Firearm licence lag

James Davis at the False Bay Sports shooting club.

Would-be gun owners have accused the country’s gun-licensing body of rejecting applications out of hand, saying it is swamped with paperwork from crime-weary citizens and simply wants to clear its backlog.

Some applicants say they have waited more than a year to have their licences approved. This despite a 2012 high court ruling that all gun licence applicants are entitled to have their competency certificates and applications finalised within 90 working days.

Applicants are now forced to turn to gun rights advocacy groups, such as the South African Gun Owners’ Association (SAGA), for help to finalise their applications.

All new firearm licence applicants must, in terms of the Firearms Control Act, obtain a SAPS firearms competency certificate before applying for a gun licence.

To get this certificate an applicant has to complete training at an accredited facility, which will issue them with training certificates and a statement of results.

The applicant must then submit a SAPS 517 application form to the designated firearms officer (DFO) at their local police station along with supporting documents, including a letter explaining why the certificate is required. It should take no more than 90 working days to issue the certificate. The cost is R70.

Once the competency certificate is approved, the applicant will be notified and must then complete a SAPS 271 (application to possess a firearm) and submit it to the nearest police station along with other supporting documents which includes a separate motivation letter explaining why the applicant is applying for a specific gun licence and what the gun will be used for, ie, self defence, sport shooting, hunting, collecting or for business purposes. The cost is R140.

The paperwork for both the competency certificate and the application to possess a firearm is sent to the Central Firearms Registry (CFR) in Pretoria for approval, and it’s here that the problem seems to lie, say gun licence applicants.

Ashley Marais, a former Fish Hoek resident who recently moved to the northern suburbs, completed his training at the Western Province Firearms Training Academy.

He applied for his SAPS competency certificate in November last year and received it in March this year.

He completed his SAPS 271 documents along with all other documentation as well as a motivation letter and the application was submitted at the end of March.

Mr Marais said received got an SMS a few weeks after submitting his application confirming that it was being processed, so he believed all was well. But when he followed up in May, he was surprised to learn that his application had been denied due to “lack of motivation”, despite a very thorough 70-page application that included his neighbourhood’s crime statistics and his risk profile.

”I was very surprised as I was under the impression that my application showed significant need for a firearm to protect myself,” he said.

His only means of transport is a motorbike and as he works long hours as a sound engineer, it means he often travels in the early hours of the morning or late at night along the N1 and N2 freeways.

“How will I now protect myself if I break down at night?” he asked.

He said other applicants he had spoken to had told of similar experiences and the general “talk” was that the CFR denied applications without a sufficient reason to lighten its workload by passing the buck to the appeals board.

Mr Marais now has to lodge an appeal or submit a new application, while the gun he bought is in safekeeping at a gun shop for which he pays a monthly fee.

Another Fish Hoek resident, James Davis, said his application for his competency certificate was handed in at the Fish Hoek police station, on Monday August 14. When he followed up a month later he was told his application was in limbo because the DFO had been on leave and his assistant had no access to the system.

He said he had also been told that the paperwork was only submitted to the provincial office on the last Wednesday of the month from where it would be sent to the CFR in Pretoria.

However, Mr Davis added that it was clear that the department was very under resourced and the DFO, Warrant Officer Peter Middelton, had been very helpful in assisting him and answering all his questions.

Warrant Officer Middelton, who is also the media spokesman for the Fish Hoek police station, said the workload from firearm applications and renewals had increased.

“Fish Hoek has a high rate of applications and I try my best to accommodate everyone’s needs,” he said.

A Simon’s Town resident – who asked not be named, fearing his gun application would be further delayed – said he had received his competency certificate two weeks ago after waiting more than a year.

He said his application contained a detailed motivation indicating he needed a gun for protection as he often travelled at night, leaving him vulnerable when on the road.

He said the DFO at the Simon’s Town police station had been very helpful but dealing with the CFR had left them both with the hands in their hair.

He said he must have called the CFR call centre more than a 100 times in the past 14 months just to be directed from pillar to post with no one being able to give him answers and his emails had gone unanswered.

“On some days, I would hold on for about 20 minutes before a clueless person would answer the phone, and on other days there would simply be no answer,” he said.

SAGA trustee and Westlake lawyer, Damian Enslin, who specialises in legal issues relating to the Firearms Control Act, said it appeared the CFR was simply trying to clear a backlog of applications by turning them down for no good reason.

He said he had been very busy with appeals because of the high volume of refusals.

Often the applicant will receive an SMS stating: “Your licence has been finalised”.

“This unfortunately does not mean that your licence has been granted but merely that the application has been finalised. The applicant then contacts the DFO or the CFR call centre directly and is then told that the licence application has been refused,” he said.

He said that in most instances the refusal letter had very little detail and was often worded in a generic fashion.

Despite several media enquiries sent to the CFR by the Echo, no response was received by the time of going to print.