What guns can you own in South Africa?

After recently obtaining my first firearm for self-defense, I became curious as to what other options are available to me as a South African with regards to firearm ownership. I have since researched other options at my disposal for sport shooting, hunting, and recreational shooting. If you are reading this post, it is likely that you have been asking the same question – what guns can you own in South Africa?

South Africans are allowed to own handguns, shotguns, manual rifles, as well as semi-automatic rifles, and shotguns. Automatic firearms are limited to “Category A” collectors and are extremely difficult to license.

As someone who has personally obtained a license for all of the above-mentioned firearms (except automatic firearms), I’ll share with you exactly what type of firearms you can own in South Africa and what licenses are required for each type of firearm. I’ll also briefly discuss the requirements of each license, how difficult they are to obtain, and how long they are valid for.

What types of firearms can you own in South Africa?

The type of firearms you are allowed to possess depends on the type of license you have. Firearm licenses are set apart according to sections, each with its own purpose and restrictions. The four sections that are most relevant to a person living in South Africa are listed and explained below. 

Self-defense:Occasional Sports, or hunting:Dedicated sports/hunting:“Category A” collector:
ShotgunsManually operated riflesManually operated riflesManually operated rifles
Semi-automatic rifles (Restricted)Manually operated shotgunsManually operated shogunsManually operated shoguns
Semi-automatic shotguns (Restricted)Semi-automatic riflesSemi-automatic rifles
Semi-automatic shotgunsSemi-automatic shotguns
Automatic firearms

In short, South African’s are allowed to license semi-automatic handguns, including pistols and revolvers. In addition, to bolt action rifles and pump-action shotguns, residents are also allowed to license semi-automatic rifles and shotguns if they are dedicated sport shooters or hunters.

Let’s look at each type of firearm that is allowed in South Africa, and consider the types of firearm licensed required to own them.

Semi-automatic handguns, revolvers, or manually operated shotguns


Under the Firearms Control Act, a “Section 13 firearm license” allows a person to license either a manually operated (pump action) shotgun, a revolver, or a semi-automatic handgun for self-defense. It’s important to note that no person may license more than two handguns, regardless of the type of license, unless they are registered as a dedicated sport shooter or dedicated hunter with an accredited organization.

In order to acquire a license in this section, the applicant needs to write a motivation letter, convincing the central firearms registrar that the need for the firearm is justified in their specific circumstances. For more information on how to write a good motivation letter, read my previous article: How to write a motivation letter for a self-defense handgun

This motivation letter should be attached to your application, along with all of the required documents set out by the South African Police here: Applying for a new firearm licence

How long does it take to get a “Section 13 license for self-defense”?

A “Section 13 license to possess a handgun for self-defense” takes about 130 days from the submission date to be approved but can take as long as 230 days, depending on the workload of the CFR. A “Section 13 firearm license for self-defense” is valid for five years and needs to be renewed at least 90 days before its expiry date. In South Africa, failure to renew your license on time means you’ll have to surrender your firearm to the police.

Semi-automatic rifles or shotguns


A “Section 14 license” allows the holder to be in possession of a restricted firearm, a semi-automatic rifle, or a semi-automatic shotgun, but is difficult to get. In order to be issued one of these licenses, the applicant needs to convince the registrar that no firearm contemplated in “Section 13, self-defense”, such as a handgun or shotgun, will provide sufficient protection and that the need for a restricted firearm truly exists.

‘The Registrar may issue a licence in terms of this section to any natural person who shows that a firearm contemplated in section 13(1) will not provide sufficient protection, and who submits reasonable information to motivate the need for a restricted firearm for self-defence purposes.”

Section 14, Firearms Control Act of South Africa

How long does it take to get a “Section 14 license for self-defense”?

A Section 14 license is extremely difficult to get and needs to be renewed every two years. It can take up to 300 days for this type of license to be approved. Many people are put off by the difficulty, and instead opt to license a semi-automatic rifle or shotgun under “Section 16, dedicated sports shooting”, which I will discuss later in the article.

How many firearms can you license under section 14 for self-defense?

According to the Firearms Control Act, you may only license one restricted firearm under section 14. This means you can license either one semi-automatic rifle or one semi-automatic shotgun.

Semi-automatic handguns, pump-action shotguns, and manually operated rifles


This section allows people to own semi-automatic handguns, manual shotguns, and rifles such as pump-action shotguns and bolt action rifles, for the purpose of occasional hunting or sport shooting. Only one handgun additional may be licensed under this section if you already have a handgun licensed under self-defense.

