After the litany of tales about reckless gun use by Oscar Pistorius, it’s very, very easy to join a call for a near-complete ban on handguns , says Murray Williams.
Cape Town - After a week of the #OscarTrial, it’s inevitable that society starts searching for lessons. And chief among them must regard weapons.
Not the bat @hershybru once signed, used to smash holes in a bathroom door. No, guns.
After the sordid litany of tales about reckless gun use by Oscar Pistorius, it’s very, very easy to join a call for a near-complete ban on handguns among our citizenry.
And yet there’s a problem with that. A fundamental problem.
Because: Yes, it remains true that many victims are shot by gun-owners they know and trust. But, equally, a vast number of South Africans are shot by people with guns who they don’t know, who they aren’t related to or friends with, bad, evil people.
And very often, they’re carrying guns illegally.
So a ban on guns, then, would essentially be saying: “Yes, we know that you’re potentially under threat from people with illegal guns. But, sorry, we’re not going to allow you to carry guns legally to defend yourself.
A response to that could be: “Well, banning guns is a starting point which, we hope, will one day lead to far fewer legal and illegal guns in our society.”
And one would have to support that end goal entirely.
But while there are so many illegal guns out there, can the state legitimately ban citizens from protecting themselves against the current, incontestable threats?
Does the state want citizens to use pepper spray, mace or baseball bats against attackers’ bullets?
Yes, one must agree entirely that a gun-free South Africa would be an overwhelmingly better place to live in. But could you legislate such a grossly unequal contest between criminal and victim? Legislate that the odds must be so loaded in favour of the evil, against the innocent?
Anyway, for now, the law in South Africa allows citizens who apply, pass exams and proficiency tests to carry handguns.
Some of them are tough-guy gym-bunnies with “hot chicks” on their arms. And some of them are quiet, equally tough men who patrol the streets in the small hours with their neighbourhood watches to keep their families safe.
The Oscar trial is not about guns.
This story doesn’t carry lessons about cars either.
So Oscar likes ostentatious cars? Well, so does possibly the best cricketer on earth – a recent retiree who drives a Ferrari. People drive ostentatious cars – celebrities and non-celebrities. So what?
This is not a lesson about fame, either. Other than that no matter how sophisticated most people may claim to be, they’re suckers for “celebrities behaving badly”.
Let’s not pretend that most people’s interest in this trial is about “rich-versus-poor-man’s justice” or “freedoms of speech”.
People are lapping it up because it’s a freak show. A soap opera. The Bold and the Bloody Beautiful.
No. Is this not the lesson? That the fame of the killer is masking a brutal truth about a great many South African men: that they’re savages? That too many men exercise most brutal power over “their women”, with any and every kind of violence they can muster – fists, knives and, yes, bullets?
As @GunFreeSA themselves tweeted: “South African research shows a woman is killed by her intimate partner every eight hours (three women a day), in 1999 was every six hours (four a day).”
And: “Decline in intimate femicide due to drop in guns: 34 percent women killed in 1999 shot, down to 17 percent in 2009.”
Even taking men’s guns away doesn’t help, because “stab & blunt” attacks remained constant.
South African men, not guns, are the real murder weapons.
* Murray Williams’s column Shooting from the Lip appears in the Cape Argus every Friday. Follow him on Twitter: @mwdeadline