Getting a gun in South Africa — and the fight against new gun laws

Armed South Africans who fought back against looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng last month have brought government’s controversial plans to amend the country’s firearm laws back into the spotlight.

Government and anti-gun activists have claimed that removing self-defence as a valid reason to own a firearm from the Firearms Control Act will help keep guns off the streets stolen from legal owners.

This proposal forms part of a leaked 2018 draft amendment bill, slammed by gun rights advocates, opposition political parties, civil society organisations, and experts in the security industry.

Gun Owners of South Africa chairman Paul Oxley described the changes as “sheer madness” and “disturbing” and said the recent looting sprees destroyed any possible justification for the bill.

“At the same time as the police minister announces a R3-billion cut in the SAPS budget, for protecting you and I, and a R1.7-billion increase in the VIP Protection Services budget, for protecting our political masters, he would remove the only practical means of self-defence from the beleaguered South African citizenry,” Oxley said.

“The Constitution recognises our right to life, which is hollow and meaningless without access to the most effective means to protect that life, which is privately held firearms.”

Oxley said the unrest created the best large-scale experiment that proved firearms were key to protecting lives and livelihoods.

According to him, a firearm may be used in private defence where the attack is illegal, has commenced or is imminent, and will likely result in death or injury or significant property loss to the person or persons being attacked.

He stated that the insurrection, as President Ramaphosa labelled it, was largely thwarted by thousands of armed South African citizens who stood in the way of anarchy and defended themselves, their families, and their communities.

“Taxi drivers and farmers stood shoulder-to-shoulder in Nigel to prevent rampaging hordes of looters from pillaging their town, armed civilians guarded Maponya Mall in Soweto to prevent it from being looted and razed, and countless small and large communities in KwaZulu-Natal were guarded day and night by armed civilians,” Oxley said.

Oxley believes the damage would have been incalculably worse and loss of life astronomical if private citizens could not use their guns for self-defence.

He highlighted that even SAPS had to rely on private citizens for additional ammunition to prevent certain stations from being overrun.

“A sport shooting group even reloaded ammunition for SAPS to use, using the reloading equipment that the police ministry would see banned if the Firearms Control Amendment Bill is forced through.”

Oxley said that current legislation for gun ownership in South Africa was more than sufficient to ensure that irresponsible or malicious individuals didn’t get their hands on guns.

“It is the enforcement of that legislation that is almost entirely lacking,” Oxley said. “Making new laws which will be even harder to implement and enforce will have exactly the opposite effect to what is needed and intended.”

Most South Africans do not have the means to have armed security on call. The proposed disarming of civil society will fall most heavily on black people, which Oxley said make up over 60% of legal firearm owners in South Africa.

To own a gun in South Africa, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Hold South African citizenship or permanent residency
  • At least 21 years old
  • Be mentally stable and fit
  • Pass a background check
  • Have no criminal record
  • Have no addiction to alcohol or drugs

If you meet all of the requirements listed above, you may purchase a firearm. Initially, your chosen gun shop will store it for safekeeping while you apply for you licence.

Unless you opt for a licence to possess a firearm for hunting or sports shooting, it will be a handgun that is not fully automatic or a shotgun that is neither semi-automatic nor fully automatic.

Next, you will have to complete basic firearms competency training at a PFTC-accredited institution. This will include theory and practical lessons and tests on the safe handling and use of the firearm.

Upon successful completion, you will be provided with a certificate that includes your test results.

This will be required to apply for your competency certificate and licence at your nearest police station.

If successful, you will have to buy and install a SABS-approved firearm safe in which to lock your gun.

A licence to possess a firearm for self-defence is valid for five years, and you will have to apply to renew a licence 90 days before its expiry date.

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Getting a gun in South Africa — and the fight against new gun laws