Firearm Legislation in South Africa

Owning a firearm in South Africa is not guaranteed by law.

In fact, there is a general ban on the possession of firearms except in specific circumstances, and then you need a license to possess a firearm.

The possession, use, transporting, and change of ownership of firearms are regulated by the Firearms Control Act of 2000 (FCA) as well as its subsidiary legislation, the Firearms Control Regulations (FCA Regulations).

Owning and Licensing a Firearm in South Africa

When discussing the owning and licensing of firearms in South Africa, one should first realize what is meant by the term.

Definition of a Firearm

The FCA describes a “firearm” as any device that:

  • Can propel a bullet or projectile through a barrel or cylinder by means of burning propellant, at a muzzle energy exceeding 8 joules (6 ft-lbs)
  • Can discharge rim-fire, centre-fire or pin-fire ammunition
  • Can be “readily altered” to be used as any of the above-listed devices
  • Is designed to discharge any projectile of at least .22 caliber at a muzzle energy of more than 8 joules (6 ft-lbs), by means of compressed gas
  • Contains any barrel, frame, or receiver of a device mentioned above.

There are several exclusions that otherwise could have been considered as firearms under this definition.

For example, the FCA also excludes devices like explosive-powered tools designed for industrial application like splitting rocks or concrete, or for application in the mining or steel industry for removing refractory materials.

The FCA also does not consider stun bolts used in slaughterhouses, antique firearms, air guns, tranquilizer firearms, paintball guns, flare guns, and deactivated firearms as firearms.

The Right to Possess a Firearm

The FCA states that a South African citizen can only possess a firearm if he or she holds an appropriate license, permit, or authorization issued under the provisions of the FCA.

The FCA also categorize certain firearms as prohibited:

  • Any fully automatic firearm
  • Any gun, cannon, recoilless gun, mortar, light mortar or launcher manufactured to fire a rocket, grenade, self-propelled grenade, bomb, or explosive device
  • Any frame, body, or barrel of such a fully automatic firearm, gun, cannon, recoilless gun, mortar, light mortar, or launcher
  • Any projectile or rocket manufactured to be discharged from a cannon, recoilless gun or mortar, or rocket launcher
  • Any imitation of any device contemplated in the above paragraphs.

Gun Control in South Africa

Since 2004 South Africa has a comprehensive firearms-control regulatory system in place that consists of the Firearms Control Act of 2000 (known as the FCA) as well as its subsidiary legislation, the Firearms Control Regulations (FCA Regulations).

The National Commissioner of the South African Police Service (SAPS) is the designated regulatory authority and also functions as the National Commissioner of the Registrar of Firearms (the Registrar).

The FCA aims to establish an all-inclusive and effective system of firearms control with strict practical and procedural limits on obtaining firearms.

Content of the Firearms Control Act

The Firearms Control Act comprises 21 chapters with the following described in each chapter:

Chapter 1 – Introductory Provisions

Chapter 2 – Prohibitions

Chapter 3 – Special provisions in respect of certain devices

Chapter 4 – Competency certificates, licenses, permits, authorizations and accreditations

Chapter 5 – Competency certificates

Chapter 6 – License to possess firearm

Chapter 7 – Licenses issued to particular categories of persons dealers, manufacturers and gunsmiths

Chapter 8 – Import, export and carriage in-transit of firearms and ammunition

Chapter 9 – Storage, transport and carrying of firearms and ammunition

Chapter 10 – Control of ammunition and firearm parts

Chapter 11 – Exemptions

Chapter 12 – Declaration of persons as unfit to possess firearm

Chapter 13 – Inspections

Chapter 14 – Search and seizure

Chapter 15 – Presumptions

Chapter 16 – Offences, penalties and administrative fines

Chapter 17 – Organisational structures

Chapter 18 – Right of appeal

Chapter 19 – Compensation

Chapter 20 – Special powers relating to amnesties and firearm-free zones

Chapter 21 – General provisions

The following schedules also form part of the FCA:

Schedule 1 – Transitional provisions

Schedule 2 – Crimes and offences giving rise to unfitness enquiry by court

Schedule 3 – Laws repealed S

Schedule 4 – Penalties Firearms Regulation Firearms Control Regulations GNR.345 dated 26 March 2004

The Impact of the Firearms Control Act

The regulatory system prescribes all applications for a firearms license to be accompanied by a competency certificate.

The competency certificate is issued only if the applicant does not have a tendency for violence or a substance-abuse problem and he or she had completed training on the safe and efficient handling of firearms.

The system also imposes strict rules on the safe keeping of firearms and prescribes severe requirements for dealers.

Dealers are obliged to keep records on all firearms and ammunition in stock and all firearms that they hold on behalf of licensees, as well as to link these three registers to a national database established by the Registrar.

A dealer must make all firearms, ammunition, and records that he or she keeps available on request for inspection by any police official.

Who May Possess a Firearm?

A person may only possess a firearm if he has firearm license, permit, or authorization from the South African Police Service.

You need a separate license for every firearm that you possess.

A person who wants a firearm for occasional hunting or sports shooting, can own up to four firearms, but only one handgun and no fully or semi-automatic rifles or shotguns.

To be able to own a firearm in South Africa, you need to be at least 21 years old, in addition to be a citizen or permanent resident of South Africa.

You must be mentally fit and stable and will be subject to a background check.

You cannot have a history of criminal activity or has a drug or alcohol addiction.

Licensing – The Process

The application process for a rifle license involves two processes:

First, the person must undergo the prescribed training at an accredited training institution to establish his or her competency to own and operate a rifle.

