Johannesburg - Across the country, gun shops have noticed an up tick in the number of people wanting to buy firearms following the widespread unrest that broke out in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal last month.
The guns being sought after are handguns and shotguns, weapons best suited for home defence, and firearm experts believe that this has been driven by a fear, revealed during the unrest, that the police are unable to protect them.
It is an increase, believes the chairperson of the South African Arms and Ammunition Dealers’ Association, Jonathan Fouché, that has not been seen since 1994 when the ANC government came to power and white citizens feared a civil war.
“In 1994, with the change of government there was an even greater, broader spike towards people arming themselves, it is a similar thing now but of a shorter duration so far,” he said.
During the unrest that was triggered by the former president Jacob Zuma going to jail, there were reports in KZN of gun stores running out of ammunition. In Gauteng, at least one gun store said that they had found it difficult to source ammunition.
The looting in some instances prompted armed citizens to man roadblocks and guard over property. Some of these turned violent and police are still investigating a number of killings that involved members of the public using their own firearms.
“This interest in firearms is probably a mix of two things,” explained Fouché. “One is the coming out of the lockdown that has allowed people to get out and there is a bit more opportunity for sports shooting and the such like. But given the significant increase that we’ve seen in firearms for personal protection, I think it’s fair to say that the social unrest and looting definitely played a role in making people want to be ready to defend themselves.”
A high proportion of those interested in arming themselves, added Fouché, are women.
In recent years more women have been buying guns. Some of this was fuelled by direct marketing drives that have included women’s shooting events.
“I certainly think that the crime situation, and particularly the nature of contact crimes, that has evolved in South Africa in the last ten years is driving more women to protect themselves,” said Jonathan Deal, licensed firearms instructor.
“It’s a fact of life, that a firearm is the only thing that can level the playing field between the 60 kilogram woman and a 120 kilogram man.”
This weekend, Deal would be holding a firearms course where half of the participants are women – something that is not uncommon – he said.
Deal said he hadn’t noticed an increased in people wanting to buy guns.
Muhammed Dockrat, the owner of Dock Arms in Fordsburg, has not only seen an increase in citizens wanting to buy firearms, but also security companies looking to purchase guns. It is a knee jerk reaction that he has seen before.
“What happens is that people will walk in and say that they would like to get themselves a firearm for protection. And I will say to them ’you can't decide if you want to build an ark after it starts flooding’,” said Dockrat.
What often ends up deterring them is the long process in licensing the firearm, that often means they will only get possession of the gun eight to ten months later.
There is also a lot of uncertainty, Dockrat said, over the proposed Firearms Control Amendment Bill that would not allow firearm licences to be issued for self defence.
“By the time the unrest and everything settles down, everybody forgets about it and goes back into a slumber,” he said.