What should you do if you inherit a firearm?

Rynoe Smith | 14 July 2023

Rynoe Smith is a wealth manager at Preller Walk Financial Planning, a member of the Fiduciary Institute of South Africa (FISA) and holds the Fiduciary Practitioner of South Africa (FPSA®) designation.

South Africans often believe that firearms can easily be passed down from generation to generation.

It used to be simple to inherit a firearm and, in many cases, it was the easiest way to obtain a firearm, particularly in the farming community.

However, it is no longer that easy to obtain a firearm licence. The mere fact that you inherit a firearm does not necessarily mean that you qualify for a firearm licence.


Motivations and constraints

You need a strong motivation to prove that you are fit and proper to own a firearm.

The Firearms Control Act states that you must first be in possession of a certificate of competence before a firearm licence may be issued. The regulations outline the application process for a certificate of competence, as well as the factors that must be considered.

As most firearm owners know, the law limits the number of firearms that you may own privately. For purposes of self-defence, you may possess only one firearm. If you own a firearm for self-defence, you may only possess three firearms for sport and hunting.

The restrictions are directly related to the reasons for owning a firearm - for example, for self-defence, hunting, shooting for sport or collecting. The Act lists the respective restrictions. There is also a limit on the amount of ammunition that a person may possess.


The role of the executor

An executor of a deceased estate must know the Firearms Control Act and how to apply it, especially with regards to the safekeeping of a firearm and its disposal. Read more: What is an estate?

These procedures are regulated under the Act.

An executor must complete an inventory of all the firearms in a deceased estate and within 12 days of his or her appointment, submit this inventory together with certain other prescribed information to the firearms department of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to be maintained in the Central Firearms Register.

A regulation under the Act also states that if a firearm is not in the license holder's direct control, it must be kept in a safe.

A person who has been named as executor in a deceased's will but who has not yet been appointed by the Master of the High Court, can apply to the SAPS for temporary firearms custody for the firearm.

Once the executor is formally appointed, he/she must ensure that the weapon and ammunition are kept in a safe facility as set out in the Act’s regulations.

If the executor does not yet have the necessary facilities, he/she may give written permission for the firearm and ammunition to be kept in safe custody by an heir, provided the heir has a valid licence.

A copy of the written consent must be kept on file with the SAPS in the area where the heir lives.

Options for heirs

 If you are the heir of a firearm, you have four options:

  • If you do not want to inherit the firearm, it can be handed over to a registered firearms dealer to be sold.

  • If you do not want to inherit the firearm, it can be handed over to the SAPS to be destroyed.

  • If you want to inherit the firearm but do not want to use it, it can be handed over to a registered gunsmith to be deactivated.

  • If you want to keep and use the firearm, you must apply for a new licence under the Act.

Keep in mind that one of the requirements for a new firearms application is that the applicant (heir) must be 21 years old.

If your heir is a minor, there is no other solution than to give the firearm to a competent adult guardian with the hope that the guardian will later give it to him/her when the heir reaches the age of majority. You cannot expect a trustee to keep the firearm for your heir.

The Act also states that a specific procedure must be followed if a firearm cannot be located.