Friday, 12th September 2014


I receive quite a few emails and calls from clients concerning the process of obtaining a firearm for self-defence, and as it appears that the South African Police Services (SAPS) are more circumspect with respect to granting of a licence for self-defence, I thought it might be beneficial to discuss the process of obtaining such a licence for self-defence, in terms of the Section 13 of the Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000, as well as some aspects that will improve your chances of success.

This issue may be quite topical in light of the Oscar Pistorius trial and the judgement handed down today against him.

However, if you, as a citizen, have decided that you need a firearm for self-defence and have made such a decision, that for whatever reason in your personal or professional life you require a firearm for self-defence, then you obviously need to know from the police’s perspective what they are looking for, to enable you to meet their criteria for a successful application.

First of all, before you can apply for the firearm licence for whatever handgun (most applications are for handguns, although you can own a shotgun for self-defence) you wish to own for self-defence, you need to obtain your Competency. The process is actually a two-fold process in that you firstly need to apply for your Competency to Possess a Handgun and thereafter apply for a Licence for the said handgun.

The Competency process involves contacting one of the accredited training providers, and there are a number of them within South Africa, and purchasing at least two manuals from the training provider, one which will cover the Knowledge of the Firearms Control Act and the other which deals with the more practical aspects of the handling and usage of a handgun.

Once you have purchased the two books from the accredited training provider, there are typically two open-book sections, one for the Knowledge of the Firearms Control Act and one for the handling and usage of the handgun.

Once you have written the open-book sections, you then book an appointment with the training provider and write a closed-book exam, and for the Knowledge of Firearms Control Act, it is a multiple choice exam, whilst for the handling and usage for the handgun, it is a fairly simple closed-book exam where one has to label and identify various parts of firearms and components et cetera as well as deal with a bit of the Law, and write in and fill in words, phrases or sentences. There is also a practical shoot where you actually fire the handgun, at a paper target at 10 metres.

Once you have passed your two exams and have completed the Unit Standards for Knowledge of the Firearms Control Act as well as Handle and Use of a Handgun, then you may apply to the South African Police Services for your Competency to Possess a Handgun.

There is a form that must be completed (SAPS 517) and submitted to the Designated Firearms Officer (DFO) at your local police station, and you need to furnish the police with four persons who are willing to stand as references for you, two of whom should preferably be neighbours.

Basically, the Competency application involves a criminal records check, where any outstanding criminal cases against yourself as well as if you have had any serious convictions in the past, may all be relevant from the South African Police Services perspective, as to whether you are competent and meet the criteria in terms of the Act, or not.

I won’t go into too much detail as to what the police may/not take into account as this may follow in a future blog.

Once you have your Competency Certificate for Handgun and you have now been deemed competent by the police, you are in a position where you can make application for a firearm Licence for the said handgun you wish to possess. You can however submit the Competency and the Licence Application at the same time to the police, but they will first work on the competency before the licence application.

The purchase of a handgun typically involves going to various dealers and looking for the most appropriate firearm for your situation and physique and I would recommend you obtain the most compact firearm as possible.

However, with regards to the need for a firearm, this is where the area gets somewhat grey from the police’s perspective.

A further application form (SAPS 271) must be submitted to your DFO, along with a detailed and comprehensive motivation, with various supporting documents. The actual form itself does not have sufficient space for a well-rounded and detailed motivation, so it is best to submit a written motivational letter which is incorporated into the application.

Although most police stations now have some sort of guidelines where they try to indicate to prospective applicants what is required, the guidelines seem to vary from police station to police station with some being extremely detailed whilst others are very sparse. Some stations are extremely helpful with assisting the applicant, whilst some are not so helpful.

However, in my opinion Section 13, which covers self-defence, is the one section in the Firearms Control Act, where I see the most refusals, and the letters of refusal that come from the Central Firearms Control Register (CFR), Pretoria, often indicate reasons such as the following: “lack of motivation”, or “you indicated that you live in an area with a high crime rate but you have provided no evidence of such”, or “you have not shown a need for the firearm”, or “you indicated that there are recent break-ins or robberies in your area but no proof was provided”.

