Right of Reply: Your firearm ‘expert’ misses the target

In response to criminologist Dr. Guy Lamb’s article on gun use in South Africa, Jonathan Deal argues against blaming guns alone and highlights the complexities of crime, defending firearm ownership as essential for self-defence despite risks.

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By Jonathan Deal*

Within the context of the hackneyed debate around guns as a driver of crime and a means of self protection, criminologist Dr. Guy Lamb is introduced by Biznews editor as a ‘firearm expert’. The Biznews preface to Dr. Lamb’s article, comes out punching for the anti-gun lobby – grudgingly conceding that firearms offer ‘some’ protection, while asserting that they [firearms] pose ‘grave risks’. 

Public trust in the police down to 27% (2021) 

Dr. Lamb acknowledges that South Africa has one of the highest homicide rates in the world,  referring to South African Police Services crime data which reflects that South Africans experience above average levels of assault, robbery, and rape. Pointing to the 2022/23 Victims of Crime survey, he asserts that the population feels acutely unsafe – with only 37% of almost 43,000 citizens surveyed, indicating that they felt safe at night in their communities. Dr. Lamb cited that public trust 

in the police declined from a shocking 38% in 2015 to 27% in 2021. 

I would hazard a guess that in the three years 2021-2024, that number is even lower than 27%. I  can’t fault these figures and the grim reality that they present for law-abiding South African citizens. 

It is when Dr. Lamb tramps down the familiar path about Illegal guns ‘playing a significant role’ in the high levels of violent crime in South Africa that he loses credibility in this debate. Without exception,  every single anti-gun argument in any country seeks to pin the phenomenon of violent crime on a gun.  

Entrenched in this facile approach, appears to be the notion that by reducing the availability of guns in society, we will experience a net gain in the reduction of violent crime. Perhaps it is assumed that persons pre-disposed to criminal behaviour will steer clear of their criminal tendencies in the absence of a gun. 

There would be millions more licensed gun owners 

Dr. Lamb confirms that there are about two million licensed firearm owners and approximately three million licensed guns in South Africa, as if these figures, whether tripled, halved or divided by ten would make any difference to the reality of violent crime for the law-abiding man in the street. And if one were to attach any value to these figures, one could also suggest that if there weren’t a financial barrier that places gun ownership out of the hands of millions, there would be millions more licensed gun owners.  

A firearm is the only tool that will place a single defender on an equal footing with overwhelming  criminal odds 

Calling on a 20-year history of researching firearm crime and violence in Africa and serving as an arms trafficking expert for the United Nations, Dr. Lamb agrees that firearms can provide a ‘degree of safety to users’. Naturally, he will not be motivated to admit that a licensed firearm in the hands of a law-abiding citizen – and especially a woman – is the only tool that will place a single defender on an equal footing with overwhelming criminal odds. He claims instead, that firearms present a range of risks for users and society at large, qualifying that statement by saying – ‘ especially if they  [guns] are in criminal hands. 

Of course a gun in criminal hands is a risk to society at large. And of course a gun in law abiding hands is an asset to society at large. 

Dr. Lamb’s references to the process by which South Africans lawfully acquire firearms and the cost  of the firearms is accurate, and serves only to underscore the strict controls and cost of owning a 

private firearm in South Africa – hardly illustrating a wholesale licensing of guns for criminals by the government.  

Turning to guns, crime and safety, Dr. Lamb tritely contends that ‘criminals frequently possess firearms ’. Of course they do. My contention is that a criminal who cannot lay his hands on a firearm will possess a knife, an axe or perhaps an iron pole – in fact any weapon that will provide him with a physical advantage in his criminal enterprise.  

The claim that firearm owners are targeted more than non-firearm owners is not based on fact and is simple to argue against by suggesting that any burglar is concerned with unlawfully acquiring valuables that belong to another person. Of course firearms are sought after by criminals, but it is simplistic to suggest that criminals only target homes where they know there are firearms.  

Similarly, the suggestion that criminals are likely to shoot armed household members makes a mockery of the well-established trend of violent assault and raping that accompanies home invasions and criminal attack on unarmed people. Of course criminals will shoot if they feel threatened, and to suggest that they only shoot, torture, beat and rape when they are faced with someone who owns a gun does nothing to support Dr. Lamb’s position.  

Glibly, he suggests that there are less risky alternatives to firearm ownership, such as improving security in the home and joining a neighbourhood watch or community safety group. This when South Africans are already barricaded behind double gates and electric fences, and protected by armed response companies. It requires little imagination to speculate on how successful a response company would be if it advertised ‘all our officers are unarmed’. 

The difference between an armed responder and an armed home-owner is the panic button  

Simply stated – the difference between an armed responder and an armed home-owner is the panic button. They are both armed, and I’d be surprised if the anti-gun lobby in South Africa eschewed armed response in favour of a billy club, a whistle and a can of pepper spray.  

Dr. Lamb writes that the anecdotal evidence proffered by South African firearm interest groups, that there is a personal safety advantage in owning a firearm, lacks a credible South African study in support thereof, by default making the point that there is no credible South African study that proves the opposite.  

He cites a US-based study challenging the notion that legal firearm ownership cannot be convincingly linked to crime prevention, conveniently ignoring that the demographics, culture, almost complete lack of police control on violent crime as well as the proliferation of guns from State and military actors, combined with the copious flow of small arms from other countries in Africa has precious little to do with the South African citizen who needs a gun to protect his family. Dr. Lamb writes that a firearm makes a perpetrator-victim encounter worse by increasing the risk of homicide, but neglects to mention whether that homicide includes the perpetrator’s own death.  

Intimate partner violence and suicides are by no means reserved for gun owners  

His penultimate point in this hackneyed argument is that intimate partner violence, suicide and accidental shootings are additional and undesirable by-products of owning a gun. This discounts the fact that intimate partner violence and suicides are by no means reserved for gun owners. And even  if accidental shootings in South Africa increased exponentially, it would be tough to argue that law 

abiding citizens ought to be stripped of a fundamental means of protection from South Africa’s uncontrolled criminals. 

Dr. Lamb concludes: ‘In short, firearm ownership is accompanied by risks of injury (and death) for firearm owners and their families’. 

In reality, a lawfully owned firearm is an intrinsic and necessary instrument in any country. It enforces the rule of law, protects our leaders from assassins and provides the man in the street with a means to stay alive in this violent country where criminals ply their trade without hindrance. 

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*Jonathan Deal is the founder of Safe Citizen, a community based NPO. He is a veteran firearms instructor, sport shooter and a respected member of the firearms fraternity. www.safecitizen.co.za