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South Africa -Settlement reached in urgent court application to set aside firearms amnesty

Accredited hunting and sport shooting association and SAPS reach agreement on firearms amnesty

Pretoria – On 14 January 2020, Natshoot (NHSA) and the Minister and National Commissioner of Police reached a settlement regarding Natshoot’s urgent application in the Pretoria High Court to set aside the firearms amnesty. The settlement agreement was also made a court order with both parties being responsible for their own costs.

The settlement follows after SAPS had changed its administrative process for the application for new firearm licences under the amnesty on 6 January 2020. The amended process allows firearm owners to submit their applications for the renewal of expired competency certificates together with their applications for firearm licences during the amnesty period which ends on 31 May 2020.

SAPS changed its administrative process (paragraph 207 of the SAPS answering affidavit) in response to Natshoot’s urgent court application, thus removing the urgency of the Association’s court application.

Natshoot brought the urgent application because the correct legally prescribed procedure to declare an amnesty was not followed. Natshoot also alleged that SAPS had misled Parliament by creating the impression that the amnesty was focussed on removing illegally owned firearms used in criminal and violent acts, while the real objective was to take possession of the approximately 400 000 firearms of which the licences had lapsed.

Natshoot’s court papers indicated that the amnesty could not work if a person wanting to apply for a new licence under the amnesty, first had to obtain a valid competency certificate before the application for a new licence would be accepted by SAPS. Renewal of competency certificates can take anything from four to six months. The 14-day period provided to applicants to apply for a new licence during the amnesty would have resulted in many applications not being accepted by SAPS because a valid competency certificate could not be obtained in time to support the licence application.

Natshoot executive chairman, Dr Herman Els, said the change to the SAPS administrative process on 6 January 2020, created a fairer process for people that wanted to make use of the amnesty to apply for new licences for firearms of which the licences had expired.

Natshoot negotiated with SAPS to allow persons that want to apply for new licences under the amnesty, to keep such firearms in their possession until the licence application process had run its course. However, SAPS said that the law requires that firearms for which new licences were applied for under an amnesty, had to be handed in with SAPS until the process has been completed.

The Police also persists with its position that firearms of which the licences lapsed, are in illegal possession and that such owners could be prosecuted.

“The public doubts SAPS’ capability to safely store the firearms handed in under the amnesty. SAPS can only regain the trust of the public if it engages in constructive discussions with the organised firearms community. However, thus far the organised firearms community had neither being involved nor had any insight into the implementation of the amnesty,’ Els says.

He adds that the current situation of the amnesty, even after reaching the settlement, is far from satisfactory. For instance, it is uncertain how long it will take to complete the ballistic testing on all firearms surrendered under the amnesty.

Els says it is clear that the objective of the amnesty is to disarm firearm owners with lapsed firearm licences. He refers to the Minister’s declaration at the announcement of the amnesty where he indicated that after 31 May 2020, SAPS would go from house to house to collect firearms with expired licences if such owners had not participated in the amnesty.

“People with lapsed firearm licences are still protected under the interim order obtained by Gun Owners South Africa (GOSA) that prevents SAPS from confiscating firearms with expired licences and from prosecuting the owners. Firearm owners whose licences expired, must understand that they could still be targeted by SAPS after the amnesty if they had not used this opportunity.”

People with lapsed licences now have three options under the amnesty:

· to hand in the firearm with SAPS and to apply for a new licence and the renewal of competency (if applicable);

· to hand in the firearm with SAPS for destruction, or;

· to wait for the result of the GOSA main court case, which would most probably involve complex legal arguments of which the outcome is difficult to predict.

Els reiterated that Natshoot stands for responsible and accountable firearm ownership. “Many people are not prepared to hand in their firearms with SAPS. We advise against civil disobedience when it comes to firearms and will continue to do all we can to protect the rights of legal firearm owners. They are not the criminals.”

Els urges firearm owners to check the validity of their firearm licences and competency certificates and to submit renewal applications in time.

“Natshoot will continue to work with all accredited hunting, sport shooting and collectors’ associations and with firearms dealers to protect private legal ownership of firearms. Natshoot is committed to seek constructive cooperation with SAPS in the responsible implementation of the Firearms Control Act,” Els concluded.


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