What it REALLY costs to own a firearm

  Many of my friends have asked me if they should buy firearms for personal defence. It's actually not an uncommon question for anyone who carries a self defence weapon.

After numerous discussions with these same friends, I've come to the conclusion that it's largely a question of whether or not you can afford it. The general response is "can I afford not to?" Well, that's because people aren't understanding my question.

I don't mean can you afford it in terms of risk - I'm talking about cold hard cash. One of the often overlooked realities of firearm ownership is that it's damn expensive and that's a fact.

Let's look at someone new to firearms and what they're likely to spend in their travels from unarmed to legally armed AND capable. Assume that you're going to go with a reliable 9mm pistol for self defence. Something light and off the shelf that's concealable, practical and usable. A Glock 19 would be a perfectly respectable choice for that. Right there you're in for R 9500 and if you're not familiar with firearms, you shouldn't be buying second hand. So let's stick to new prices for now.

Now that's a great start but before you can get out of the starting blocks, you have to do a competency course that shows you've learned the absolute fundamentals about operating a weapon safely and the legal considerations involved - and I do mean the very very basics. That's going to set you back R 950. Let's take the tally up to R10 300. Armed with your competency certificate and a firearm licence application, you're a good part of the way there - except that you still need to show SAPS that you have an SABS approved safe before they'll entertain your application at all. So that's another R500 to the tab right there - R 10 800.

Off you go to apply for your licence at the local police station and you're in for about R 250 in fees for the licence application and your competency application. So we're onto the R 11k mark thus far. Time flies past, the Central Firearms Registry are on the ball and you have an approved licence 6 weeks later. TERRIFIC!

Well, sort of. You see you can't walk around with a weapon tucked into your pants. Your training course in the basics will have taught you this. A good quality holster that will retain your new weapon neatly, conceal it and make it accessible will set you back between R 500 and R 1000. A box of self-defence ammunition another R 500 for something reasonable. So the tally now stands at say R 12 000. (let's not argue over pennies here).

Bearing in mind of course that you will never learn to be competent with a firearm on a short competency course, you're going to need some range time. Again, if you want to take firearm ownership seriously you have to do things right. Club membership will set you back around R 500 for year one and a little less for subsequent years. (we're at R 12 500 now - stay with me here).

A visit to the club and say 100 rounds downrange just to get used to the handling of it in its simplest terms - well that's R300 worth of ammunition right there. I would never want to carry a weapon for self defence that I hadn't put at least 500 rounds through to make sure it's starting to get familiar to me and I'm handling it comfortably - that's a bare bare minimum.

500 rounds of ammunition over a few range visits (let's say 3 to be fair) would set you back about R3 500 in total - you're at R 15 000 now and all you've achieved is a weapon, some carry ammo, a safe and a few trips to the range to familiarize yourself with that specific weapon. You haven't even started training to draw and fire it yet - just stand and plink at a target 5m away (self defence distance) - and we're not talking about any training fees here either.

Can anyone say R18 000?

Nope, I'm not scaring people with the cost of learning to shoot, just being a realist. To take someone from basics to being proficient in drawing a firearm from a concealed holster and placing rounds on a target sufficiently to defend themselves would probably require around 2000 rounds of ammunition and 12-15 range visits.

Perhaps, this is why so many people by firearms for self defence and end up keeping them in the safe, who knows. What I do know is that I made a commitment to the responsible use, storage and mindset required to own a defensive weapon and maintain my skills to a level where they're adequate for defending myself and my family.

Certainly you can get cheaper weapons, cheaper but less reliable holsters and hope that the basic competency course you did when you first started out will be enough to get by. You can learn to reload your own ammunition - but remember, we're talking self defence here not sports shooting and reloading kits come at a outlay too.

Know what you're getting yourself into, the financial implications, responsibilities and requirements and make an informed decision.