Cape Town - South Africa has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with guns being the leading cause. Over 20 people are shot and killed a day in the country. The extent of the country’s gun problem was laid bare to the world when South Africa was the only African country that has cities included on the list of 50 most dangerous cities in the world. The rankings are based on the number of murders per 100 000 people in the cities.
The high crime levels have been attributed to poverty, problems with the delivery of public services, and wealth disparity.
Citizens have resorted to arming themselves as SAPS cannot guarantee the safety of most people. Former national police commissioner Khehla Sithole revealed last year that there were 2 718 300 firearms legally owned by 1 614 291 private citizens in the country.
Themba Masuku from African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum explained that for any person to acquire a legal firearm, requires stringent measures which include no criminal record, the requirement to obtain a competency certificate in the handling of the firearm and an understanding of the Firearms Control legislation.
“Also, one’s partner must agree for a partner to acquire a firearm and neighbours are interviewed to ascertain whether the applicant has a history of violence. So, the process is stringent and makes it difficult for ordinary people to acquire firearms.”
He adds that this needs to be even made more stringent. “However, to get around the system there have been allegations of corruption which have resulted in people acquiring firearms. In the Western Cape, for example, there were allegations of corrupt police officers selling guns to gangs. This is a historic problem, not a new problem that can be linked to the July unrests.”
Experts differ on whether citizens should arm themselves in a bid to fight crime.
Ian Cameron, Founder of Firearms.co.za, a firearm network, established to provide support for law-abiding citizens looking to be armed, or that are already armed in South Africa believes crime will decrease if more people are legally armed.
“More South Africans want to be lawfully armed as their trust in authorities to keep them safe is at an all-time low. Crime will decrease in those immediate communities, lawfully armed citizens keep others safe and stop innocent people from becoming victims. Well trained armed citizens are assets for national security.”
He added that he advises every citizen to legally arm themselves as the country is violent. “Obviously, we encourage co-operation with authorities, but you are your own first and often the last line of defence.”
On the other hand, Clare Taylor from Gun Free South Africa does believes that armed citizens are a solution to the gun problem. Following the July unrest, there were reports that demand for guns and ammunition in SA had increased.
“This is incredibly concerning as we know from SA’s own experience that when gun availability decreases lives are saved, but when guns are more available, more people are shot and killed, injured or threatened with a firearm.”
She said statistics showed that when gun availability decreased in SA between 2000 and 2010 as a result of stricter gun legislation (the Firearms Control Act, 2000) SA’s gun death rate halved (from 34 people killed a day to 18).
“As gun availability increased from 2011 as a result of poor law enforcement (the state failing to implement the law and gun owners failing to comply with the law) as well as fraud and corruption, gun availability steadily increased, as has SA’s gun-death rate – currently 23 people are shot and killed a day in SA. With the recent increase in demand for guns, we can expect gun violence to increase in the future.”
Taylor added that we all want to live in a safe country, and with crime levels as high as they are everyone is looking at ways to keep themselves and loved ones safe.
“Some people choose to arm themselves, but, while a gun may make you feel safer, it doesn’t make you – or SA – safer. Criminals choose the time and place of attack to ensure their victim is vulnerable and outnumbered, and people who are armed are four to five times more likely to be shot at than people who are not armed.”