What you need to own a gun in South Africa

Gun licensing in South Africa is under scrutiny again after the introduction of the recent Firearms Control Amendment Bill. Gun expert Mark Mulder doubts the bill will be successful and outlines the current firearm application process

Gun licensing in South Africa is a three-pronged process. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Gun licensing in South Africa is a three-pronged process. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

The proposed removal of the self-defence clause in the Firearms Control Act of 2000 has gun owners across Mzansi up in arms. However, Mark Mulder, founder of gunlicence.co.za, doubts that the amendment will come to pass.

Mark Mulder is the founder of gunlicence.co.za, and has been in the firearm industry for about 10 years. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

“It’s the fourth time that the government has tried this in the last 10 years. It does not go through [at] any time [and] gets shot down in the courts. It’s not going to happen,” Mulder explains.

He says the introduction of the bill has caused a lot of confusion amongst South Africans. While the amendment is still being reviewed, prospective firearm owners can still apply for a gun for the purpose of private defence.

“We have had quite a few people asking us ‘has anything gone through? Is self-defence still a valid reason for owning a firearm?’. The answer is, absolutely nothing happened. There are no changes. It is business as usual.”

Mulder’s company, founded in 2017, helps South Africans with varying firearm needs and to obtain licences.

“We provide competency assistance and firearm licensing of all different kinds, [like] new licences, licence renewals, estate firearms, security companies and also a little bit of tactical training.” He has about a decade’s experience in the industry.

The road to gun ownership

Applying for a gun licence is a three-pronged approach. The application process is only open to South African citizens or permanent residence holders over the age of 21, although exceptions can be made.

Mulder says the application process charts the entire journey of prospective firearm owners. “[You go] from having absolutely no experience with firearms to being a licensed firearm owner. The first step is going to be proficiency, the second step is competency and the third step is the physical firearm licensing itself.”

Firearm proficiency

In this step of the application process, you need to go to an accredited training facility and obtain a certificate that proves how well you know the Firearms Control Act, 2000, as well as how knowledgeable you are about firearm safety protocol.

Part of the certification process also includes a practical evaluation, which, if you are a complete novice to firearms, means that you need to take some shooting lessons prior to the evaluation as well.   

Mulder explains that, through his company, prospective gun owners purchase modules to study. “[You take] the modules home and complete your open-book test. Once you’ve completed [that], you’ll need to complete a closed-book test at the training academy, as well as a practical evaluation.”

Once you pass the proficiency tests, you are issued with the required certificate you need to apply for firearm competency.

Firearm competency

Applying for competency is where the South African Police Service (SAPS) do their initial checks and balances, says Mulder.

This part of the process requires that you complete the “Application for a competency certificate” form. You submit it along with the following documents to a designated firearm office (DFO) at your nearest SAPS branch:

The purpose of the competency application, Mulder says, is to check if you are fit to possess a firearm.

“They do a criminal record check, they make sure that your certificates are in order, they check your character references, [and] basically they make sure that you are a fit and proper person [who can], in terms of the law, actually own a firearm.”

Firearm licence

The final part of getting firearm ownership is the part that can become a bit of a complicated process, says Mulder. “This is the point where you basically need to decide what firearms you’d actually like to license, [and] each firearm has its separate licence.”

In other words, if you want to possess more than one firearm, you need to complete an application for each one. The relevant application form is called “Application for a licence to possess a firearm” or a SAPS 271 form.

This completed form, plus the following documents, need to be submitted to the DFO in the area where you ordinarily reside:

This part of the application also requires a letter of motivation detailing why you need the firearm, as well as documents supporting your application.

Mulder advises that, though this part of the application does not require a professional company, having it done professionally can ease the process, like his company does all the paperwork on behalf of their clients, including writing the motivations for the firearm applications.

He also says that this part of the application process is where many people stop their applications. He finds that the recent speculation around the Firearms Control Amendment Bill has demotivated a lot of potential first-time gun owners.

“The biggest mistake that people make is not applying for the final licence. A lot of people put it off or they’re discouraged from actually applying because of all of the rumours and all the nonsense flying around at the moment. [They think] you can’t get a gun licence anymore, [because] if you do shoot someone in self-defence, you’ll go to jail, which is absolute nonsense.”

Comments on the new bill were open until 6 July 2021. It is currently being reviewed.

Some challenges

If your application to possess a firearm is successful, your local DFO will notify you and request that you purchase a firearm safe within 14 days.

The safe has to meet the standards set by South African Bureau of Standards, something the DFO will confirm during a subsequent home inspection.

Mulder explains that the processing time for licensing applications used to be 90 days, but has been extended to 120 days due to the backlog created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

He also says that actually starting the application process is something many people put off. “I can’t stress how many people come through our doors, walk the process with us, will buy their proficiency books and, like a year later, they still haven’t moved on it because they just haven’t found the time.”

He encourages people who are interested in owning a gun to just apply. “There’s absolutely nothing stopping you and the process is a lot easier than most people think.”

ALSO READ: Firearms bill: Public participation emails fail to deliver

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