Once he or she obtained the competency certificate, the person can apply for the firearm license. You cannot do the two steps simultaneously.

In the Firearms Control Act (Act 60 of 2000) and its Regulations (2004) there are 9 categories of licenses and permits firearm owners can apply for.

Different licenses apply for different situations.

For example, only if an applicant can demonstrate the need for a weapon and an inability to achieve protection through other means, a firearm for self-defense will be licensed.

For the average citizen, the more important categories of licenses are:

Licenses for Self-Defence (section 13 of the FCA)

A license in this category may be issued to a person who requires a firearm for self-defense and can prove that he or she cannot reasonably satisfy that need through other means.

A person may only have one license issued under this section. Such a license is valid for five years from the date of issue, unless it is cancelled or terminated under the FCA.

Licenses for Occasional Hunting and Sport-Shooting (section 15 of the FCA)

Firearms in this category are handguns suitable for hunting or hunting rifles or shotguns which are not fully or semi-automatic.

A person may not hold licenses for more than 4 firearms under this section, or if a person already holds a license in terms of section 13, he or she may only hold three more licensed firearms under this section.

A license in terms of Section 15 can be issued to an occasional hunter or occasional sportsperson. Maintained membership of an accredited association is suggested but not compulsory. Proof from the association or colleagues must be submitted as part of your motivation with application.

Supporting documents for this license may be required.

This license is valid for 10 years, unless it is cancelled or terminated in terms of the FCA.

Licenses for Dedicated Hunting and Sport-Shooting (section 16 of the FCA)

Firearms like handguns, rifles, shotguns or semi-automatic shotguns that cannot fire more than five shots in succession, (not fully automatic), or semi-automatic rifles for sports-shooting purposes can be licensed in this category.

A person declared to be a dedicated hunter or dedicated sportsperson by his or her accredited hunting or sport-shooting association or organisation may hold more than four firearm licenses under this section.

An applicant can only acquire dedicated status once he or she has complied with training requirements of an accredited hunting or sports-shooting association and only SAPS (CFR) accredited hunting or sport-shooting associations may award dedicated status to their members who comply with the specific training criteria.

A person also may hold dedicated hunter or sport-shooter status with more than one hunting or sport-shooting association.

Accredited hunting associations and sports-shooting organisations must keep a register of their dedicated hunters or sport-shooters in the association, and must annually report their ID, their name, and their standing in that association to the CFR.

Dedicated hunters who do not maintain their membership of an association, loose their dedicated status in terms of their firearm licenses and other advantages.

A license issued in terms of this section, is valid for 10 years, unless it is cancelled or terminated in terms of the FCA.

Competency – The Process

To obtain a Competency Certificate, a candidate must be a South African citizen or permanent resident, at least twenty-one years old, fit and proper to hold the specific license (this means, among other things, that the person is stable and does not have a tendency for violence or a substance-abuse problem), and have had no convictions for crimes related to violence, dishonesty, recklessness, or instability within the five years preceding the application, or has not become a criminal within the five years preceding the application.

A potential rifle owner must successfully pass the prescribed test to prove his/her knowledge of the Firearms Control Act of 2000 (FCA) as well as the prescribed training and practical test on the safe and efficient handling of a rifle at an accredited training provider.

After receiving the training certificate from an accredited training provider or the Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (Sasseta), the person can apply to the SAPS for the competency certificate by completing the SAPS 517 (Application for a competency certificate) form.

The application and any supporting documentation must be submitted to the designated firearms officer (DFO) in the area where you reside.

You need the following documents for the application for the competency certificate:

  • The applicant’s official identity document
  • The applicant’s original training certificate issued by an accredited training provider (Sasseta)
  • Two unobscured passport-size color photographs (with a neutral background) that are not older that three months
  • Any other supporting documents that may be requested.

Copies of the same documents are needed for the license application and can be accompanied by a motivation stating your purpose and need for the firearm, for example, if you are a dedicated hunter or sportsperson.

Any application to own a firearm, trade in weapons, manufacture firearms, or be certified as a gunsmith must also be supported by a Competency Certificate for each license type, according to the FCA.

A Step-By-Step Guide to Getting Rifle Competency in South Africa

Potential firearm owners in South Africa must realise that the process starts at a firearm training centre and not with the SAPS.

The application process entails two phases – the first phase to establish whether the applicant is competent to own and operate a rifle and entails successful completion of the prescribed training at an accredited training institution to obtain a training proficiency certificate.

Step 1

Find your nearest firearm training centre and make an appointment.

Step 2

Choose whether you want to operate a rifle, shotgun or rifle and start the training course for a rifle.

Step 3

Pass the relevant courses for operating a rifle, in this case Knowledge of the Firearms Control Act (SAQA US 117705) and Handle and use a self-loading rifle or carbine (semi-auto) (SAQA US 119650).

Step 4

Receive your training certificate from the centre.

Only once the training certificate has been received, the applicant may approach the police station to apply for the competency certificate to own a rifle.

Step 5

Visit the local SAPS to apply for a competency certificate. Don’t forget the necessary documents needed to apply for the competency certificate, as well as cash for payment – R70 at the time of writing, two testimonials from friends and/or family, and the completed competency application form.

Step 6

The police will interview your friends and/or family to ascertain whether you are competent to own a rifle and registers your application at the Central Firearms Register.

An applicant’s background and possible criminal record will be checked to ascertain whether he can be allowed to operate a rifle and a panel will approve or deny the application.

The competency certificate remains valid for the period determined in the FCA.

Note that for a license issued in respect of self-defense, the competency certificate will stay valid for five years when a license is issued for hunting/sport shooting, the competency certificate is now valid for 10 years.