Applying For a Firearm License
In order to own and use a firearm in South Africa, you must first obtain a firearm license from the government.
Every firearm you possess requires its own license, no matter the type or application, e.g. self-defense, sport, hunting, business etc.
For the first time owner, the relatively long and comprehensive procedure for acquiring a firearm license may seem like an arduous, bureaucratic minefield, but don’t be put off by this.
If you follow the correct steps, are diligent with your paperwork and just have patience, you will be granted your license and enjoy your new firearm for many years to come.
In some respects, the training, tests and reams of paperwork that one must complete actually does make one a better firearm owner, as it gives you a sense of accomplishment, responsibility and greater appreciation for what you have acquired.
There are many professional websites, organizations and legal advisors available that help guide people though the process and give advice on how to properly prepare their applications, so below is only a brief outline of the main steps of the procedure and some details about South African firearms regulation law.
STEPS TO ACQUIRING A FIREARM LICENSE
The Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000 (FCA) details all the laws and regulates the ownership of firearms by civilians in South Africa.
The government body in charge of administering and managing all firearm related issues is the Central Firearms Registry (CFR) located in Pretoria.
Anyone who is a South African citizen or has a permanent South African residence permit, is 21 years and older*, has not been convicted of a criminal offense**, is not addicted to drugs or alcohol or been found to be medically or psychologically unfit is eligible to apply for a firearms license.
*In some instances it is possible to apply for a license at a younger age if convincing reasons for this are put forward.
**In some instances there has been leeway depending on the date and nature of the criminal offense, however if you are unsure of your status then it is best to consult with a lawyer regarding this issue.
The first step is to undergo proficiency training at a certified training provider.
This training covers practical aspects of safe firearm handling as well as knowledge of South African firearms laws and the Firearms Control Act.
Each individual module that one is required to complete is known as a unit standard.
The basic, required unit standards are:
– Knowledge of the Act (legal module)
– Handle and Use of a Handgun
– Handle and Use of a Shotgun
– Handle and Use of a Rifle
– Handle and Use of a Self-loading Rifle or Carbine
For each type of firearm that you would like to possess (i.e. apply for a license for), you are required to complete the individual training and unit standard.
It is possible to complete these unit standards all in one go, or individually at different times (training providers often offer discounted, package rates to complete all unit standards at once).
Note: You are only required to complete the legal module once, and not repeat it for every firearm type.
The legal portion of the training is in the form of an open-book test completed at home, while the firearm handling portions involves an open-book test at home, a closed-book test in class and a short practical test and shoot at a range.
Once you have successfully completed your training, you will be given a Proficiency Training Certificate from your training provider; one for the legal unit standard and one for each firearm unit standard (some training providers combine all firearms onto one certificate if all unit standards are completed at once).
You will also receive a Statement of Results, which is simply a confirmation that you have completed the unit standards.
One can now apply for a Competency Certificate by completing an Application for a Competency Certificate form (SAPS 517) and submitting it to the Designated Firearms Officers (DFO) at one’s local police station.
One must apply for a Competency Certificate for each particular type of firearm that one wishes to possess.
One can either apply for a certificate for all firearm types (provided they have completed the training unit standards for them) or individually.
Certified copies of the Proficiency Training Certificate and Statement of Results must be included with the application as required supporting documents.
Other required documents are; a certified copy of your ID and two, colour ID photos.
You will also be required to give contact details of your spouse/partner, a neighbor and a work colleague, as the DFO will contact them for short interviews to ask about your character.
Note: Some people also include character reference letters from shooting clubs or associations as extra motivation, but this is not a FCA requirement.
Once submitted a competency certificate application can take 3-4 months to be processed and approved.
When approved it can be collected from the DFO and is presented either in the form of a printed white card, or printed A4 sheet.
With a Competency Certificate one can finally apply for a firearm license for a particular firearm.
Think of the Competency Certificate as a driver’s license for a particular class of vehicle, and the firearm license as the license disk required for each individual vehicle.
However, one can only apply for a license for the type of firearm specified by the competency certificate, i.e. if you only have a handgun competency certificate, you can only apply for handgun licenses.
There are also different categories of firearm licenses that can be applied for depending on the intended purpose and type of firearm.
These different categories stipulate the type and quantity of firearms and ammunition that can be owned, but also have different requirements regarding their motivations and supporting documents.
For example, with a self-defense license one can only apply for a handgun or a manual shotgun, own a maximum of four firearms and store 200 rounds of ammunition (of each caliber), while with a Dedicated Sport Shooting license, one can also apply for semi-automatic rifles and shotguns and there is no limit to the number of firearms or ammunition.
