslin said gun owners had a lot more to worry about than backlogs at the licence renewal department: on Wednesday February 3, SAPS acting National Police Commissioner General Kgomotso Phahlane introduced a new directive on the late renewal of gun licences, which, Mr Enslin claimed, had only come to the attention of various firearm bodies on Monday February 8.

He said the SAPS had previously accepted late licence renewals, but would now no longer do so. This, he said, had been decided without consulting firearm groups and other stakeholders. He argues this is in contravention of the constitution. He said the new directive would affect about 120 000 people who had filed late applications to renew their firearm licences.

Meadowridge businessman Errol Pearce is one of them. Mr Pearce works from home and often has cash there, which means he needs to protect himself. So he has a gun. The problem is his licence expired while he was overseas.

“It slipped my mind, as prior to this new law, licences were issued in perpetuity, unless it was taken away for some misdemeanour or the other,” said Mr Pearce.

He took his licence to the firearm control officer at Diep River police station where, he said, he had been told everything was fine. That was one year ago. Since then, he said, he had contacted them several times to find out whether his renewed licence was ready, but he hadn’t had any joy.

Warrant Officer Keith Chandler of Diep River Police said every gun owner had to sign a copy of Section 24 of the Firearms Control Act 2000 when they get their licence. The law says they have to renew the licence at their nearest police station at least 90 days before it expires, or else face prosecution.

Surrendered unlicenced guns would be destroyed and the owners did not qualify for compensation, said Warrant Officer Chandler.

Eddy Pretorius and Alan Martheze of City Guns in Hout Street, Cape Town, say getting a gun licence these days is like “jumping through a fiery hoop”. The licences previously had no expiry date. Now they have to be renewed every five years.

Mr Martheze feels it is wrong to confiscate legally obtained property based on a paper transaction and says there is no safety in handing in firearms at police stations claiming they end up in the hands of criminal.

“Also, firearms wilfully handed in will be counted by the police as confiscated and used as propaganda in anti-crime drives, when in reality it’s a move to terrorise legal owners into submission and will impact criminals and illegal guns not one iota,” said Mr Martheze.

He says it makes more sense for firearms owned by people who are renewing their licence to hand them over for safekeeping at gun shops, or sell them to gun-shops when the time has lapsed, rather than forcing them to hand them in to the police.

The gun shop could also hold the gun while the owner goes through the formality of the licensing process.

However, Gun Free South Africa spokeswoman Claire Taylor welcomed the new directive. “Especially as we’ve received a number of queries from gun owners wanting to comply with the law in this regard,” she said.

She disagreed with claims that the directive was unconstitutional.

“We see nothing untoward, and if a gun owner has proof that they’ve applied to renew his licence within the 90-day expiry period then his licence remains valid, delays notwithstanding,” said Ms Taylor. “Data shows that civilians are the largest source of lost and stolen guns, therefore regular licence renewal is critical in allowing the state to ensure that gun owners have still got their firearms in their possession, and that they haven’t fallen into criminal hands through loss or theft; this is particularly important because gun owners may in fact not report firearm loss or theft resulting from negligence as the penalty is very severe, five years imprisonment.”

On Thursday February 18, Gun Africa Magazine editor Jonathan Deal encouraged firearm owners to form a national coalition.

He was speaking at the regional meeting of Cape Hunters and Game Conservation Association and the South African Gunowners’ Association (SAGA).

Mr Deal attacked SAPS and the military.

“It’s possible that the majority of violent crimes are commissioned with guns stolen from our police and military, and guns which come into South Africa through our porous borders,” said Mr Deal, adding that our firearm laws are among the strictest in the world.

Mr Deal would like to see a more streamlined process where gun owners are licenced once and not for each individual firearm they own. Mr Enslin advises all firearm licence owners not to panic until there is more clarity on the various issues.

“There’s no need to start handing in your firearms, but if SAPS approaches you, co-operate and immediately advise one of the firearms groups, such as SAGA that your firearm/s has/have been seized,” said Mr Enslin.

Mr Deal said: “We must protect the right of every law abiding citizen to exercise a free choice to acquire a firearm – or not.”

In reply to a parliamentary question last year, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko revealed that police had lost 2 356 firearms in the space of three years.

* The Tatler contacted General Phahlane’s office for comment regarding the new directive, by email on Friday February 19, 22 and 23, by SMS and phone, but had not received a response at the time this edition went to print.

Head of Western Cape SAPS communications, Captain Frederick van Wyk refused to comment.