The South African Police Service (SAPS) in December released a document to be circulated in relation to the Firearms Act of 2000 (Act 60 of 2000) in regard to air rifles. For shooting clubs and shots of Limpopo Air Rifle Shooting, this information is very important to look at. The circular was signed off by the National Commissioner of the SAPS, General Khehla Sithole, on the 31st of December 2020.
According to the SAPS, the aim of this circular is to foster a clear understanding of the application of the definition of an air gun or rifle and when it is considered to be a firearm. The SAPS said in the circulated letter that the purpose of this particular Firearms Control Act is to establish a comprehensive and effective system of firearms control and to provide for matters connected therewith.
This act defines what are deemed to be firearms and how these are to be controlled and to be exempted certain devices from control because they are not classified as firearms. In terms of section 5(1)(f ) of the Act, airguns are not classified as firearms and are therefore exempted from control, does not need to be licensed, and can be imported and sold by any person.
According to the SAPS, an airgun is defined as any device that is manufactured to discharge a bullet or any other projectile, that is of a caliber less than 5,6mm (.22 caliber) and that produces muzzle energy of fewer than eight joules (6ft-lbs), naturally by means of compressed gas or air and not by a burning propellant.
The SAPS stated airguns that exceed these above specifications are therefore regarded as firearms. At present, all that is required for the importations of airguns is an import permit that is issued by the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa (ITAC). Here the Central Firearms Registry (CFR) of the SAPS has no role in the authorization of these import permits.
Once such airguns are imported, the consignments are inspected by customs of the South African Revenue Service (SARS) where they will determine if an ITAC import permit was issued and if import5 tariffs are payable on the consignments.
The SAPS said it is very rare that members of the Ports of Entry of the SAPS are requested to inspect airguns. Even so, when the airguns do get inspected, notice is not taken of the caliber and muzzle energy of the airguns.
This means that so-called ‘big bore airguns’ are not correctly identified as firearms as defined in the Act and are therefore cleared for importation into the country without an import permit issued in terms of the Act as required by section 73(1) of the Act.
Barrels or tubes are also imported and sold, which allows for an air rifle to be converted to a ‘big bore’ airgun. A barrel or tube that is manufactured to discharge a bullet or any other projectile of a caliber of 5,6mm or .22 caliber or higher is therefore also regarded as a firearm. Sections 33(1) and 73(1) of the Act is therefore equally applicable to such barrels or tubes.
Consignments of airguns or air rifles exceeding these requirements and is not accompanied by an import permit issued in terms of the Act, are not allowed to be cleared at the Ports of Entry. Upon discovery of non-compliance imports, the matter must be referred to the National Priority Violent Crimes Bureau (NPVC) to further handle the matter.
The NPVC will then activate the relevant members in the applicable province. The SAPS said that designated firearms officer must take note that ‘big bore’ airguns may be handed in during the Firearms Amnesty period