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Tips for first-time gun owners

First time gun owners

Table of Contents


Becoming a first-time gun owner is an exciting milestone in many people’s lives, whether you have grown up and been around firearms all your life or have never before picked up a firearm.

As a first-time gun owner however, there are a lot of things you need to know first to make the most out of this exciting experience and to continue enjoying being a gun owner for many years to come.

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When considering the purchase of your first gun, it is important to acquaint yourself with and understand the fundamentals of gun ownership and prepare yourself for the responsibility that goes with such ownership. The basic practices of owning a gun are the same whether you are a new retiree who wants additional self-protection or a 21-year old entering the world and wants the ability to be able to defend yourself if the need arises.

Every first time gun buyer should carefully consider how to approach such a big step and make sure that he or she follows the correct procedures to the letter, to stay within the law.

The following are a compilation of some tips for first-time gun owners.

Understanding the reason for buying a gun and knowing your specific needs

Visiting a gun shop can be to a potential gun owner like being a kid in a candy shop. Seeing all the different types of firearms and accessories that are on display, can be as confusing as it can be exciting. This implies that you should already have a pretty good idea of what type of firearm you want to purchase before you go to the gun shop to select and buy your first gun.

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The type of gun you choose will depend on what you plan to use it for, which can be one of the following:

  • Protecting your family and home
  • Going hunting
  • Going target shooting at an indoor or outdoor range
  • Starting a gun collection as an investment or for show purposes

Make sure that you purchase a firearm that fits your needs

People may have many opinions on the best firearm to use in certain circumstances, for example for home defence, concealed carry, and more, but none of this really matters if you do not purchase a firearm that fits you and your specific need.

Before you decide on a type and model of firearm, you should do proper research on calibres, features, ammunition, and ammunition availability and prices. Seek the help of somebody that you trust in the process and do not rely solely on random videos and articles found on the internet and that have not necessarily been written by experts or people with understanding of the different uses of firearms.

Know the law

South Africa’s current firearms regulatory framework comprises the Firearms Control Act of 2000 (FCA) and subsidiary legislation.

Any person in South Africa who wants to obtain a firearm, must first determine if he or she may own one and how many firearms he or she is allowed to own.

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The FCA requires that a potential gun owner has to obtain a firearm licence first. The FCA further requires that a person must first undergo the necessary training at an accredited institution to obtain a training proficiency certificate. Only once a person has obtained the relevant Competency certificate to own a specific firearm, he or she can apply for the firearm licence at the nearest police station.

Any application submitted to possess a firearm, must be accompanied by such a Competency Certificate. 

Learn About the Process

The process to obtain a firearm licence starts at a firearm training centre, and not at the police station, since potential firearm owners must first successfully undergo the prescribed training at an accredited training institution to obtain a training proficiency certificate. 

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The application process consists of two phases. The first phase is to establish whether an applicant is competent to own and operate a firearm and can take about 90 days to complete. The second phase consist of the actual application process to obtain a firearm licence. This can also take 90 days under normal circumstances, although several delays have been experienced over recent years.

The two phases cannot be done at the same time and there is no other way to streamline the process or obtain a licence to own a firearm.

Can you legally buy a gun?

The FCA requires that an application to possess a firearm, trade in firearms, manufacture firearms, or be licensed as a gunsmith be submitted accompanied by a Competency Certificate.

To obtain a Competency Certificate, you must:

  • Be a citizen or permanent resident of South Africa
  • Be at least twenty-one years old
  • Be a “fit and proper person” for the specific license
  • Be stable and do not have a tendency for violence
  • Not have a substance-abuse problem
  • Have no conviction within the five years preceding the application for crimes related to violence, dishonesty, recklessness or instability
  • Not “become or been declared unfit to possess a firearm” within the five years preceding the application
  • Have completed the required tests on understanding the FCA, the training and test for the safe and effective use of a firearm, and all applicable training and tests for the specific license.

You must further be –

  • In stable mental condition and do not have a propensity for violence
  • Do not suffer from a substance-abuse problem
  • Have not been served with a protection order or accused of domestic violence
  • Have not been denied a license, permit, or authorization for a firearm
  • Have not attempted suicide, suffered major depression or emotional problems, or had a substance-abuse problem
  • Have not been diagnosed or treated for depression, substance abuse, or behavioural or emotional problems
  • Have not been reported to the police or social services for threatening or attempting violence or other conflict anywhere
  • That in the two years preceding the application you did not go through a divorce or separation from a partner in which violence was alleged or
  • Was fired or laid off from his or her job.

