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Before a person may possess a firearm in South Africa, he or she must first obtain a firearm licence from the South African Police Service. A person needs a licence for every firearm that he or she possesses.
The process 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.
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.
Firearms regulation in South Africa
In South Africa, the Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000 (the FCA) regulates the possession of firearms by civilians. Since July 2004 such possession of a firearm is conditional on a successful competency test and a variety of other factors, which include background checking of an applicant, an inspection of a potential owner’s premises, and licensing of the weapon by the police.
In South Africa, the FCA stipulates that citizens or permanent residents over the age of 21 years (or younger, if a need can be proved) who wants to own a firearm are required to first obtain a licence per each individual firearm. Upon receipt of a successful report about the safe inspection, the applicant’s licence will be printed and sent to the DFO to be handed to the person against a signature on the SAPS 86 register.
Such a person may possess a maximum number of only four firearms, and a maximum of 200 rounds of ammunition per license. Should an individual however be able to prove ‘dedicated status’ as conferred by a registered shooting club, the individual may theoretically license an unlimited number of firearms and the said ammunition limits then also fall away.
The process is currently undergoing review, as the police has recently not been able to adequately or within reasonable time, process either competency certification, new licences or renewal of existing licences and the waiting period often exceeds two years from date of application.
The Central Firearms Registry implemented a turnaround strategy to significantly improve the processing period of new licences. The maximum time allowed to process a licence application is now 90 days.
How long does it take until an applicant will get his or her firearm licence?
One of the most frequently-asked questions at any gun shop counter or police station, is how long it takes to get a firearm license. The Central Firearms Registry is infamous for taking their time to process firearm license applications, and it is not unheard of that it can take well over a year. A recent independent survey of a database of 200 firearm license approvals showed that firearm licenses take an average of 142 calendar days to be approved. The quickest application took 32 days and the longest application took 306 calendar days.
The time a firearm license takes to get approved may also depend on the type of application.
The Firearm Licencing Process
The right to possess a firearm is not guaranteed by law in South Africa. The FCA in fact imposes a general ban on the possession of firearms except in limited circumstances, and then firearms may only be possessed with a license, permit, or authorisation issued under the provisions of the FCA.
An applicant must first successfully pass the prescribed test to prove his or her knowledge of the Firearms Control Act of 2000 as well as the prescribed training and practical test concerning the safe and efficient handling of a firearm at an accredited training provider.
Once the training certificate is received from an accredited training provider or the Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (Sasseta), the potential firearm owner must apply to the SAPS for a competency certificate by completing a SAPS 517 form, called the Application for a competency certificate.
Knowledge of The Firearms Control Act is usually done in the form of a lecture at the premises of an authorised training provider, while working and answering an open book “Formative Assessment”. Thereafter a short “Summitive Assessment” will take place, which usually is a closed book assessment where no assistance is rendered, and questions are based on the questions and discussions that took place during the “Formative Assessment”.
All SAPS applications forms can be completed under the guidance of the training provider, photographs can be organised, motivations are discussed and assisted is given.
The Handling and Use of a firearm can be done by means of self-study and once again a Formative open book Assessment has to be done. Thereafter a closed book summative assessment can be done followed by a practical shooting session.
The completed application form together with the prescribed supporting documentation must be submitted to the designated firearms officer (DFO) situated in the area where the person ordinarily reside.
The following documentation must accompany 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 colour photographs (with a neutral background) that are not older that three months
- Any other supporting documents that may be requested.
Upon receiving an application for a competency certificate, the Registrar may launch an investigation for the purpose of determining whether said applicant is a fit and proper person, is in stable mental condition, or has a tendency for violence or a substance-abuse problem.
An investigation will be launched in the following circumstances:
- If the applicant has, in the five years preceding his application, been served with a protection order or accused of domestic violence, necessitating a police officer to visit his or her residence
- If the applicant has been denied a license, permit, or authorisation for a firearm
- If the applicant has attempted suicide, suffered major depression or emotional problems, or had a substance-abuse problem
- If the applicant has been diagnosed or treated for depression, substance abuse, or behavioural or emotional problems
- If the applicant has been reported to the police or social services for threatening or attempting violence or other conflict anywhere or if in the two years preceding the application the applicant went through a divorce or separation from a partner in which violence was alleged or was fired or laid off from his or her job.
After the applicant has obtained his or her competency certificate, the person can complete the relevant sections of the SAPS 271 form, the Application for a licence to possess a firearm.
The completed SAPS 271 form must then be submitted to the DFO in the area where the person ordinarily reside.
The following documents must accompany the application to the DFO:
- The applicant’s original, official identity document
- The original competency certificate obtained by the applicant
- A letter of appointment as executor, if the relevant firearm was inherited
- Two unobscured passport-size colour photographs, not older that three months.
- A complete motivation for the application and any relevant documents in support of the application.
As part of the application process the DFO will take a full set of the person’s fingerprints on the SAPS 91(a) form (only for a competency certificate) and issue him or her with a remittance advice (SAPS 523(a)) and direct the applicant to the financial office at the police station to pay the prescribed fee.
The applicant must make sure that he or she receives a signed acknowledgement of receipt (SAPS 523) as proof that his or her application for a licence to possess a firearm was in fact submitted.
