What you need to own a gun in South Africa

South Africans must meet a range of requirements, undergo training, and acquire a firearm licence before they can legally own a gun.

These criteria are detailed in the Firearms Control Act, which also specifies the purposes for which a firearm may be owned by private individuals.

Currently, these purposes are:

  • Self-defence.
  • Hunting.
  • Sports-shooting.
  • Business purposes, such as for private security.
  • Keeping in a private collection.

The controversial Firearms Amendment Bill of 2021 has proposed that the self-defence justification be removed from the Act, and that stricter requirements be imposed on hunters for proving that they are engaged in the hobby.

Government has said the changes were aimed at assisting in reducing the number of firearms in private hands and consequently reducing incidents of violent crimes.

The Gun Owners of South Africa has labelled the move as “the peak of idiocy”, arguing that the right to defend your life was an implicit part of the right to life.

For the time being, however, self-defence remains a lawful reason to own a firearm in South Africa.

If you need a gun for this or any of the other purposes listed, there are also basic requirements you will have to meet before you can be considered for a licence.

Firstly, you must be South African citizen or permanent resident who is 21 years or older. The age requirement can be dropped in extraordinary circumstances.

In addition, you have to be mentally stable and fit, must pass a background check, have no criminal record, and cannot be addicted to drugs or alcohol.

If you meet all of these requirements, you can consider what type of licence you want to apply for.

Uzi submachine gun Walther pistol and Beretta shotgun

The type of licence will determine how many and what gun(s) you may own.

For example, a licence to possess a firearm for self-defence only allows you to own either a non-automatic handgun or shotgun which is neither automatic nor semi-automatic.

The other most common licences impose the following limits:

  • Licence to possess restricted firearm for self-defence – One semi-automatic rifle or shotgun which cannot be readily converted into fully automatic firearm.
  • Licence to possess firearm for occasional hunting or sport shooting – Up to four firearms, including non-fully automatic handgun, as well as a rifle or shotgun which is not fully or semi-automatic.
  • Licence to possess firearm for dedicated hunting or sport shooting – No limit on number of firearms. No fully automatic handguns, rifles, or shotguns. The latter may be semi-automatic up to five rounds without reloading.
  • Licence to possess firearm for professional hunting – No fully automatic handguns, rifles, or shotguns.

Before you can apply for your licence at a police station, you will need to purchase your firearm of choice to get details such as the type, calibre, and serial number, which will be required when filling out the licence forms.

This will be kept by the gunsmith until you have acquired your licence, however.

The next step from here is to undergo basic firearms competency training at an institution accredited by the Professional Firearm Training Council.

This training will include orientation on firearm laws, safe use practices, and the fundamentals of shooting a firearm.

The level of training and costs will be determined by the type of licence and firearm for which you are applying.

To start with, you will need to complete the Level 1 course on the legal aspects related to the safe handling and use of a firearm for self or private defence, called SAQA -117705.

At the South African Security Academy, this course typically takes one day and costs R250. It will include a written test to establish if you have a grasp on on the basics.

Once this is completed, you must choose the specific type of firearm for which you want a licence, and complete a Level 2 course for that firearm.

For self-defence, hunting, and sport shooting, the four main competencies are:

  • SAQA – 119649 – Handle and use of a handgun.
  • SAQA – 119650 – Handle and use of a self-loading rifle or carbine.
  • SAQA – 119651 – Handle and use of a manually operated rifle or carbine.
  • SAQA – 119652 – Handle and use of a shotgun.

These courses will include theory lessons and the completion of a theory test.

The pricing will differ between training institutions. At the South African Security Academy, each costs R1,000.

Once you’ve passed the theory part of your course, you must book a practical shooting test, during which you will have to handle the firearm safely and shoot a target accurately within defined requirements.

If you pass your practical test, you will receive a certificate with your test results confirming that you have completed the necessary training. This will be required when applying for your licence at a SAPS station.

Shooting range

Once you have all the required documents, you must take this to the police station in the area where you live.

Upon your first visit, you will have to apply for competency certificate by completing a SAPS 517 form. This will cost R70.

Aside from the training certificate, you will have to provide the following documents when applying for the competency certificate:

  • Your original ID or passport.
  • Certified copy of your official ID or passport.
  • Certified copy of your permanent residence permit in case of a non- South African citizen
  • Four passport-size colour photographs (with a neutral background) that are not older than three months.
  • Certified proof of residence.
  • Letter of appointment of the executor, if the firearm was inherited.
  • Any other supporting documents.

Once your competency certificate is ready, you can apply for the firearms licence by completing SAPS 271.

This time, you will have to bring along the following documents.

  • Your original ID or passport.
  • Certified copy of your official ID (certified copy of applicant’s permanent residence permit in case of a non-South African citizen).
  • Your original competency certificate.
  • The letter of appointment of the executor, if the firearm was inherited.
  • Two passport-size colour photographs (with a neutral background) that are not older than three months.
  • You must fully motivate your application and submit documents in support of your application.

Those applying for an occasional hunting or sport shooting licence will have to present a number of supporting documents, which are detailed on the SAPS website.

Police Station

The designated firearms officer (DFO) will then issue you with a remittance advice SAPS 523(a) and direct you to the financial office at the police station to pay the prescribed fee of R140.

The payment must be made by means of cash or a bank-guaranteed cheque.

You will be issued with a receipt (Z263) as proof of the payment, which you must submit to the DFO to ensure that the processing of the application will continue.

You will receive a signed acknowledgement of receipt (SAPS 523) as proof that you have submitted an application for a licence to possess a firearm.

If your application is successful, SAPS states that you will be required to obtain and install a SABS-approved firearm safe at your residence within 14 days. MyBroadband found a number of these available starting from R729 at The Safe Shop.

Your premises will be inspected to determine that you have met the requirements for a safe.

Once the report about the safe inspection has been finalised, your licence will be printed and sent to the DFO to be handed to you against a signature on the SAPS 86 register.

Handgun safe

It is important to note that a firearm licence can be valid for anywhere between 2 to 10 years.

For self-defence and business purposes, licences are valid for 5 years, while licences for occasional and dedicated hunters or sport shooters are valid for 10 years.

The law requires that you renew your licence at least 90 days before the expiry date.

Failure to do so will require that the firearm be disposed or handed over to SAPS.

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What you need to own a gun in South Africa