DURBAN - The mass killing in Las Vegas in which 58 people were killed and more than 500 injured by loner Stephen Paddock who opened fire on concertgoers last Sunday, has put the spotlight on firearm control.
Commenting on the incident, experts told the Sunday Tribune it was usually a case of firearms in the wrong hands. Gun Free SA (GFSA) confirmed the trigger-happy habits of South Africans with the statistic that at least 16 people are shot and killed every day, and violence monitors said most murders were committed with unlicensed firearms.
While the number of illegal guns in the hands of civilians is not known, GFSA is concerned that not enough is being done by the police to disarm criminals. GFSA’s Adèle Kirsten said while the rest of the world is still reeling from last week’s Las Vegas massacre, South Africans were not safe either.
She said the introduction of its Firearms Control Act in 2000 curbed gun deaths, from 34 a day in 1998 to 18 in 2009. Then something went wrong.
“From 2010, there has been a steady breakdown in the firearms control management system, and thousands of people are being shot – in political assassinations, armed robberies, taxi disputes and family murder-suicides.”
Violence monitor and analyst at the University of KwaZulu-Natal Mary de Haas said there was a lack of political will from the government to address the proliferation of guns and failure of police to bring most perpetrators to book.
This sentiment was shared by social justice activist Vanessa Burger, who said the rule of law was opposed and undermined by political leaders and rotten police officers who allegedly sold guns to criminals. “There are not enough controls over security companies insofar as possession of guns were concerned.
“I am not referring to large, registered companies but to the many fly-by-night operators who establish a security company, acquire guns, then go out of business. It is not clear whether police do enough checks on such companies.”
Some residents of the notorious Glebelands Hostel have alleged rogue police officers sold and hired guns to hitmen who terrorised residents.
“They come at night to do raids and the next morning most of those guns are being sold back to residents,” said one who did not want to be named.
A 34-year-old man from Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape, who inherited his father’s 9mm when he died in 2008, said he had never fired a single bullet from it. However, he did confess to lending the weapon to his friends but was adamant it was not for a fee, though some have paid him money in the past.
“I’m not running a business but I won’t say no to money either,” said the man, who asked that his identity not be revealed.
Most of the people in Glebelands allegedly owned unlicensed firearms but none of those residents who spoke to the Sunday Tribune was keen to hand their guns to the police.
KZN Transport, Community Safety and Liaison spokesperson Mluleki Mntungwa said the government was concerned about the proliferation of illegal firearms, hence, early this year, MEC Mxolisi Kaunda embarked on a "closing of the ranks” to address the issue.
“The plan entails conducting intelligence-driven operations such as roadblocks and stop-and-search exercises in crime hot spots such as Glebelands, Richmond and uMzimkhulu. It is yielding positive results as police have recovered a number of illegal firearms.
“We are also considering the issue of amnesty to those who will voluntarily hand over illegal firearms once this has been approved by Parliament,” said Mntungwa.
Gareth Newham, head of the justice and violence prevention programme at the Institute for Security Studies, said corruption at the highest level had resulted in a substantial weakening of the criminal justice system.
He said this had contributed to growing impunity for criminal elements involved in violent crime and corruption.
“These recent murders are further evidence of a trend that started with state capture and deterioration of governance that has come to define the Zuma presidency.”
Newham said there were many good men and women in the police service but they were let down by top management due to the appointment of incompetent or corrupt individuals, which had profoundly undermined policing.
“This means ground-level officers are not able to do their jobs effectively, for instance. Until the leadership crises in the SAPS, Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority is sorted out, these institutions will not function effectively. Criminals recognise this loophole, which is why they are brazen, as evidenced by these mass murders, even the heists at OR Tambo airport. As they say, the fish rots from the head. Until those who control criminal justice are men and women of integrity, public safety will continue to deteriorate.”
The KZN provincial SAPS did not respond to questions at the time of publication.