'Why SAPS seizure of citizens' guns will cause carnage'
Gun Owners of South Africa goes to court to fight crackdown on unlicensed firearms
It is a matter of “life and death” if police go ahead with their plan to seize 450,000 firearms and nearly 60 million rounds of ammunition from civilian gun-owners whose licences have expired.
This is according to the Gun Owners of South Africa [Gosa] organisation, who approached the court on Thursday last week to have the SAPS plans halted.
The police and Police Minister Bheki Cele have until Tuesday to file their responding papers.
An urgent application to stop the planned seizures, which can be done under the Firearms Control Act (FCA), will be heard on July 17 in the Pretoria High Court.
Gosa blames failures around the Central Firearms Registry, which houses all gun-owners’ details, and police management’s jackboot stance over late licensing renewals, for the crisis.
The Gosa wants licences, which have been or will be issued in future, to be declared valid for life and for the court to order the police to provide a “comprehensive and detailed security plan” on how it will ensure seized firearms and ammunition will be kept safe while in SAPS custody.Police spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo said the SAPS would respond to the application.
“There is a law in place and we enforce that law. Whatever the law expects we will do.”
In their papers, Gosa said it was a matter of “life and death”.
“The SAPS indicated that those firearms should be handed in for destruction. The affected people will be unable to defend their lives or those of others under their protection.”
Gosa said the consequence of removing self-defence firearms was “social upheaval”.
“It appears about 450,000 licensees and those reliant on their firearms for protection, are directly affected by expired firearms licences. Chaos is currently reigning regarding firearms for which the licences expired … clarity is urgently needed from the court.
“Directives appear to be distributed by lower-ranking police members without the sanction of the national commissioner. The plans in those documents are full of holes relating to the safekeeping of the estimated 60 million cartridges that go with the 450,000 firearms,” they said in their submission.“There is no practical way of keeping the ammunition safe. It appears the SAPS may not have considered the reality thereof. The SAPS do not have the capacity to process an additional 450,000 firearms safely through compulsory ballistic testing. In our own experience it takes between 16 months and three years for a single firearm to go through such processes. It will be decades before the processes are finalised.”
Gosa said the national police commissioner had indicated three police stations were disqualified from accepting firearms, “and the implication is there may be more”.
“The reason for disqualification is because they have displayed inadequate security having been relieved of several firearms in their care by criminals.”
It says while the police have already begun taking in firearms, “in some cases people were turned away from police stations [because] they do not have storage capacity”.
The GSO highlights the theft of hundreds of firearms from police stations across the country in their papers.
Gosa said Cele had failed to introduce “much needed amendments to the FCA to make it a sensible and workable piece of legislation”.Gosa lawyer Larry Marks said the FCA required gun-owners to renew their licence at least 90 days before it expired.
“The experience on the ground is different. If you apply before the 90-day period you are told you are too early and the police cannot process early applications. If you come on the 90-day period your licence is processed, but if you come on day 89 or later you are not helped, even if you have a reasonable explanation for being late, including being away on business or hospitalised.”
He said until 2016 late applications were condoned with reasonable explanations, but claims this was changed “unilaterally”.
“The public were not told about these changes. The effect is gun-owners, who have valid excuses, are technically illegally in possession of their guns.”
He said gun-owners, who were competent to use their firearms, could be imprisoned for 15 years for missing an administration deadline.
“The police cannot keep their own firearms safe. What proof is there they can safely keep civilians firearms?”