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Firearm and Ammunition Laws

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Possession of illegal firearms has become more prevalent in our communities. You only need to visit the Serious Offences Court or open the weekend newspapers to understand the seriousness of the matter. Ten years ago there were very few firearms matters before the court and very few deaths from gunshot wounds.{{more}} Even though the penalty was increased in 2004, there has not been a decrease in crimes associated with firearms. However, whether imported or homemade, the law prohibits the holding of a gun without a licence or permit.

The Firearms Act

In 1995, the lawmakers saw it fit to repeal the previous firearms act and enact No. 12 of 1995 in order “to provide further and better provision with respect to firearms and matters incidental” to the same. It describes firearm as “any lethal barreled weapon capable of discharging any shot, bullet or missiles” or “is a restricted or prohibited weapon.” A restrictive weapon being any weapon “designed or adapted to contain any noxious liquid, gas or other substance” and a prohibited weapon being “any automatic weapon, grenade, bomb or similar missiles.”

Licences and permits

The law requires that anyone who desires to have in his possession firearms and ammunition must get the appropriate licence or permit. The types of licence permitted by the law are Firearm Users Licence, Estate Gun Licence and Firearm Dealers Licence. The types of permits that are available include Firearm (employees) pemit, Firearm Import Licence, and Firearm Export Licence.

Application for a licence must be made to the Commissioner of Police, who would carry out the relevant inquiry to determine eligibility. The application form is prescribed by law and requires certain personal information of the applicant, the type of licence sought and the type of firearm that is being licensed. The applicant must give the reasons for requiring a firearm. The application must be accompanied by a photograph of the applicant. The licence is granted if the applicant is competent to hold a firearm, if he has good reasons to hold the same and if the grant will not endanger the public or the peace. It is an offence to make false statements in an application.

Possession of firearms without the relevant licence or permit is liable to a fine not exceeding $20,000 or imprisonment not exceeding seven years, or both on summary conviction (as amended by No: 37 of 2004). The penalty is similar for anyone who knowingly forges or counterfeits a permit or licence or knowingly uses the same. The licences and permits are for a period of one year and on payment of an annual fee. Licences and permits must be renewed annually on the payment of the relevant fees. The court has, since the 2004 amendment, given mostly custodial sentences.

Obligations of a licensed holder

A person who has a licence or permit must submit his firearm annually for inspection. This must be done at the time the permit or licence is renewed. If a person fails to renew his licence then he is guilty of an offence and on summary conviction is liable to a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.

Prohibitions

A licence would not be issued to a person under the age of 21, or who is of “intemperate habits”, or is a restricted person under the act, or who is unfit to be entrusted with a firearm or ammunition.

The Court of Appeal has, since the 2004 Amendment, given mostly custodial sentence for possession.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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