Koketso Moeti
Koketso Moeti

Pistorius and the unfinished gun ownership debate

When Oscar Pistorius first entered the courtroom where he stood accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, the case raised great interest. It was followed online, on radio and even watched on TV, where it received a lot of coverage. While some see the spotlight put on gun ownership by the trial as nothing but the “negligent actions of but one famous public figure”, recent headlines evidence that the problem is much deeper than that.

Some of the headlines found in an interactive map by Gun Free South Africa show the latest gun violence incidents reported in selected media include:

– Two-year-old KZN toddler shot by 6-year-old dies in hospital
– Man accidentally shoots his 8-year-old daughter in the head
– Woman shoots husband, mistaking him for burglar
– Enraged landlord shoots tenants, kills mother over loud music

All the above mentioned incidents were enabled by people being in possession of a gun, showing that if the gun had not been there the outcomes for everyone would have been very different.

According to Adele Kirsten, an independent small arms control analyst: “There is good evidence that one of the most effective violence prevention interventions is to strengthen national gun laws. Since the introduction of SA’s Firearms Control Act in 2000, there has been a 50% reduction in gun deaths, from 34 a day in 1994, to 18 a day in 2009. Evidence that South Africa’s Firearms Control Act (2000) has saved thousands of lives has been presented. The research, which was published in the March 2014 edition of the reputable American Journal of Public Health, shows that more than 4 500 lives were saved from gun violence in five SA cities between 2001 and 2005.”

In a CNN interview she goes on to share how there is overwhelming evidence globally that having a gun in the home increases the risk for injury and death through suicide, intimate partner violence and accidental death, noting that “in South Africa, there is relative certainty that a gun will be taken from its’ owner in an armed robbery, feeding the illegal market”.

Based on research, Gun Free South Africa says that in South Africa a civilian gun owner is up to four times as likely to have their gun stolen than to use it in self-defence. This is affirmed by research undertaken between 2006 and 2009 by the Institute of Security Studies, which showed that “armed gangs often targeted homes where owners were believed to have guns in their possession, in order to steal them”, putting more people at risk of becoming victims of gun violence.

While many people cite South Africa’s high rate of violent crime as a reason to own a gun, there is no doubt that the gun ownership debate should be extended beyond personal protection to focusing on the potentially deadly consequences thereof — as highlighted by the tragic shooting of Steenkamp among many others.

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    • Gideon Joubert

      You ignore the numerous successes of civilians defending their lives against armed assailants to make a fairly cheap emotive argument: http://www.gunsite.co.za/forums/forumdisplay.php?126-Lives-and-Property-successfully-defended-with-guns-%28136-2401%29VSa

      Also, the so-called statistic that you are four times as likely to have your own gun used against you is a blatant lie, and it was debunked by the man (Mr. A. Altbeker) who GFSA contracted to research it: http://www.gunsite.co.za/forums/showthread.php?46277-Four-times-more-likely-to-spew-nonsense

      “The methodology of the study militates against drawing the conclusion that armed victims are much more likely to lose their weapons than to use them successfully” Guns and Public Policy in SA – A.Altbeker

    • Eugene

      Seeing as most incidents involving guns entail people shooting themselves or their own families, I don’t see why I should have any sleepless nights over private gun ownership. I am far more concerned about governments interfering in people’s private lives.

      It may be true that a society where people can freely own guns would be somewhat more dangerous. As I see it, that is the very worthy price we pay for liberty.

    • http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      This is one of the points I raised in my reflections on the Pistorius case so far. The pro-guns lobby insist that gun ownership increases personal safety but, as the Inst. of SS study shows, it can work in the opposite direction and increase vulnerability.

      The issue can never be settled by argument. Statistics can be quoted endlessly to support both sides and anecdotal evidence, which the gun lobby rely on heavily (‘My gun saved my life’) can obviously be matched by instances where guns cost life. Pistorius and many other examples bear this out.

      Two sides exist and the debate comes down to whether a gun-owning society is more desirable, a matter which is settled in the end by legislators, not individual opinion.

      http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/the-trial-of-oscar-pistorius.html

    • Todor

      “Two sides exist and the debate comes down to whether a gun-owning society is more desirable, a matter which is settled in the end by legislators, not individual opinion.”

      That raises a valid point, and in turn important questions:

      1. Is government policy based on (a) good data and verifiable scientific research; or (b) questionable politics?
      2. Is (a) legislators servants of society; or (b) society servants of legislators ?
      3. Is (a) do we strive for individual rights; or (b) do we strive for the good of society at the expense of the individual rights

      I believe guns are enshrined in the USA constitution because they really want to avoid answering “b” to all of the above.

