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Complete guide: Getting firearm competency & a firearm licence in South Africa

firearm licence firearm competency

Table of Contents

This is a complete guide to legally obtaining firearm competency & a firearm licence or several firearms licences in South Africa. Owning a firearm in South Africa has many benefits, but also comes with responsibilities.

With violent crime increasing annually, many a South African citizen is applying to get their gun licence for the purpose of self-defence. It is also true that in some cases, firearm licence applications take a lot of time after submitting the application to the relevant police officer at your local police station.

The Central Firearms Registry (CFR) is under immense pressure while the South African Police Service faces serious administrative and logistics issues. Many say that the challenges they face are self inflicted and backlogs have recently been caused due to the latest firearms amnesty. More about the amnesty period can be read here.

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It is important to learn some more about South Africa’s firearm legislation if you would like to legally obtain a firearm. To legally obtain a firearm in South Africa, a person first needs to hold a licence to possess a firearm – whether for self-defence, hunting or sports shooting.

South Africa’s current firearms regulatory framework consists of the Firearms Control Act of 2000 (FCA) and subsidiary legislation. A separate licence must be issued for every firearm and applicants must obtain a competency certificate for the relevant firearm first. This means that separate applications for firearm licences must be done for every firearm that you wish to obtain.

What is a competency certificate and who can obtain it?

The Firearms Control Act of 2000 (FCA) requires that an application to possess a firearm, trade in firearms, manufacture firearms, or be licenced as a gunsmith be submitted accompanied by a competency certificate.

To obtain a firearm competency certificate, the candidate 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 licence
  • Be stable and does 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 licence.

The person must further be –

  • In stable mental condition and does not have a propensity for violence
  • Does not suffer from a substance-abuse problem
  • Has not been served with a protection order or accused of domestic violence
  • Has not been denied a licence, permit, or authorization for a firearm
  • Has not attempted suicide, suffered major depression or emotional problems, or had a substance-abuse problem
  • Has not been diagnosed or treated for depression, substance abuse, or behavioural or emotional problems
  • Has 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 the applicant 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.

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Applying for a firearm competency certificate and firearm licence

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.

A person may only possess one firearm for the purpose of self-defence and the licence is valid for five years from the date of issue. A person may only possess one restricted firearm for the same purpose, with the relevant licence issued only valid for two years.

firearms guns

A person may possess four firearms for the purpose of occasional hunting or sports shooting, but if a person is in possession of a firearm licence for self-defence, he/she may only apply for three firearm licences for this purpose since ownership may not exceed four firearms.

Upon successful application, you have to install a firearm safe according to SABS standards within 14 days. An inspection of your premises will ascertain whether you have met the requirements before you may take the firearm in possession.

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A step-by-step guide to getting handgun competency in South Africa: (5 Steps)

Potential firearm owners in South Africa must realise that the process starts at a firearm training centre and not with the South African Police Service The application process entails two phases – the first phase to establish whether the applicant is competent to own and operate a handgun and entails successful completion of the prescribed training at an accredited training institution to obtain a training proficiency certificate.

The second phase is the handgun licence application. Both phases take about 90 days each to complete and cannot be done at the same time.

A potential handgun 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 regarding the safe and efficient handling of a handgun at an accredited training provider. This entails a compulsory unit standard, generally known as Knowledge of the Act, and the unit standard for the kind of firearm, in this case Handle and use a handgun ( SAQA US 119649 On receipt of the training certificate from an accredited training provider or the Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (Sasseta), the person must apply to the SAPS for the competency certificate by completing the SAPS 517 (Application for a competency certificate) form. The application and supporting documentation must be submitted to the designated firearms officer (DFO) situated in the area where you ordinarily reside.

Step 1

Find your nearest firearm training centre and make an appointment.

Step 2

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

Step 3

Receive your proficiency certificate from the accredited training centre. This certificate does not lapse. You will need this certificate for the application of a competency certificate, and it serves as proof that you indeed successfully completed the prescribed theoretical and practical assessments.

Step 4

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

Step 5

Visit the local SAPS to apply for a competency certificate.

