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This debate is always going to be contentious. Being a non-gun person, I sit in the Jacob Zuma court on this issue but having friends with guns, I do understand both sides. The utopian idea of no guns, is never going to happen, so how does one deal with it? In an open letter to the President, Biznews community member Gideon Joubert questions the use of gun statistics used in a recent TV interview. He’s concerned that the wrong information is being used to construct new policy and dialogue, which has proven to be a failure in nations like Russia and Brazil, who face similar problems of violence. He does however call on the president to also learn from these countries, who’ve implemented gun ownership relaxation laws. He believes the nation is saddled with a murder problem that goes far beyond the question of which arbitrary objects are used and citizens should be allowed to protect themselves. It’s an interesting read and may cause a stir given the levels and nature of crime in the country. – Stuart Lowman
By Gideon Joubert*
I attentively listened to your recent interview on SABC 1 during the course of which you discussed many of the issues facing contemporary South African society. Near the end of the discussion the topic of firearms and the control thereof was broached, and you stated that in your opinion no private citizen should possess firearms, and that such weapons should be the sole domain of the armed forces, the police, and security companies. You then further mentioned that firearms are used in the majority of homicides, and that these firearms are stolen from civilians.
I fear, Your Excellency, that whomever provided you with the statistics from which you quoted has either bungled spectacularly, or deliberately misled you. I do hope that it is a case of the former and not the latter, for such mischievous machinations indicate a hidden agenda on their part. In order to preserve you from unwelcome discomfort, because being caused embarrassment due to the follies of others is indeed discomforting, I will gladly supply you with the true facts of the matter here.
Regarding the question of firearms and their use in perpetrating homicide I can confidently state that knives and other sharp objects are used in the commission of by far the vast majority of murders. The statistics themselves vary according to their official sources, but their ultimate conclusions are the same.
- According to Statistics South Africa in their release Mortality and Causes of Death in South Africa 2013: Findings from death notification approximately 85.1% of homicides are perpetrated by use of sharp objects such as knives.
- Rather less dramatic, another study concludes that 33% of people murdered in 2009 were killed by use of a firearm.
- Most credibly, Dr. Pieter Groenewald of the FF+ presented statistics to Parliament which were sourced from the Forensic Pathology Service of the Department of Health. According to these numbers firearms were used in merely 35% of all homicides, and sharp objects in approximately 50,5%.
It is thus patently clear that firearms are by no means used in the majority of homicides, but rather only in a minority of cases. Considering that our homicide rate sits at around 31.9 per 100,000 population, which is very high, I think that our nation is saddled with a murder problem that goes far beyond the question of which arbitrary objects are used in the perpetration thereof. Cain killed Abel with only a rock, after all.
This brings me to your observations regarding weapons stolen from lawfully armed citizens, and the role they play in supplying criminals with their firearms. Although some firearms are indeed lost due to negligence on the part of their owners, the vast majority of firearms lost are stolen from their owners by use of force. Blaming gun owners for having their weapons stolen by armed and violent criminals amounts to victim blaming. No sane person would blame a woman for her rape because of her choice of dress: we blame the rapist for the heinous crime. The same courtesy should hold for firearm owners who are the victims of crime.
Firearms stolen from civilian gun owners are far from the only source criminals have access to. The SAPS have lost thousands upon thousands of firearms during the last three years, and the SANDF has contributed automatic military weaponry and thousands of rounds of ammunition to the criminal stockpile. Some of these losses can be attributed to policemen and soldiers being robbed of their weapons, but in many cases weapons are leaked to criminals through corruption. Even firearms handed in to the police by their lawful civilian owners during previous amnesties have found their way into criminal hands. I have yet to hear how the State intends on addressing these serious shortcomings within their own realm of influence, but fingers are pointed at civilian gun owners instead.
Since no criminal has ever obtained an automatic weapon from a civilian gun owner, there is also the uncomfortable question of what happened to firearms from the Apartheid era.
After the birth of the New South Africa in 1994 hundreds of thousands of former homeland firearms went missing, and remain unaccounted for. As a veteran of the armed struggle against Apartheid, Your Excellency is likely familiar with the great success with which the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe managed to smuggle tonnes upon tonnes of illicit arms and ammunition into the Republic of South Africa during the 1980s. Estimates vary between 80 to over 100 tonnes of smuggled weapons, of which approximately 40 tonnes were brought in by the African Hinterland Safari company. What exactly became of these weapons after the struggle is anyone’s guess, and many have found their way into criminal hands.
Considering that our neighbouring states are saturated with Cold War era arms caches, and our borders are porous and mostly unguarded, it is no surprise that criminals have access to an ample supply of illicit military grade weaponry.
I was heartened to hear Your Excellency say that you believe a social dialogue needs to take place, and that society should discuss whether or not we believe in the need for stricter gun laws. Your Excellency then further spoke of the need for citizens to empower their political representatives to make the right decision regarding the matter.
I am thus pleased to inform you Mister President that such dialogue and discussion has indeed been taking place since March of this year under the guidance of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Policing, and involved a multiday summit. South African gun owners and their respective association have contributed in no small part to these proceedings, and we still have a very large role to play in ensuring the successful and fruitful outcome of the stakeholder engagement process which is currently ongoing. I am optimistic that with cooperation between the SAPS and gun owners we will be able to find solutions to the many challenges facing our respective interests.
In closing, I would like to leave Your Excellency with the seed of an idea. Considering that South Africa is a member of the BRICS group of nations, it stands to reason that we can learn much from the experience of our fellow members. In November last year Russia significantly relaxed their gun laws to allow citizens to carry firearms for self-defence for the first time in their history. This was in response to rising violent crime, with President Vladimir Putin enacting the amendment to the law in the interest of the Russian people.
Similarly another BRICS nation, Brazil, recently passed a draft law to strip away limits on gun ownership. Strict gun control legislation has done nothing to stem the tide of rising violence plaguing the South American nation. The changes to the law will allow average Brazilians the ability to protect themselves against violent criminals, which is sensible considering that restrictive gun laws there have entirely failed to do so.
It is not constructive to think that further restrictive legislation will work in South Africa when it has been proven to be a failure in nations like Russia and Brazil, who face similar problems of violence.
I would thus like to humbly request Your Excellency to make it easier for South Africans, especially the poor and previously disadvantaged who suffer the most under the onerous Firearms Control Act of 2000, to own firearms for their protection. I gathered from your statements that you are indeed concerned about the safety and wellbeing of your citizens, and making it easier for us to protect ourselves from the scourge of violent crime will greatly help in making us all safer.
I hope that this letter may prove an asset to your decision making.
- Gideon Joubert is an airline pilot working for a South African low-cost carrier, and is currently completing a BCom Economics degree through UNISA. Joubert is a dedicated participant in International Practical Shooting Confederation sport shooting through SAPSA, and a member of the Gun Owners of South Africa Executive Committee. The letter was written in his personal capacity.
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