    • http://www.gunsite.co.za/forums JA Hoogenboezem

      As pointed out by Gideon above, you present a very one-sided account of the debate. There are many, many aspects I take issue with but I’ll highlight only this bit (quoted from your post):

      “There is good evidence that one of the most effective violence prevention interventions is to strengthen national gun laws. Since the introduction of SA’s Firearms Control Act in 2000, there has been a 50% reduction in gun deaths, from 34 a day in 1994, to 18 a day in 2009. Evidence that South Africa’s Firearms Control Act (2000) has saved thousands of lives has been presented. The research, which was published in the March 2014 edition of the reputable American Journal of Public Health, shows that more than 4 500 lives were saved from gun violence in five SA cities between 2001 and 2005.”

      Couple of issues – first off, the FCA only came into effect in 2004, not 2000 as per its title. Secondly, even before the FCA took effect, the MURDER rate started declining (curiously, Adele Kirsten acknowledges this without really acknowledging it, agenda much?). Thirdly, there is no crime category called “gun death” – statistics on those are not kept. I’ll grant that experience elsewhere where this statistic is actually kept shows that firearm related deaths remain a pretty stable percentage of total murder rate. This obviously begs the question what exactly firearm specific legislation achieves.

      Bottom line is, the first sentence by Adele Kirsten I quoted is a lie. A big fat one.

    • Perry

      I’m afraid that the major problem with this article is that it starts from some deeply faulty premises.
      1) Adele Kirsten is not in independent analyst, she’s a professional lobbyist who’s job is to campaign for ever tighter restrictions on private firearms ownership. So her claims should be assessed with that in mind.
      2) Her claim of firearm owners being “four times as likely” to have various bad things happen to them (the details of the story change from time to time) has been repeatedly and publically shown to be falsified.
      3) the claim about the FIrearms Control Act lowering violence is also falsified. The room out f the act actually accompanied a STOP in the downward trend in violence (I wouldn’t necessarily claim that the Act caused this stop, but it certainly happened at the same time).

    • http://www.pagfsa.co.za Andre

      I am also more likely to die in a car accident if I own a car. I am also more likey to die by drowning if I own a pool. What is “gun crime”? How is it different to other crime? Crimes commited using firearms have decreased, but violent crimes by other means rose drasticly. Home invasions were almost non-existent before the FCA. Now they are commonplace. GFSA and especially Adele Kirstein are liars.

      The words “Gun Crime”, “Assault Rifle”, and “High Caliber” are terms with absolutely no science behind them created by the anti-gun liars for the sole purpose of scare mongering…

    • Ashley Ross

      Is this an opinion piece? There doesn’t seem to be much opinion, and instead seems to be standard Gun Free South Africa advertising.

      Besides the fact that GFSA has publicized conclusions from study findings that the study itself explicitly says cannot be drawn (See Gideon Joubert’s comment), using only information provided by anti-gun lobbyists, whose sole purpose is to perpetuate only that data which furthers their cause, is a foolproof way to arrive at a one-sided world view. Lobbyists want nothing more than for people to only have one opinion to go on, rather than being able to understand the greater picture for themselves.

      I strongly recommend that the reader take a look at Ivo Vegter’s 12 June 2014 article in the Daily Maverick. While he is not a gun owner, he approaches the gun debate by taking a holistic view into ownership and its effects on crime and murder, citing the most empirical studies available today, and draws a very different conclusion to the view that Gun Free South Africa tries to put forward as fact.

    • Baz

      I see controversial comments popping up on this sensitive subject of gun ownership.
      Don’t use the OP case for your reasoning. That case is very clear with it’s evidence, what the final outcome be towards the defendant in question.
      Watch this pace for more……..

    • Momma Cyndi

      I notice there are no stats on illegally owned guns. I also don’t see anything about how many military and police issue guns go missing each year (or are we seriously looking at taking guns away from the army and police?).

      I also notice that all stats relating to places like Canada, Sweden, Norway, etc are conspicuous by their absence.

      Our current licence laws require a gun owner to pass a test on the legal use of firearms, pass an accuracy test, have a suitable safe for the firearm and ammunition, their suitability is established by interviews with neighbours, an interview with a police officer and a criminal background check. This isn’t like America where you just go into the local Spar and buy a gun or get one free when opening a bank account.

    • Ms Ann Thrope

      Andre:”I am also more likely to die in a car accident if I own a car. I am also more likey to die by drowning if I own a pool.” Except cars and pools are not designed with the sole purpose of killing other people…

    • Axl

      Lies, damn lies and GFSA propaganda. Adele quotes outdated studies and refuses to publicly debate the issue with a peer from the other side of the fence. Yet another example of hypocritical intollerance from so-called liberals.