Documents needed to apply for the competency certificate:

  • Two copies of your identity document
  • Two colour passport photos
  • A copy of your training certificate in with your training results
  • Cash for payment – R70 at the time of writing this article
  • Two testimonials from friends and/or family competency application form

The police will then interview your friends and/or family to ascertain whether you are competent to own a handgun and registers your application with the provincial police headquarters from where it is referred to the Central Firearms Register.

The applicant’s background and possible criminal record will be monitored to ascertain whether he should be allowed to operate a handgun before a panel will approve or deny the application based on information gathered.

The competency certificate remains valid for the period of validity as determined in the Firearms Control Act, 2000 , in respect of the licence for a handgun.

The competency certificate must also specify whether it relates to competency to:

  • Possess a handgun
  • Trade in handguns
  • Manufacture firearms
  • Conduct business as a gunsmith.

If an applicant is under the age of 21 years, compelling reasons which require you to obtain a competency certificate must be submitted.

Extra documents that should accompany the application should include:

  • A sworn affidavit from a parent or guardian
  • A certified copy of the person’s official identity document or passport

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A step-by-step guide to getting shotgun competency in South Africa: (5 Steps)

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 shotgun and entails successful completion of the prescribed training at an accredited training institution to obtain a training proficiency certificate.

The second phase is the shotgun licence application. Both phases take about 90 days each to complete and cannot be done at the same time.

What should you do to obtain a competency certificate for a shotgun?

A potential shotgun 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 regarding the safe and efficient handling of a shotgun at an accredited training provider.
On receipt of the training certificate from an accredited training provider or the Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (Sasseta), the person must apply to the SAPS for the competency certificate by completing the SAPS 517 (Application for a competency certificate) form. The application and supporting documentation must be submitted to the designated firearms officer (DFO) situated in the area where you ordinarily reside.

Step 1

Find your nearest firearm training centre and make an appointment.

Step 2

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

Step 3

Receive your proficiency certificate from the accredited training centre. This certificate does not lapse. You will need this certificate for the application of a competency certificate, and it serves as proof that you indeed successfully completed the prescribed theoretical and practical assessments.

Step 4

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

Step 5

Visit the local SAPS to apply for a competency certificate.

Documents needed to apply for the competency certificate:

  • Two copies of your identity document
  • Two colour passport photos
  • A copy of your training certificate in with your training results
  • Cash for payment – R70 at the time of writing this article
  • Two testimonials from friends and/or family competency application form

The police will then interview your friends and/or family to ascertain whether you are competent to own a shotgun and registers your application with the provincial police headquarters from where it is referred to the Central Firearms Register.

The applicant’s background and possible criminal record will be monitored to ascertain whether he should be allowed to operate a shotgun before a panel will approve or deny the application based on information gathered.

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The original competency certificate remains valid for the period of validity as determined in the Firearms Control Act, 2000 , in respect of the licence for a shotgun.

Applicant should note that if a licence is issued in respect of self-defence, the competency certificate will be valid for five years but if the licence is issued for hunting/sport shooting, the validity of the competency certificate is now 10 years.

The competency certificate must also specify whether it relates to competency to:

  • Possess a shotgun
  • Trade in shotguns
  • Manufacture firearms
  • Conduct business as a gunsmith.

If an applicant is under the age of 21 years, compelling reasons which require you to obtain a competency certificate must be submitted.

Extra documents that should accompany the application should include:

  • A sworn affidavit from a parent or guardian
  • A certified copy of the person’s official identification document or passport

A step-by-step guide to getting self-loading rifle competency in South Africa:(5 Steps)

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 self-loading rifle and entails successful completion of the prescribed training at an accredited training institution to obtain a training proficiency certificate.

The second phase is the self-loading rifle licence application. Both phases take about 90 days each to complete and cannot be done at the same time.

What should you do to obtain a competency certificate for a self-loading rifle?

A potential self-loading 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 regarding the safe and efficient handling of a self-loading rifle at an accredited training provider.
On receipt of the training certificate from an accredited training provider or the Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (Sasseta), the person must apply to the SAPS for the competency certificate by completing the SAPS 517 (Application for a competency certificate) form. The application and supporting documentation must be submitted to the designated firearms officer (DFO) situated in the area where you ordinarily reside.

Step 1

Find your nearest firearm training centre and make an appointment.

