Please note that since this book was last published in 1997 some of the laws that have been referenced may have changed. We
are doing our best to update the articles, however, it is advisable that you to consult an attorney before relying on any information contained herein.
You are not allowed to own a firearm without a licence issued
by the Commissioner of the South African Police Service.
Even if you do apply for one, it is worth remembering that
applications are not automatically granted and that existing
licences can be withdrawn at any time for a number of reasons.
For instance, the Commissioner of Police may, in terms of the
Arms and Ammunition Act, 1969, declare any person unfit to
possess a firearm if information is supplied under oath that the
person in possession of the firearm:
- Has threatened or has expressed the intention to kill or
injure himself or herself, or another person by means of
- Has a mental condition, an inclination to violence
(whether a firearm was used in the violence or not), or a
dependence on intoxicating liquor or a drug that has a
narcotic effect which makes it not in his or her
interest, or anyone else's interest to possess a
- Has through negligence lost or failed to take all
reasonable steps to ensure the proper safekeeping of a
Firearms and the police
A police officer can ask the holder of a firearm licence to
produce the gun and licence; likewise, a person found in
possession of a firearm or ammunition can be asked by the police
to show the licence.
Note, also, that the police do not need a warrant to search
any premises, including a private home, if they are investigating
an offence involving a firearm, although in terms of South
Africa's bill of rights it is possible that police powers in this
respect might be circumscribed to some extent. If a firearm is
found on the premises, it will be presumed until the contrary can
be proved that the occupier of the premises, or whoever is on the
premises at the time, is in possession of the article.
A person found with ammunition not used in the firearm in his
or her lawful possession can be prosecuted if unable to produce a
Failure to report a person who is in possession of an armament
or explosive or incendiary device is also an offence.
Special types of weapons
AUTOMATIC WEAPON A private citizen may no
longer own an automatic weapon. If you already own one and have a
permit issued by the Minister of Safety and Security, you may
'SAWN-OFF' SHOTGUNS Although this type of
firearm is prohibited in some countries, it is legal in South
Africa because regulations here do not prescribe a minimum barrel
or stock length. .22
CALIBRE RIFLE Although South African firearms
legislation does not prescribe who may own such a weapon, .22
rifle licences are likely to be granted only to farmers for
vermin control and to rifle club members for target-shooting
purposes. The reason for this unofficial prohibition is that the
.22 is a convenient poacher's weapon because of its low noise
level and high striking power. However, it is illegal to hunt
game (as distinct from vermin) with a .22 rimfire
SILENCERS Noise suppressers (to give them
their proper name) are legal on .22 calibre rifles and handguns
and do not require a special licence.
It is an offence to be in a public place with a pistol or
revolver that is not completely covered in your pocket, in a
proper holster or in a handbag, attachè case, rucksack or
similar holder. It is also illegal to knowingly and unlawfully
point a firearm or air gun at any other person.
The Arms and Ammunition Act makes provision for various
penalties for contravention of firearms legislation. These
- Imprisonment for up to 25 years (in some cases with a
minimum of five years) for the illegal importation of
certain firearms and ammunition;
- A fine of up to R2000 and/or imprisonment for up to six
months for carrying in public a firearm that is not
properly concealed from view;
- A fine of up to R4000 or up to one year's imprisonment,
or both, for failing to produce a licence, permit or the
firearm itself when requested to do so by a police
officer, or for failing to report the loss, theft or
destruction of a firearm to the police;
- A fine of up to R12000 or up to three years' imprisonment
for possessing an unlicensed firearm;
- Up to 10 years' imprisonment for being in possession of
more than one unlicensed firearm.
The Act also provides for the imposition of penalties in
certain cases where a person is in possession of more than 100
rounds of ammunition. All ammunition in your possession must be
for use in the firearm which is licensed in your name.
Other dangerous weapons
In terms of the Dangerous Weapons Act, 1968, any person found
in possession of a dangerous weapon or any object that resembles
a firearm is guilty of an offence and on conviction can be fined,
or jailed for up to two years, or both.
The deciding factor will be the intention of the person caught
with the weapon: the onus, as the Act stands at present, is on
the accused to prove to the court that he or she had no intention
of using the weapon or object for any unlawful purpose.
However, in terms of the presumption of innocence contained in
the bill of rights, it is probable that this shifting of the onus
will be found to be invalid. Remember, it is not a crime to
possess a replica of a weapon, as long as it is not used for,
say, robbing a bank.
Firearms which do not require a licence
You do not need a licence for a firearm that cannot be fired
and which is classed as a trophy, ornament, antique or curio.
Remember, however, that because even an ancient muzzle-loader can
be made to fire, it is advisable to ask the police whether you
need to apply for a licence for a particular weapon.
Inheriting a firearm
No permission is required to possess a firearm that is part of
a deceased or insolvent estate and is being held in safekeeping
by the official executors, administrators or liquidators of the
If, while acting as an executor or administrator of an estate,
you do not have a safe place to store firearms that have been
entrusted to you, ask a bank manager or a gunsmith to lock them
in a safe or strongroom. Although they will usually agree under
these circumstances to look after firearms temporarily, they will
not accept responsibility for any possible deterioration in the
condition of the firearms while they are in their safekeeping.
If you decide to keep arms or ammunition that have been
bequeathed to you, you will have to apply to the police for the
Juveniles and firearms
A person under the age of 16 may possess arms or ammunition
only if he or she is under the proper supervision of either the
owner of the arms and ammunition in question, or an adult who is
a lawful possessor (such as the overseer of a shooting club or
school cadet rifle range).
Anyone who has control over a minor aged 16 or under will be
guilty of an offence if the child is found in possession of a
firearm unless the person can prove that he or she was unable to
prevent the minor from obtaining it.