    • Eugene

      @Ashley Ross: Do you have a URL for the Ivo Vegter article you refer to? I can’t find it at his site.

    • Baz

      @ Ms Ann Thrope well said. Good for you.

    • Brianb

      Stricter gun control does not reduce crime.

      Criminals use unlicensed weapons.

      Perhaps a psychiatric assessment is appropriate to qualify for gun ownership.

    • http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan

      @Todor – With respect to your answers ‘b’ above.

      The US constitution enshrines the ‘right’ to bear arms for the same reason it no longer enshrines the ‘right’ to own slaves: one provision was afterwards amended and the other was not.

      None of this suggests some inalienable ‘individual’ right, but rather that leaders and society were quicker to agree to one change than the other.

      You and I and the rest of us have to decide whether that was a good or bad thing and, whatever our answer, what it has to do with SA society deciding on the matter today.

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/koketsomoeti Koketso Moeti

      1. The idea that because unlike the US, gun control is strict here so accidents don’t happen is laughable. All the ‘accidents’ I mention in the piece all happened with legal guns. People may pass the tests & follow procedure to get a gun- but the evidence shows that it doesn’t guarantee that guns get locked in safes thereafter & just check headlines for ‘accidental’ shootings in which people shot their kids or kids shooting other kids to see that owning it ‘legally’ doesn’t guarantee protection;

      2. One cannot even begin to deal with illegal guns, without first dealing with the legal ones that we know the owners of. And it is much more effective to deal with what feeds the illegal market (stolen guns, people who illegally sell their weapons & police who do the same). Illegal gin ownership won’t stop, as long as its sources exist;

      3. The opinion for those who missed it, is that I am anti-gun ownership. There are non-lethal means of protection available for those who own under in the name of ‘self protection';

      4. The piece makes no reference to police, because it’s about individual gun ownership and

      5. No, when guns kill it doesn’t always only involve the family of the gun owner. There are instances when children shoot children, where the child shot is a visiting friend and other similar scenarios.

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/koketsomoeti Koketso Moeti

      About the use of OP’s case as an example, it was only used because it’s a case most people are familiar with. There are many others, like the boy who shot himself with the mother’s gun after failing his matric exams and the mother upon finding her son, then went on to shoot herself. There’s also the 4 mentioned in the piece and the ‘road rage’ incident in Gauteng, in which both parties had gun. Lots of examples that can be used, but the principle remains the same, all those tragedies were enabled by the presence of a gun.

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/koketsomoeti Koketso Moeti

      Also,there’s a lot of research which shows that where a gun is present, there is a greater likelihood of suicide- something not unique to South Africa and where a gun is used, the suicide attempt is often ‘successful’ as compared to other methods.

    • Paul Kearney

      Maybe try and do some research and actual analysis instead of being taken in by puffery.

      This may be a start to your research:

      http://www.dailymaverick.co.za/opinionista/2014-06-12-the-gun-genie-and-its-bottle/#.U5075UCv-So

    • http://Bloghome Chris2

      Legal gun ownership is difficult enough in South Africa. The Gun Free lobby should direct their efforts towards illegal guns and the illegal use of guns. In Africa there are too many guns floating around practically uncontrolled and apparently available illegally at moderate cost to criminal elements. Taking away legal guns therefore would cause a complete imbalance in favour of violent criminals. No doubt, the gun culture needs to be improved, but so does the driving culture and many other things in our country. Personal responsibility needs to be inculcated from an early age, using education, the media, churches, etc.
      A good start would be for GFSA to lobby the legal system to become much stricter when dealing with armed criminals, particularly regarding illegal gun possession/use, also if they grab their intended victim’s gun. Such crimes should incur extreme aggravating circumstances and a manyfold increased penalty.
      Switzerland is a country where practically every citizen that has done compulsory military service owns a gun, but the strict gun culture makes it one of the safest countries for its citizens. France is another country with easy gun ownership but very limited gun-related crime.

    • http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com Paul Whelan
    • Eugene

      “5. No, when guns kill it doesn’t always only involve the family of the gun owner. There are instances when children shoot children, where the child shot is a visiting friend and other similar scenarios.”

      –Um, I did not claim that it always only involves the family of the gun owner. I claimed that most, not all, but MOST, such incidents pose no threat to me, and thus I am not too worried about guns. Even here in crime ridden South Africa, my personal risk from guns is too low to make it worth the effort of going on a do-gooder campaign about it.

      Seems to me the whole thing has little to do with anyone’s safety, and everything to do with authoritarian people who simply cannot leave other people in peace to live their lives as they see fit. Same as the campaigns against all manner of other supposed social ills, whether it be drugs or porn or racism or whatever: there is an ever growing list of things some people want the government to declare illegal.