Step 2

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

Step 3

Receive your proficiency certificate from the accredited training centre. This certificate does not lapse. You will need this certificate for the application of a competency certificate, and it serves as proof that you indeed successfully completed the prescribed theoretical and practical assessments.

Step 4

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

Step 5

Visit the local SAPS to apply for a competency certificate.

Documents needed to apply for the competency certificate:

  • Two copies of your identity document
  • Two colour passport photos
  • A copy of your training certificate in with your training results
  • Cash for payment – R70 at the time of writing this article
  • Two testimonials from friends and/or family competency application form

The police will then interview your friends and/or family to ascertain whether you are competent to own a self-loading rifle and registers your application with the provincial police headquarters from where it is referred to the Central Firearms Register.

The applicant’s background and possible criminal record will be monitored to ascertain whether he should be allowed to operate a self-loading rifle before a panel will approve or deny the application based on information gathered.

The competency certificate remains valid for the period of validity as determined in the Firearms Control Act, 2000 , in respect of the licence for a self-loading rifle.

Applicant should note that if a licence is issued in respect of self-defence, the competency certificate will be valid for five years but if the licence is issued for hunting/sport shooting, the validity of the competency certificate is now 10 years.

The competency certificate must also specify whether it relates to competency to:

  • Possess a self-loading rifle
  • Trade in self-loading rifles
  • Manufacture firearms
  • Conduct business as a gunsmith.

If an applicant is under the age of 21 years, compelling reasons which require you to obtain a competency certificate must be submitted.

Extra documents that should accompany the application should include:

  • A sworn affidavit from a parent or guardian
  • A certified copy of the person’s official identification document or passport

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A step-by-step guide to getting a competency certificate for a manually operated rifle/ carbine in South Africa: (5 Steps)

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.

The second phase is the rifle licence application. Both phases take about 90 days each to complete and cannot be done at the same time.

What should you do to obtain a competency certificate for a rifle?

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 regarding the safe and efficient handling of a rifle at an accredited training provider.
On receipt of the training certificate from an accredited training provider or the Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (Sasseta), the person must apply to the SAPS for the competency certificate by completing the SAPS 517 (Application for a competency certificate) form. The application and supporting documentation must be submitted to the designated firearms officer (DFO) situated in the area where you ordinarily reside.

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

Receive your proficiency certificate from the accredited training centre. This certificate does not lapse. You will need this certificate for the application of a competency certificate, and it serves as proof that you indeed successfully completed the prescribed theoretical and practical assessments.

Step 4

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.

Documents needed to apply for the competency certificate:

  • Two copies of your identity document
  • Two colour passport photos
  • A copy of your training certificate in with your training results
  • Cash for payment – R70 at the time of writing this article
  • Two testimonials from friends and/or family completed competency application form

The police will then interview your friends and/or family to ascertain whether you are competent to own a rifle and registers your application with the provincial police headquarters from where it is referred to the Central Firearms Register.

The applicant’s background and possible criminal record will be monitored to ascertain whether he should be allowed to operate a rifle before a panel will approve or deny the application based on information gathered.

competency certificate remains valid for the period of validity as determined in the Firearms Control Act, 2000 , in respect of the licence for a rifle.

Applicant should note that if a licence is issued in respect of self-defence, the competency certificate will be valid for five years but if the licence is issued for hunting/sport shooting, the validity of the competency certificate is now 10 years.

The competency certificate must also specify whether it relates to competency to:

  • Possess a rifle
  • Trade in rifles
  • Manufacture firearms
  • Conduct business as a gunsmith.

If an applicant is under the age of 21 years, compelling reasons which require you to obtain a competency certificate must be submitted.

Extra documents that should accompany the application should include:

  • A sworn affidavit from a parent or guardian
  • A certified copy of the person’s official identification document or passport
If a person wants to own a firearm, for example a handgun, he/she must first undergo the necessary training at an accredited institution to obtain a competency certificate . Only once a person has obtained the relevant competency certificate to own a firearm, he/she can apply for the firearm licence at his/her nearest police station. A South African resident needs a licence for every firearm that he/she possesses.

