Cape Town - Metal pipes, elastic bands, nails and duct tape – this may sound like a plumber’s shopping list, but they are common household items used by gangsters to make their own guns.
Turf wars in violent neighbourhoods such as Manenberg are now being fought with homemade “zip guns”, which firearms experts refuse to test because of the risks involved.
In the past few weeks there have been several shootouts on the Cape Flats that police suspect may have been carried out with makeshift handguns.
Major-General Robbie Robberts, the Nyanga police cluster commander, said the problem with zip guns was that they discharged randomly.
“You can’t aim with these guns, and now that the police are confiscating proper firearms, gangs are resorting to making their own guns.”
Robberts said getting the raw material was easy: “Scrapyard dealers are making a buck with these guns. They sell the pipes and all these things for next to nothing.”
Police are uncertain how many zip guns are in production on the Cape Flats because they are put together with regular household items. But the evidence suggests their prevalence is increasing.
SA Gun Owners Association chairman John Welch said experts were not prepared to test zip guns.
“It is extremely dangerous for the person firing it.”
Welch warned that there was a 50 percent chance the gun would fire in the shooter’s direction.
Zip gun barrels, unlike proper gun barrels, were not rifled (grooved). This meant the bullet tumbled instead of spinning.
This greatly reduced accuracy and created a more severe impact.
Another danger of using a zip gun was the damage it could cause to a shooter’s hand. The heat generated during firing could cause burns, or in some cases the barrel itself could explode.
The gun consists of two pieces of geyser pipe. A .22 calibre bullet – or bigger, depending on the bore of the pipe – is slotted into the barrel and the two pieces of pipe are then screwed together.
The top half houses the firing mechanism. It is fitted with a spring attached to a nail or pin that acts as the trigger. An elastic band is then wrapped around the “trigger”.
Duct tape is wound around the weapon to protect the shooter’s hands from the heat when it is fired.
The trigger is pulled back by dragging the elastic band – similar to pulling back on a slingshot. The force of the spring against the bullet casing causes the gunpowder inside it to explode, propelling the .22 round forwards. It can reach speeds of about 240 metres a second.
Zip guns are designed for short-range shooting.