As with any other firearm license, the applicant needs to provide sufficient information in the form of a written motivation letter, convincing the registrar that there is a legitimate need for the firearm. For more information on Section 15 motivation letters, read my previous article: How to write a motivation for occasional sport shooting

How many firearms can you license under Section 15?

With the exception of Section 16 licenses, no person may own more than four firearms under Section 13, 14, and 15 combined. For example, if you already own one handgun under section 13, then you can only license three additional firearms under section 15. If you own one handgun under section 13, one semi-auto rifle under section 14, then you can only license two additional firearms under this section.

Section 15 also requires applicants in some cases to give documentation and justify the reason for which they wish to acquire certain guns.

Semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic shotguns, semi-automatic handguns as well as manual shotguns and rifles


Semi-automatic rifles, such as AR-15’s and AK’s can be licensed under this section for the purpose of dedicated sport shooting.

How many firearms can you own under section 16?

There is no limit to the number of firearms that one can license under this section, as long as the applicant can sufficiently motivate a legitimate need for the firearm. The applicant also needs to cater to the safe storage of each firearm. Read: What are the SAPS Gun Safe Requirements?

How to license a firearm under section 16?

After first getting your firearm competency certificate, and obtaining registration as a dedicated sport shooter or hunter with an accredited organization, then can you apply for a section 16 firearm license. When applying for a section 16 firearm license, the chairman of the organization needs to endorse the firearm that you are applying for, explaining what type of shooting activity the firearm will be used for.

You will also need to submit a motivation letter explaining exactly why the specific firearm is needed, and that none of their existing firearms can satisfy the specific need. You’ll also be required to prove that you’re actively taking part in shooting activities by providing a list of recent sport shooting or hunting-related activities.

Once you obtain your section 16 firearm license, you’ll need to maintain your dedicated status by attending a minimum amount of shooting events per year. This means taking part in at least three shooting events or activities per year, depending on the organization that you are registered with.

How long is a section 16 firearm license valid for?

A “Section 16 firearm license” is valid for 10 years and needs to be renewed at least 90 days before its expiry date. Failure to renew your “Section 16 firearm license” in time can result in your firearm being seized, with little chance of you getting it back.

In addition, and unlike other firearm license sections, failure to meet the minimum shooting activities as set out by the accredited sport shooting or hunting organization will result in your dedicated status being revoked, and you will be required to surrender the relevant firearm to the police.

What guns are prohibited from ownership in South Africa?

Automatic firearms are prohibited in the act, and can only be licensed in a private collection which is extremely difficult to do. These individuals are known as Category-A Collectors, and they are rare. In fact, most of them are owners of museums and other types of public collections. Other than that, automatic firearms are reserved for the military and police only.

How to apply for a firearm license in South Africa?

While owning guns in South Africa is permitted, it is not as simple as walking into a gun store and walking out with the firearm of your liking. You need to consider the requirements, the purpose your gun will serve, the limitations on the license, as well as how long those licenses will last.

Prior to applying for a firearm license, you will first need to complete a prescribed firearms training course with an accredited firearms training provider. The completion of this course is required to apply for a competency certificate with the South African Police. For more information relating to competency certificates, read: What is a firearm competency certificate? [and how to get one]

Once you have been issued a competency certificate, you’ll need to ensure that you meet the following requirements before you apply:

  • A valid gun licence in South Africa can only issued to either a South African citizen or a person with permanent residency in the country.
  • You must be above the age of 21 to own a gun in South Africa.
  • You must not have been declared mentally unstable nor have a mental disability that could put others in danger should a firearm be issued to you.
  • A thorough background check is conducted beforehand. This means you need a clear history without any reports of violence or unsafe behaviour lodged with the authorities.
  • Building on the requirement listed above, any person in possession of a gun in South Africa cannot have a criminal record.
  • You cannot have a drug or alcohol addiction nor can you have any strong dependence of a restricted substance.

You can apply for a gun license at a SAPS station after meeting the requirements listed above.

How long is a firearm license valid?

The duration of your firearm license depends on the firearm license you have. Licenses need to be renewed at least 90 days before the expiry date.

A section 13 license, is valid for five years. A section 14 license is valid for two years. Firearm licenses issued under sections 15 and 16 are valid for 10 years. However, licenses can be revoked by the authorities before expiry, if you are found to have abused the rights of your gun license or upon the failure to supply the needed documentation to retain your license.

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