Generally it is best that when one is applying for a firearm for self-defence, that you give an overall view of yourself:

1. Who you are;
2. What you do for a living;
3. Where you live and travel;
4. What type of business you are in, in so far as it may entail you travelling along main arterial routes at various times of the day or night. Do not focus too much on the business side of things as I have seen in the past that the police then say that you need to accredit yourself as a business, because too much emphasises was placed on the business aspect.
5. If you are a business owner and you pay your staff in cash, you should indicate that you go to the bank quite often and hold a fair amount of cash and thus this exposes you to a higher risk than the ordinary citizen. Quite often I indicate that the client cannot afford the services of a cash-in-transit company or security guards, if they own a small business.
6. If you are a rep, you would indicate that you do a fair amount of travelling and where you travel, but don’t forget your personal circumstances, which is more important with a Section 13 licence.
7. Indicate the neighbourhood in which you live, the high crime rate or gang violence, and submit newspaper articles or crime statistics.
8. Crime statistics are freely available on the SAPS website for the various areas and these can be quite an eye opener.
9. I find that the internet is one of the best sources of newspaper articles such as News 24 or IOL or one of the online media companies.
10. You should also indicate in your motivational letter, the type of firearm that you are applying for and indicate how suitable it is for self-defence, for example, if you have one of the more compact Glocks, such as a Glock 23, you may indicate that it is a compact weapon which is modern and safe and easy to carry and conceal. All these factors will indicate that this firearm is suitable for self-defence.

In terms of Section 13, the emphasis is on need and perhaps it is suitable at this point to quote directly from the Firearms Control Act, (Act 60) of 2000:

SECTION 13 Licence to possess a firearm for self-defence

13 (1) A firearm in respect of which a licence may be issued in terms of this section is any-
(a) shotgun which is not fully or semi-automatic; or
(b) handgun which is not fully automatic.

(2) The Registrar may issue a licence under this section to any natural person who-
(a) needs a firearm for self-defence; and
(b) cannot reasonably satisfy that need by means other than the possession of a firearm.

(3) No person may hold more than one licence issued in terms of this section.

(4) A firearm in respect of which a licence has been issued in terms of this section may be used
where it is safe to use the firearm and for a lawful purpose.

In my opinion, the police seem to emphasize the need of the firearm for self-defence, but at the same time, I normally state in my applications that the applicant cannot satisfy the need other than through the possession of the firearm.

I have often wondered why the SAPS appear to be more circumspect with self-defence applications, whereas for occasional sports shooting in terms of Section 15, there seems to be far lesser motivation required.

The choice of owning a self-defence firearm is a personal choice and each particular person’s needs or requirements are different, but you must remember that if you are going to own a firearm for self-defence, that owning a firearm is a full time job, in that you always need to know where your firearm is.

Typically, a firearm owned for self-defence must be on you at all times if the main rationale behind it is defending your life, and there is no point of owning a self-defence firearm, if it is not on you at all times and under your control.

Also remember that when you are carrying a firearm, you have to be more aware of your circumstances and surroundings, as a firearm owner could become a target if the firearm is spotted on the owner.

It is also good to remember the four conditions promoted by Colonel Jeff Cooper which are known as the colour code, as follows:

1. WHITE – you are relaxed and unaware of what is going on around you. If something had to happen to you, you probably would not have any chance of reacting.
2. YELLOW – you are still relaxed but you are aware of who and what is around you.
3. ORANGE – you have identified something of interest that may/ may not prove to be a threat, but you are aware of the situation and prepared to react if needs be.
4. RED – something that is threatening you and you are prepared to take action.

Condition RED does not necessarily mean that you are going to shoot, but you are prepared and alert and you have assessed the situation and the situation is a dangerous one or potentially dangerous.

I am not going to deal too much with safety surrounding owning a firearm but always remember that a firearm is a dangerous weapon and that you must always adhere to the four primary principles of safety:

1. Always treat a firearm as loaded at all times;
2. Always point a firearm in a safe direction;
3. Always know your target and what is behind your target; and
4. Always keep your finger off the trigger until you are on target.

These four principles are in the various training manuals but are the principles that everyone who owns a firearm should live by.

Accidents only happen with “unloaded” firearms and thus if you always treat a firearm as loaded, when handing a firearm to someone or accepting a firearm from someone, accidents would more than likely never happen.

The above has been a very short synopsis of the process of obtaining a licence for self-defence and there are a lot more aspects to it but I hope the above has given the prospective firearm owner some food for thought.

Should you require any further information, you are welcome to contact me on or 021-7023070.

Keep safe out there and all the best!

Damian Enslin