Application for a competency certificate will only be approved in the following circumstances:
- If the applicant is at least twenty-one years old
- If the applicant is a citizen or a permanent resident of South Africa
- If the applicant is a fit and proper person for the license that he or she is seeking
- If the applicant is stable and does not have a proclivity for violence
- If the applicant does not have a substance-abuse problem
- If the applicant has no conviction within the five years immediately preceding the application for certain crimes related to violence, dishonesty, recklessness, or instability
- If the applicant has not become or been declared unfit to possess a firearm under the FCA or the 1969 AAA within the five years preceding the application
- If the applicant has completed all the required tests on his understanding of the FCA, the training and test for the safe and effective use of a firearm, and all other applicable training and tests for the specific license he or she is seeking.
Once a person’s application has been successfully considered, the DFO will ask the person to obtain and install a firearm safe that meets the standards set by the South African Bureau of Standards. This safe must be installed within 14 days and the DFO will then carry out an inspection of the applicant’s premises to ascertain that the requirements for a safe have been met.
How much does it cost?
At the time of writing, the cost of a Competence Certificate was R80,00 and that of the Firearm licence itself was R161,00.
Causes of delays in the application process
Like any other government department, the SAPS was also negatively affected by the pandemic, a situation which has resulted in unexpected consequences on its service delivery front which we are still dealing with today. In light of this situation, the turnaround time for a firearm licence application is taking more than the normal working days and the period for the finalisation of these applications has been extended to at least 120 working days.
Like any other government department, the SAPS was also negatively affected by the pandemic, a situation which has resulted in unexpected consequences on its service delivery front. The virus had been the cause for employees to self-isolate occasionally after having tested positive or come in contact with persons who tested positive for the virus, and in compliance with the National Disaster Management Regulations and other safety related protocols, SAPS members were also operating at reduced capacity in order to mitigate the spread of the virus.
In light of these challenges during 2020, the Minister of Police approached Parliament with a request for the declaration of another firearm amnesty period after the amnesty that was declared from 1 December 2019 ended on 31 May 2020. This request was approved by Parliament, and a second amnesty period was declared for a period of six months, commencing 1 August 2020 and lasting until 31 January 2021.
In light of this situation, the turnaround time for a firearm licence application is taking more than the normal working days and the period for the finalisation of these applications has been extended to at least 120 working days.
Enquiries relating to outstanding applications may be directed to the local Designated Firearm Officer (DFO) where the application was lodged, or, in the case of no assistance forthcoming there, to the Station Commander of that relevant station or the District Commissioner, where such a station is located.
What laws regulate the possession of firearms in South Africa
South Africa’s firearm ownership is regulated by the Firearms Control Act of 2000 (FCA) as well as its subsidiary legislation, the Firearms Control Regulations (FCA Regulations).
Who is allowed to legally own a gun in South Africa?
Any citizen or permanent resident 21 years old or older, with no criminal record or disqualifying mental illness, is allowed to own firearms.
Can a person under the age of 21 qualify to obtain a firearm licence?
Yes, in certain circumstances, where a need for such a person to own a firearm can be proved, it is possible.
Who needs to go through the licence application process?
Before anyone may possess a firearm, he or she must obtain a firearm licence from the South African Police Service. Potential firearm owners must first successfully undergo the prescribed training at an accredited training institution and obtain a training proficiency certificate.
Why do you have to go through a licence application process?
Possession of a firearm is only possible after a competency test, background checking of the applicant, inspection of an owner’s premises, and licensing of the weapon by the police. An applicant must first successfully pass the prescribed test to prove his or her knowledge of the Firearms Control Act of 2000 as well as the prescribed training and practical test concerning the safe and efficient handling of a firearm at an accredited training provider.
What is a competency certificate?
A competency certificate issued by SAPS declares a person competent to own firearms in accordance with the stipulations of Chapter 5 of Act 60 of 2000 as amended.
What happens while a competency certificate is being processed?
Before a person can apply for a firearm licence, and while waiting for the competency certificate to be approved, there are a few things that he or she will need to prepare. The applicant can choose and purchase a firearm at any point during the process, but it needs to remain in the dealer’s (or owner’s) custody and the new owner will only be able to take possession of it once his or her licence has been granted.
This is the ideal time to shop for a SABS certified safe, which must be mounted to the wall or floor (or both if you prefer) by means of rawl bolts, to be ready for when the DFO will come to do a safe inspection.
Is there a way to “streamline” your licence application?
No, there is no way to streamline the process or obtain a licence to own a firearm except for completing the two processes. The two phases cannot be done at the same time too.
What are the advantages of making use of an agency providing these services?
Authorised agencies are well established and driven by years of experience in this industry to handle any type of matter you may refer to them with regards to the Firearms Control Act. They can refer an applicant to the best firearm trainers, dealers, associations, and more and in the case of your application being turned down, assist you in an appeal procedure or new application process.
How long will it take to obtain the Competence and firearm license take from the SAPS?
This process depends on the load they have, approximate and normally 12-15 weeks for the competence and another 3-6 weeks for the license if there are no other delays.
How long does it take to obtain the competency certificates?
When the tests have been marked, the certificates are printed for trainees to collect, normally in the same week so that they can start the process of application.
How many training courses can a person do?
A person can complete as many training courses as he or she likes, since you don’t need to own the relevant firearms. These are usually supplied by the training provider for your training.