The first step to acquiring a firearm license is actually to purchase or acquire (e.g. inherit) a firearm.
The reason for this is that one requires the unique serial number of the firearm in order to apply for the license.
Note: A firearm can be purchased before one has acquired the required competency certificate, i.e. a competency certificate is not required to purchase a firearm. Therefore, one can actually purchase a firearm before starting the entire competency and licensing process.
Once a firearm has been purchased, it will be put aside in storage and the dealer will provide the Application for License to Possess a Firearm form (SAP 271) already containing the dealer’s and firearm’s details.
This form must be completed by the applicant and submitted to the local DFO with the following required documents: a certified copy of your ID, a certified copy of your competency certificate, and 2 colour, ID photos.
You also need to provide a written motivation as to why you require the particular firearm.
Note: Even though they are not listed as required supporting documents in the Firearms Control Act, it is highly recommended that you also include these in order to have a successful application:
- A separate, detailed, well structured motivation letter based around the type of license you are applying for (there are many websites and organizations to assist with this)
- A shooting club membership letter
- Articles or statistics of crime in the area you live or work – self-defense license only
- Certificates from supplementary self-defense or firearm training seminars or courses – self-defense license only
- Evidence or confirmation of shooting training or participation in shooting events (e.g. signed training logbook, scoresheets, participation certificates) – sports shooting license only
- Sports shooting association membership letters – sports shooting license only
- Firearm endorsement or approval letters – sports shooting license only
- Dedicated Sport Shooter certificates – sports shooting license only
- Evidence or confirmation of past hunting activities (e.g. hunting permits, letters from game farms, photos) – hunting licenses only
- Hunting association membership letters – hunting licenses only
Once submitted the application takes approximately 3-4 months to be processed and approved.
Usually you will receive text messages to keep you updated on the progress of the application, but you can also contact the DFO or the CFR call center to follow up yourself.
CFR Call Centre Number: 012 353 6111
During this time the DFO will also visit your premises to do a safe inspection and make sure that you have the legally required, mounted firearm safe.
The complete process is supposed to take no longer than 90 days (provided there are no unexpected problems with the application, usually on the part of the DFO or CFR), but often the application will be approved in 90 days, and then the actual license card will take another 4 weeks or longer to be delivered.
Once you have collected the license card from the DFO, you can finally collect your firearm from the dealer and take it home.
Firearm licenses and competency certificates have expiry dates and need to be renewed periodically.
The renewal period depends on the type of license it is, e.g. self-defense licenses are valid for 5 years, while licenses for dedicated or occasional sports shooting or hunting are valid for 10 years.
The renewal period of the competency certificate depends of on the renewal period of the associated firearm license, i.e. they have the same renewal periods.
Note: Renewal applications must be submitted no later than 90s days before the expiry date.
EXPIRED LICENSES – POSTED BY GOSA – 21/08/2019
The renewal of expired licence situation is as follows:
In July 2018 GOSA obtained an interdict against SAPS to prevent them from threatening or taking in expired license firearms. Under almost every circumstance this interdict (being interim) is NOT appealable. SAPS insisted on asking the judge for permission to appeal this in December 2019. The judge literally said to them: ‘I don’t believe this is appealable, but if you want to ask the Supreme Court of Appeal then I can’t stop you’.
Then SAPS failed to file their appeal with the SCA within the 30 days they are given to do that. GOSA advised SAPS that they had failed to lodge their appeal several times and received written answers to our advices.
Nonetheless, after about 6 months SAPS woke up and discovered that they hadn’t filed. They then asked the SCA for condonation for late filing. They asked GOSA to agree to their condonation. We refused. Now the SCA has to decide whether or not they will accept SAPS’s reasons for failing to file on time before they even consider the appeal. GOSA will argue against condonation AND (obviously) defend our interdict should SAPS be allowed to argue the appeal in the SCA.
It doesn’t look like we will get back into court for the hearing of our full matter this year.
In the meantime, and to assist those who we have recommended should keep their expired license firearms in the safe we have instructed out counsel to obtain a written opinion on whether these firearms should not just be used as usual. If you fall into this category we would ask that you complete the GOSA Renewal Rescue Pack (if you haven’t already). This provides you with evidence that you have attempted to comply with the law, and as per the Constitutional Court verdict protects you from arrest or prosecution. As soon as we have the written opinion we will let you know what the next step is.