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With a firearm part of many South African households, it often happens that a member of a younger generation is left with such a firearm as inheritance.
While this may be of utmost emotional value to, for example, a grandson to inherit his father’s hunting gun, which the latter in turn inherited from his father or grandfather, it may also leave him in dire straits if he doesn’t know how to handle the legal issues around the valuable commodity and become the legal owner of such a firearm. After all, the last thing he would want, is for the firearm to be confiscated due to it being legally possessed by him.
There are specific processes that such a person must follow after inheriting a firearm. These processes has the purpose to ensure the legal possession of the inheritance if a person does not already have a competency certificate for the firearm he or she has inherited.
Regulations in South Africa that must be followed
The Firearms Control Act, 2000 (Act No 60 of 2000) and the Firearms Control Regulations, 2004, impose specific requirements on a person who, under any execution warrant issued by a court of law, or letter of executorship, letter of administration or letter of curatorship from the High Court or the Master of the High Court, acts as messenger of the court, bailiff, executor, administrator, trustee, curator or liquidator of the estate of a person who possesses a firearm and/or ammunition.
Different options to follow
There are four options that a person who has inherited a firearm can choose between. According to the Firearm Control Act, they can do one of the following:
- If the person does not want the inherited firearm, he or she can hand over the firearm to a dealer.
- If the person does not want the inherited firearm, he or she can also hand the firearm to the police to be destroyed.
- If the person prefer to keep, but does not want to use the inherited firearm, he or she can arrange for the firearm to be deactivated by a gunsmith and the gunsmith must then issue a certificate to confirm that this has been done.
- If the person wants to keep and use the inherited firearm, he or she needs to apply for a new licence in terms of Firearms Control Act. He or she will have to write the relevant test with the SAPS, obtain a competency certificate to own and handle that specific firearm, and will only be able to take possession of the inherited firearm once he or she obtained the relevant licence.
The heir must make sure that all the documentation associated with the firearm is correct and complete to avoid being charged for illegal possession of the firearm.
Starting the process to legally own the inherited firearm
If a person inherits a firearm and he or she wishes to keep the firearm, the person must apply for an appropriate licence, permit or authorisation in terms of the Firearm Control Act.
The Firearm Control Regulations of 2004 inflict specific requirements on both the possession and the safe storage of such firearms and ammunition that may go with it.
Firstly, there are certain responsibilities imposed on the executor, administrator, trustee, curator or liquidator of an estate. He or she must compile an inventory of all the firearms, ammunition and firearm parts that was possessed by the holder of a licence, permit or authorisation and this inventory must clearly indicate the following:
- The make, type and calibre of a firearm
- The manufacturer’s serial number or additional identification marks reflected on the firearm
- The quantity, calibre and make of any ammunition
- All details of the firearm parts
Within 14 days after receipt of the letter of appointment of the seizure of the firearms, this responsible person must deliver notification containing the following particulars to the Central Firearms Register:
- The full name, identity number and address of the holder of the licence, permit or authorisation
- The address where the firearms and ammunition are stored
- A copy of the inventory of the firearms and ammunition
- A copy of the execution warrant or letter of appointment
- A copy of the death certificate if the holder of the licence, permit or authorisation is deceased
- The full names, identity numbers and addresses of all the beneficiaries, if the firearms and ammunition have to be transferred by testamentary or intestate succession
- Documentary proof of appointment as executor, administrator, trustee, curator or liquidator of the particular estate
Applying for the Competence Certificate and firearm licence
When an applicant has completed the competence training and received the training certificate from an accredited training provider, he must apply for a Competency Certificate at the SAPS.
The application and supporting documentation must be submitted to the local designated firearms officer (DFO).
What is a Competency Certificate and who can obtain it?
The FCA requires that an application to possess a firearm, trade in firearms, manufacture firearms, or be licensed as a gunsmith be submitted accompanied by a Competency Certificate.
To obtain a Competency Certificate, the candidate must:
- Be a citizen or permanent resident of South Africa
- Be at least twenty-one years old
- Be a “fit and proper person” for the specific license
- Be stable and does not have a tendency for violence
- Not have a substance-abuse problem
- Have no conviction within the five years preceding the application for crimes related to violence, dishonesty, recklessness or instability
- Not “become or been declared unfit to possess a firearm” within the five years preceding the application
- Have completed the required tests on understanding the FCA, the training and test for the safe and effective use of a firearm, and all applicable training and tests for the specific license.