Steps to follow when applying for a new firearm licence:

Download the application form ( SAPS 271 ) and complete the form in black ink. It is important to write clearly and mark the relevant blocks with an X. All relevant sections of the form must be completed, and all the required fields filled out.

Download the official SAPS Checklist for New Applications to see that you comply with what is requested and even download SAPS crime stats for your area if you apply to possess a firearm for self-protection.

Make copies of the following documents to attach to your application:

  • Two copies of your identity document
  • A copy of the competency certificate obtained
  • Copies of your proficiency training certificates issued by your accredited training provider
  • Copy of an electricity account not older than three months to prove you live at the address provided
  • Two colour passport photographs of yourself, which are not older than 3 months.
  • Copies of proof of current paid-up membership of all accredited associations and/or shooting clubs if relevant
  • Copies of your dedicated status certificates (either as hunter or as sports-person or both) if relevant
  • Copy of an endorsement for the handgun and its features for your purpose
  • In the case of an application for a hunting firearm an invitation or statement from a game ranch owner that you may hunt on his farm, or that you do so regularly
  • A complete motivation stating the purpose and need for the firearm you want the licence for Safe-form
  • An endorsement confirming the applicability of the calibre and handgun for the stated purpose it will be used
  • A copy of the relevant invoice to confirm purchase of the specific handgun being applied for if it is for a new one.

Applicants should not attach any original documents to an application as you may need them again. The designated firearms officer (DFO) will certify all copies attached to your application when showing the originals. Also make a copy of your full application so that you can furnish a duplicate if the original gets lost.

You may also add information on security facilities at your dwelling, like alarm, walls or electric fence around the property, likely crime in your area, detail about any other firearm training that you may have received.

Submit the set of documents to the DFO and make sure to obtain a receipt proving that you have paid the relevant amounts (R140 at the time of writing this article). This also proves that you have handed in your application.

Guide: When and How to renew your gun licence

In South Africa the validity of a firearm licence varies between two and ten years depending on the type of licence. All firearm licences and permits, which are issued in terms of the Firearms Control Act of 2000 (FCA), must be renewed within a prescribed period to determine if a person still complies with the provisions of the act and the Firearms Regulations of 2004, in order to warrant effective control and responsible firearm and ammunition ownership.

A gun owner is obliged to renew his firearm licence at least 90 days before the expiry date.

A licence or permit remains valid until the status of the application has been decided once the application for the renewal has been lodged within the prescribed period. Application for the renewal of a licence or permit will only be granted if the applicant proves that he/she has continued to comply with the requirements for the licence in terms of the FCA by being in possession of a relevant and valid competency certificate.

To apply for the renewal of a competency certificate, one must complete an Application for Renewal of a Competency certificate form and submit the application form and the following supporting documentation to the designated firearms officer (DFO) at the police station in the town or city where you reside:

  • A certified copy of your official identification document or passport
  • A certified copy of your permanent residence permit if you are a non-South African citizen
  • Certified copies of the front and back of your current competency certificate which is to be renewed
  • Two passport-size colour photographs (with a neutral background) that were taken within the previous three months
  • Certified proof of residence
  • Two testimonials attesting your character, with the signature of the deponent
  • Any other supporting documents that may be required
  • The original firearm licence, permit or authorisation for a firearm you wish to renew

To apply for a renewal of the firearm licence, a person must complete an Application for the Renewal of a firearm licence, permit, certificate or authorization form and take the relevant documentation to the DFO at a police station nearest to where you reside. These documents include the following:

  • Your official identity document or certified copy of permanent residence for a non-South African citizen
  • The original firearm licence, permit or authorisation for the firearm that you wish to renew
  • Two recent (not older than three months) passport-size colour photographs
  • The obtained competency certificate
  • A SAPS 518(a) form with the relevant sections completed.

At the station the DFO will do the following:

  • Take a full set of your fingerprints on the SAPS 91(a) form (only for a competency certificate)
  • Issue you with a remittance advice and direct you to the financial office at the police station to pay the prescribed fee. You will be issued with a receipt as proof of 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 applied for a renewal of a licence to possess a firearm. 

To find out exactly how to apply for a new firearm licence, and how much it would cost, a person may contact the SAPS National Firearms Call Centre at 012 353 6111 or cfrenquiry@saps.gov.za.


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