Gun control legislation in Germany is a quagmire of bureaucratic red tape layered with tiers upon tiers of compliance requirements. Theunis Pretorius is a South African residing in Germany on a permanent basis, and he has recently gone through the arduous process of obtaining his first licenced firearms there. Here he tells us a little about his experience, and what he learned from the process.
By Theunis Pretorius
The ship for unrestricted firearm ownership has sailed, and there is no way of turning it around. It seems foolish to even want to try when we consider that there are restrictive laws for everything else in our daily existence. You can’t drive a truck unless you have the appropriate code on your driver’s license, neither can you add extra floors, rooms etc. to your property without first getting permission from the relevant municipal authorities.
As firearm owners, we have to acknowledge the fact that we are going to have to abide by certain restrictive policies and laws. It is therefore up to us to be involved in the legislative process to ensure that the restrictive policies are fair and reasonable.
We are envious of gun owners in the USA, and many of us would strive to have the same freedoms in our own country. Unlike the Czech Republic which is well on their way to have gun ownership enshrined in their constitution, South Africa still has a long way to go before this idea is more than just a dream.
On the flip side of the coin, we see that there are gun owners worse off than us in places like Australia, and the UK. When GOSA negotiates with legislative government bodies, and take on GFSA, the total failure of gun control in the aforementioned countries serve as excellent examples as to why gun control is a fallacy.
Germany is also a country we need to take a closer look at. German legislation surrounding private firearm ownership is a bit of an enigma. They have contradicting systems and legislation for sport shooters and hunters. We need to learn what we can from the way the Germans are doing things.
It must first be noted that German legislation does in fact allow a person to licence a firearm for self-defence, but such applications are rarely submitted and hardly ever approved. The amount of bureaucracy such an application will entail is staggering, and as such no one even bothers to apply. The focus of this article will therefore be on German hunters and sport shooters.
The Germans have made a monster out of ‘Dedicated Status’. I am of the opinion that sport shooters have a tougher time in Germany than what they do in SA. The process to become a sport shooter is long, and expensive. Even the ‘more dedicated’ crowd in SA will have a difficult time maintaining their dedication in Deutschland.
Sport shooters first need to prove that they have participated in 18 training sessions in the last 12 months, before they can even apply for a ‘Waffenbesitzkarte’. This is done with a little book they carry along with them that has to be filled out and stamped by the range or club staff every time they go to the range. This also means that they have to join a club that is officially registered in order to have access to club firearms. Prospective sport shooters also need to attend a course and exam on firearm laws and safe handling. There is also a new law that is about to be passed, that requires all new firearm owners to have a gun safe with a minimum classification of Grad 0/N. The starting price of which is often on the wrong side of €900.
Going to the range is neither cheap or straight forward. Range fees are staggering compared to South-Africa. Ranges in my area charge €50 per hour, and you have to book well in advance. This necessitates to either pay the exorbitant range fees from your own pocket, or to organize with a group of people to train together, neither of which yours truly finds appealing.
Once the sport shooter has the authorization to buy firearms, he/she is only allowed to buy two firearms every six months, and the permit is only valid for a year. Any firearm permit application has to be accompanied by an endorsement from the BDS.
Now imagine having to find the time and the money to maintain this momentum. It’s do-able, but it quickly turns our hobby and a sport into a schlep.
South-African gun owners need to take heed of this. The fight should be to focus on reining in the conditions for dedicated status, or do away with it entirely. This is way better as opposed to individual shooters and organizations trying to be ‘more dedicated’ than their peers.
A good start would be not to make Dedicated Status a financial and time burden. People don’t have equal amount of time and money to invest in a shooting sport discipline, why should their ‘dedication’ be measured in amount of total time and money spent on shooting instead of what they are able to spend?
Another aspect that is often suggested as a ‘good idea’ around braai fires, and in internet forum post, is the proposal of a ‘pre-approved’ permit, which is what the Germans do.
Not only is this a terrible idea, but it is MORE restrictive than what South-African firearm owners have to currently endure. For one, you are not able to buy a bargain or a rare firearm on a whim. If you don’t have a pre-approved permit for a 9mmP pistol, you can’t buy that practically brand new 2nd hand CZ Shadow for R6000. Neither can you change your mind from a Colt 1911 in .45 to STI in 40 S&W, because your permit was approved for a .45 ACP only.
After reading about the struggles of German sport shooters, it may come as a surprise then, that German hunters have it easier than German Sport Shooters and all gun owners in South-Africa combined.
Hunters can buy as many long guns, manually operated or semi-auto, as they can afford, and store within the legal requirement.
As a hunter, you can walk into any store, buy an AR15, Benelli M2, and Mauser M12 and walk out of there with the firearms and as much ammunition as you can afford, by just showing your up-to-date hunting license.
You then have two weeks time register the firearms on your name. You don’t even have to go to the police station to submit an application. You just fill out the correct forms and post it.
Buying firearms over the internet is just as easy. It is possible to buy a firearm on a Monday morning and have it delivered to your door by Tuesday or Wednesday. A hunter is even entitled to two handguns, which they are allowed to carry when they are hunting.
Getting a hunting license is a straightforward, but challenging process.
As a group, hunters are the 3rd largest group allowed to legally carry firearms in Germany, right behind the Armed Forces and the German Police Force. It is not uncommon to see hunters walking with rifles next to the road or even see hunters at night with suppressed rifles in Berlin. As such one cannot simply apply for a hunting licence, you have to earn it.
A prospective hunter needs to attend classes and do practical training. They are taught about European fauna and flora, hunting traditions, hunting and firearms laws etc. They even have to attend a practical on dressing a hunted animal and identifying certain diseases. These courses range from a couple of months to a couple of weeks. This process is not cheap, starting in the €1500 range.
At the end of the course the prospective hunter has to pass a State Hunting Exam. The exam consist out of a written test, an oral exam on a variety of topics, including gun handling and species identification. Finally they have to pass a shotgun and rifle shooting test.
Upon successful completion of the State Exam, they can apply for a Hunting Permit, which also includes a criminal record check. In essence, they licence the person, and just register the gun. For a hunter to maintain his/her licence, he/she just needs to make sure that their hunting insurance is up to date and that they pay the yearly licensing fee. This to me, seems reasonable.
This is a model which I think will work well in South Africa if given the chance. Not only for hunters, but for all firearm owners. Instead of asking for a repeal of the FCA as some have been doing, there should rather be a focus on pushing for this model.
Licensing the person and merely registering the firearm makes much more sense. From an administrative standpoint, it will free up a lot of SAPS staff to be used where they are needed more, and the Fingerprint section won’t be bogged down by the fingerprint check that accompanies every firearm application.
It can be assumed that GFSA and the Government will have a problem with this, because it creates the illusion that people will all of a sudden be able to acquire firearms as they like when they like. The reality is quite different.
Guns cost money, some cost more than others. Ammunition, scopes, reloading equipment, new gimmick etc., all of these things cost money.
Just because we are in a position to buy anything, does not mean that we will be able too.
With the exception of the few outliers who will have the financial means to buy as many guns as they like, most of us have to be happy with a new gun ever few years.
The German system is by no means perfect, but neither is it completely flawed. We should be mindful of what not to do, and what to aim for in the long run.