Right of Reply: Gideon Joubert, SAGA on gun ownership in SA

Dr. Lamb’s open letter suggests scepticism towards firearms’ defensive efficacy, sparking rebuttal from Gideon Joubert of the South African Gun Association (SAGA). Jourbert cites US CDC research affirming guns’ common defensive use. He argues firearms are indispensable in law enforcement and security sectors, emphasizing training’s role in effectiveness. Lamb’s focus on passive security overlooks firearms’ role as last-resort lifesavers. Joubert highlights armed citizens’ defence in crises like the 2021 South African unrest. He stresses individual responsibility in emergencies, advocating informed firearm ownership for personal safety.

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By Gideon Joubert*

The recent article by Dr. Lamb requires a coherent response.

While SAGA is in agreement that it is good and rational for prospective firearm owners to thoroughly weigh-up the pros and cons of owning a firearm or not, we strongly disagree with many of Dr. Lamb’s claims.

Firstly, the assertion that firearms are not reliably proven to be effective in defensive use is illogical. 

There are indeed no South African studies that investigate the issue, but American research commissioned by the Obama administration and undertaken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2013 did. The CDC study reported that “(d)efensive use of guns by crime victims is a common occurrence”. 

Further, the CDC’s research found that “(a)lmost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million.” 

I would think that this constitutes a significant academic finding.

We do not, however, require academic studies to tell us whether not firearms are effective defensive tools. Even a surface-level investigation of the dynamics of personal defensive combat, combined with garden variety common sense, readily leads one to conclude they very much are. Which is perhaps why academics must go to so much effort in their attempts to disprove that which is obviously apparent to the common man or woman.

Read more: Chuck Stephens: Sleeping with a loaded gun…

If firearms were not supremely effective defensive tools, then police officers worldwide would simply not carry them for personal protection during the execution of their duties. Nor would entire industries supplying armed security personnel to protect lives and assets exist. After all, why bother with the extensive burden and expense of buying, managing and issuing firearms to your personnel if the tools are not effective? Or worse: if the potential risks outweigh the potential rewards?

Instead South Africa has a great number of highly-successful security firms specialising in everything from armed tactical intervention, to armed asset protection, to armed close protection – because these tasks would be impossible to perform with unarmed security personnel.

The effectiveness of the tool is of course wholly dependent on the skill and competence of the operator. Which is exactly why SAGA, and (as far as we can tell) every other firearm owner representative body in South Africa, emphasises the necessity for gun owners to regularly develop and practice their skills. The more proficient the firearm owner is with their chosen defensive tools, the greater their effectiveness will be under duress. This requires some dedicated time and effort, but it is easily achievable for the average person.

Unfortunately Dr. Lamb looks at the topic of self-protection and violent crime through an academic lens, which is far-removed from the dynamic realities of violent criminal confrontations. Claiming that resisting criminals with armed force enhances the risk faced by the defender ignores the fact that their lives are already in imminent danger. Doing nothing may get you murdered just as readily as doing something, except it is much easier for the perpetrator to kill a non-resisting victim: South African criminals are known to murder their victims for no discernible reason after all.

Ultimately it is up to the individual faced with their unique circumstances to best decide what action is appropriate.

Dr. Lamb’s recommendations to improve your security at home and to join neighbourhood watches are indeed good ideas, but he makes the mistake of treating these as alternatives to firearm ownership. Lethal force is a last resort needed to preserve innocent life from imminent and deadly attack. Home security measures are passive barriers to free entry of your property. They are useful, but they are far from impenetrable. 

At best they can deter less-motivated criminals from entering. They can also buy the residents time and alert them to intrusion via alarm systems. This creates an opportunity for the residents to summon help – usually in the form of armed response or police – and secure themselves in a more defensible position. The bottom line is that whomever responds to the emergency will arrive on the scene armed with guns. 

Hence we are all, either through our own direct participation or via outsourcing the responsibility to the authorities or security service providers, protected with lawfully-used firearms.

Read more: Gun ownership in SA: Firearm expert says risks outweigh reward

Equally, the idea of unarmed neighbourhood watch members patrolling their streets in the dead of night is not optimal, either. The stated goal of neighbourhood watches is to be the eyes and ears of the police. This infers that should the patrollers spot trouble, they will summon the SAPS or security – again, people with guns – to respond and deal with the situation. Unfortunately, even while performing such a passive role the patrollers themselves are at risk of being targeted – especially if they are wholly defenceless.

We can also see what lawfully armed communities can do, especially in light of what happened in July 2021(KZN & Gauteng) , where the SAPS and SADF seemingly were unable to prevent the violence and mayhem that occurred, leaving lawfully armed citizens to defend themselves. It seems that Dr. Lamb has seemingly forgotten about this event. 

Deciding whether or not to legally own a firearm and carry it defensively is a serious decision, and not all people will elect to shoulder the burden and the responsibility. Those who embrace responsible firearm ownership will always be a minority of the larger population. 

The reality, however, is that each of us are always and without exception the first responders to our personal emergencies. And it is our duty and responsibility to ensure we are adequately equipped to be active participants in our own rescue should the need arise. Let us not blow the risks needlessly out of proportion and ignore the benefits.

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*Joubert is a SAGA trustee

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