      Well, I can’t do much about that, but personally, I respect other people’s right to privacy and peace. I don’t want them to interfere in my personal life and thus I don’t interfere in theirs.

    • Joseph coates

      @Ms Ann Thorpe &
      @ Brianb ..
      both have said some incredible thought provoking pointers. Well done.

    • nguni

      Good points Chris2.
      Strange that the stats quoted are so out of date,
      to get the overall picture I’d like to see the data for 1984 – 1994 – 2004 – 2014.
      Anyone have that available yet (2013 ok for 2014)?

    • Stewart Wood

      There is one quote which should end all argument about legal gun ownership and it came from Sydney Mufumadi at the time of the FCA being implemented.

      When questioned in Parliament on the number of crimes of any sort committed by legal owners using a gun he replied that there are no definitive statistics available on this because the SAPS did not keep such stats.

      Asked why not, if legally-owned guns were such a serious threat to peace and stability that a new and draconian law had to be introduced against massive opposition, he answered that stats are not kept because the incidence of such crimes by such people is so low as to be “statistically insignificant”.

      Thus we can see that the law is designed only to harrass those who do not commit such crimes whilst failing to address the real question which is the unchecked incidence of illegal guns in criminal hands.

      GFSA knows this too but operating as a unit of the UN Global Gun Grab, and funded by several foreign organisations, continues to lie and deceive in order that ALL law-abiding citizens are disarmed in the interests of absolute governmental power.

      The article is a nonsense and based on incorrect facts (and some outright lies!) already proven so over many years by many analysts and observers since 2004 when the FCA was introduced.

    • Eugene

      @Stewart Wood: And of course, it won’t end with guns. There has already been talk of banning everything from pocket knives to pepper spray. This is part of the problem with banning things: the government’s lust for power is unlimited and can never be satisfied.

    • Monwabisi Ncayiyana

      Obvious on this question of owning a Gun, there are two side of the coin,its either you are against or you are pro. In my view it depends to the character and the behaviour of the Gun owner, a gun whom is short tempered is like to use his gun each and every time he/she has an argument or mostly, so in my view gun owners need to be psychological evaluated before they can purchase any gun.

    • Momma Cyndi

      The number one murder weapon in South Africa is a knife. The number one cause of death is a dinner plate. The number one method of suicide is a rope or poison (depending if male or female).

      When you see parents with children standing on their lap whilst they are driving and parents with toddlers and no fence around the swimming pool, it is not a problem with parents owning guns, it is a problem with people having children when they should not be allowed to be in charge of potplants!

    • alan martheze

      A wise person (not me) once wrote: “”Human beings only have two ways to deal with one another: reason and force. If you want me to do something for you, you have a choice of either convincing me via argument, or force me to do your bidding under threat of force. Every human interaction falls into one of those two categories, without exception. Reason or force, that’s it.

      In a truly moral and civilized society, people exclusively interact through persuasion. Force has no place as a valid method of social interaction, and the only thing that removes force from the menu is the personal firearm, as paradoxical as it may sound to some.

      When I carry a gun, you cannot deal with me by force. You have to use reason and try to persuade me, because I have a way to negate your threat or employment of force. The gun is the only personal weapon that puts a 100-pound woman on equal footing with a 220-pound mugger, a 75-year old retiree on equal footing with a 19-year old gang banger, and a single gay guy on equal footing with a carload of drunken guys with baseball bats. The gun removes the disparity in physical strength, size, or numbers between a potential attacker and a defender.

      There are plenty of people who consider the gun as the source of bad force equations. These are the people who think that we’d be more civilized if all guns were removed from society, because a firearm makes it easier for a [armed] mugger to do his job. “

    • Peter Moss

      That wise person was Marko Kloos. The gun is civilisation. Which everyone should read.

      http://munchkinwrangler.wordpress.com/2007/03/23/why-the-gun-is-civilization/

      There is no valid research that shows gun laws reduce crime. NONE.

      There are some 21 studies in the USA of self defence with a gun. EVERY ONE of them shows the overwhelming success. The only point of debate is how good it is.

      BANS do not work. There is no example of a successful ban. Restrictive laws are lesser application of the principle of bans. Ban on drugs complete failure. Prohibition of alcohol complete failure. Ban of pornography, complete failure.
      Einstein said that repeating the same experiment hoping for a different result was insanity. We can see how many insane people we have running this country and voting for gun control.

      I challenge the author to produce a list of gun control laws that have valid evidence that they have reduced crime, the supply of guns to criminals or increased public safety. Consider that there are over 100,000 gun control laws in the world. It should be a breeze to find 50% or more.

      Gun control is a LIE. It is people control.