Do your research on what gun to purchase and where to purchase it

Once you have determined what you plan to use a gun for, you will have a good starting point when visiting a gun store. This will help you to ask relevant questions and also helps the staff to steer you in the right direction by considering specific categories of firearms that are recommended for certain uses.

The following types of firearms may be considered:

Handguns or Pistols.

These are smaller types of firearms that have shorter barrels. Handguns have great accuracy due to the rifling within its thick barrel, designed to withstand a lot of pressure. These guns are easier to carry because they are smaller than other types of guns, and they can also be used with one hand to shoot if needed. They are popular choices for protection, self-defence and range shooting.


Shotguns have longer and thinner barrels than that of a handgun and have a smooth bore instead of rifling. The latter causes the ammunition to spin. A shotgun’s barrel does not handle as much pressure and they are best for skeet shooting and bird hunting.


If you want to use a firearm for long-range hunting, a rifle is best designed for that purpose. It has a long, rifled barrel with thick walls that can withstand high pressures, making it more accurate than a shotgun, and able to fire bullets for longer distances. A rifle is a great choice for both hunting and sport shooting.

Choosing the right gun shop

Once you know what type of gun you want to buy, you should find a gun shop where you will find answers on any questions you may still have about the features of the specific type of gun.

Understanding the use of firearms in self-defence

Any good gun shop should employ experienced and knowledgeable employees who should be able to answer any questions you might have as a first-time gun buyer.

Ask questions about the different guns you are interested in and compare the pros and cons of each and what licence or permits you may need to apply for. Also, shop around to see if you can find the same quality and service at a better price.

Try before you buy

You want to make sure that the gun is not too heavy or too big for controlling it. For example, you must be able to turn the safety off and on quickly so that you do not waste time when you need to shoot fast. If it is possible to try a gun out it will be great, but you should at least go through a few steps to determine whether the gun you are considering is right for you.

  • How does the gun feel in your hand?
  • Is the gun too light or too heavy in your hand?
  • Grasp the gun firmly around its grip and determine if you can easily manoeuvre its safety on and off while keeping your finger off the trigger and outside the trigger guard.
  • Consider what type of trigger action the firearm has because this will determine how the gun will load, lock, fire, extract, and eject when you pull its trigger.

Get appropriate firearm training

Now that you know what you should accomplish before purchasing your first firearm, it is time to start the process of getting your licence to own it.

All potential firearm owners must successfully undergo a firearms competency course at an accredited training institution and must acquire a training proficiency certificate.

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Such a course will take you through legal training to obtain knowledge of the Firearms Control Act and equip you with the necessary skills to handle and use the firearm.

When an applicant has completed the competence training and received the training certificate from an accredited training provider, he must apply for a Competency Certificate at the SAPS.

The application and supporting documentation must be submitted to the local designated firearms officer (DFO).

Once a person has obtained the competency certificate, he/she can complete a SAPS Application for a Licence to Possess a Firearm and submit it to the local DFO.

Safety practices for after purchasing your first firearm

As a first-time gun owner, you must also accept the responsibility of practicing gun safety.

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You should get as familiar as possible with your gun and practice to use it properly. The more you use it, the more comfortable you will be with shooting it.

As soon as your firearm is purchased, it is your responsibility to ensure that it is stored safely when not in use. This is even more crucial if you have children or if your house is ever broken into. The best way to do this is by keeping your new firearm secured in a gun safe or gun vault.

Always treat your firearm as if it is loaded. If you own a firearm, you need to respect its abilities. Always do a chamber check to ensure that your firearm is unloaded and there is not a round in the chamber prior to getting ready to dry fire, store your firearm, or cleaning it.

Never point your firearm at anything that you are not willing to destroy and keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you are ready and willing to fire.

Practice as much as possible because if you are ever faced with a dangerous situation that induces adrenaline and stress, your response capabilities will likely decrease. If you practice under stress, you get your body and mind used to a low level response to these situations.


During the trying times we are living in, there are many reasons why you want to purchase a gun for the first time. Whatever the reason for becoming a first time gun buyer, it remains important to understand your specific needs so you can choose the right type of gun.

When purchasing a gun for self-defence, choose a gun that you feel comfortable using. Many first time gun owners will opt to purchase a handgun or a pistol to have on them for that purpose. Regardless of your reason for buying a gun and the type of gun you purchase; safety should be the top priority.

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