The person must further be –
- In stable mental condition and does not have a propensity for violence
- Does not suffer from a substance-abuse problem
- Has not been served with a protection order or accused of domestic violence
- Has not been denied a license, permit, or authorization for a firearm
- Has not attempted suicide, suffered major depression or emotional problems, or had a substance-abuse problem
- Has not been diagnosed or treated for depression, substance abuse, or behavioural or emotional problems
- Has not been reported to the police or social services for threatening or attempting violence or other conflict anywhere
- That in the two years preceding the application the applicant did not go through a divorce or separation from a partner in which violence was alleged or
- Was fired or laid off from his or her job.
Once a person has obtained the competency certificate, he/she can complete a SAPS Application for a Licence to Possess a Firearm and submit it to the local DFO.
A person may only possess one firearm for the purpose of self-defence and the licence is valid for five years from the date of issue. A person may only possess one restricted firearm for the same purpose, with the relevant licence issued only valid for two years.
A person may possess four firearms for the purpose of occasional hunting or sports shooting but if a person is in possession of a firearm licence for self-defence, he/she may only apply for three firearm licences for this purpose since ownership may not exceed four firearms.
On successful application, you have to install a firearm safe according to SABS standards within 14 days. An inspection of your premises will ascertain whether you have met the requirements before you may take the firearm in possession.
Safe storage of firearms and ammunition for estates of deceased persons
The administrator, trustee, curator or liquidator of the estate of a person who possessed a firearm or ammunition, must ensure the safe custody of the firearm and ammunition and store the firearm and ammunition in a storage facility as prescribed in the relevant Regulations.
If an heir of an estate of a deceased person holds a licence, authorisation or a permit issued in terms of the Act, he or she can provide safe custody for the firearm and ammunition if the executor does not have the required storage facilities and the executor issues a letter of consent to the heir for the safe keeping of the firearm, stating the details of the licence of the deceased and the make, type and calibre of the firearm, as well as the manufacturer’s serial number or any identification marks reflected on the firearm. A copy of the letter of consent must be filed with the relevant designated firearms officer for the area and firearms may only be stored and not used until the appropriate licences have been obtained.
More points to consider in connection with the safekeeping and storage of the firearms of a deceased person includes the following:
- If the heir, next of kin, or the deceased’s family have a proper storage facility, they would be able to keep the firearm safe but will immediately have to apply for a temporary permit.
- If none of them have the necessary storage facility, some arrangements can be made with a dealer to store the firearms until the necessary licences are obtained.
- The application must be done on SAPS 518 form and must be handed over to designated firearm officer in the area where the applicant resides.
- A temporary permit must be valid at least until an appointment of executor notification has been issued.
The executor or person administering an estate must be given full particulars of the deceased’s firearms and ammunition so that an inventory can be drawn up in accordance with Regulation (103) (a) of the Firearms Control Act.
An executor must also be given the full particulars of all the deceased’s firearms and ammunition in safekeeping with a copy of the permit if such a permit was issued.
If the executor, next of kin or heirs cannot find a firearm, the procedure for stolen or lost firearms must be followed.
The options for the disposal of a legal gun are the following:
- Having the firearm deactivated by a licensed gunsmith after approval from the registrar.
- Selling the firearm to a licensed dealer
- Selling or donating the firearm to another person who has legally obtained a firearm
- Permanently exporting the firearm
- Handing the firearm over to the police to be destroyed or sold to an accredited legal entity.
A person can only take possession of an inherited firearm once a licence for that particular firearm has been issued to him or her.
The South African Police Service has several times warned the public against illegally being in the possession of a firearm inherited from a deceased person’s estate.
If a person has inherited a firearm and is not sure what to do, it would be best to approach the designated firearm officer at the nearest police station for advice.
A person can only take possession of a firearm once the licence for that particular firearm has been issued. It is also recommended that an heir rather get the professional assistance of a lawyer conversant with the FCA to assist in this process.
Can you keep a firearm that was inherited from a deceased family member?
Yes, providing that you follow the procedure to legally obtain the relevant licence to own the firearm.
What must an heir do if he or she does not want to keep an inherited firearm?
If a person does not want an inherited firearm, he or she can hand it over to a dealer or to the police to be destroyed.
What must an heir do if he or she wants to keep an inherited firearm but does not want to shoot with it?
The heir can arrange for the firearm to be deactivated by a gunsmith, but the gunsmith must issue a certificate to confirm that this has been done.
What must an heir do if he or she wants to keep an inherited firearm and wants to shoot with it?
If an heir wants to keep and use an inherited firearm, he or she must apply for a new licence in terms of Firearms Control Act. He or she will have to obtain a competency certificate to own and handle that specific firearm and may only take possession of the inherited firearm once he or she obtained the relevant licence.