By Peter Moss
More stringent firearm legislation has stimulated considerable debate surrounding the notion of a crime free South Africa. Within the context of crime-ridden South Africa, the question of whether stricter gun laws will be effective in reducing the crime rate is not in debate. The available evidence of the world for a period of 200 years offers conclusive proof that all attempts to control crime or the supply of guns to criminals with restrictive legislation will fail to deliver the false promise of gun control. Yet the debate fuelled by a virtual deluge of beliefs, misinformation, propaganda, ignorance, hate, fear and agendas continue unabated. All claiming the results of reduced crime and criminal guns as inducement to enact laws to control firearms and law-abiding citizens who have no inclination to violent crime.
We rightly reject the very idea of registering, tracking and controlling convicted sex offenders, in particular paedophiles, as a gross violation of their human rights. Yet seem willing to subject law-abiding citizens who have committed no crime to even worse measures of control, tracing, tracking, reporting, searches, expense and demanding of proof of good standing just because they wish to own firearms.
Cabinet's approval of the Firearms Control Act has been described as one of its most flawed legislative processes to date. The policy, drafted in terms of a mandate from Safety and Security Ministers Sidney Mufamadi and Steve Tshwete to reduce the legal possession of small arms and ammunition, is the result of governments stated policy and many times confirmed intention of disarming all citizens of South Africa.
The resulting legislation severely restricts the right of firearm ownership by limiting the numbers and type. Onerous conditions, proof of need, purchases and tests must be passed with great expense prior to even applying for a licence that may well be refused by an arbitrary and undisclosed adjudication process. The legislation also gives wide ranging draconian powers to the police of presumption of guilt, search and seizure with the ability to take DNA samples, all without a warrant.
This attempt at greater control over gun ownership in South Africa is indicative of the worldwide trend towards gun control psychosis. A trend supported by groups such as the George Soros OSI/OSF funded organisations like Gunfree South Africa. Political party support is from the African National Congress (ANC), Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO) and United Democratic Movement (UDM). All of who have an ultimate aim of a criminal utopia of disarmed victims. While being rejected by the vast majority of citizens, the Democratic Alliance (DA), Freedom Front Plus (FFP), African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and all firearms organisations.
The question of transparency was raised in connection with this legislation after accusations that the policy drafting process is biased and therefore deeply flawed. The NNP and DP (now DA) also felt that "a certain section, represented by groups such as Gunfree South Africa have been given too prominent a role in the drafting of the legislation, while other groups with differing viewpoints were excluded". It is clear that the drafting and legislative process filled by a long list of many controversies has not been transparent and the claims of deeply flawed are justified.
The government, by assenting to the legislation, has clearly put in place a vital step to its stated goal of total civilian disarmament. Despite governments many attempts to allay the fears of citizens by claiming that this is not the intention. It has also admitted that the legislation will have no impact on criminals because it is not possible to make laws for criminals. This while the ANC is still in illegal possession of all its estimated 60 tons of war arms and munitions.
The motivating factor behind the legislation is, clearly, the desire of government to follow its advertised and stated policy and intention of civilian disarmament and to distract attention from its failure to control rampant and out of control crime. This connection is proven by the fact that the police are deliberately and knowingly starved of all resources needed to fight crime and the judicial process is corrupt, inefficient and overloaded.
The intended and stated result of the legislation is to control and cause a significant reduction in the level of not illegal but legal firearm ownership to hypothetically reduce crime and criminal possession. This unproven government policy is supported by Gunfree South Africa, a non-governmental lobby organisation whose ultimate aim, a utopian ideological vision that has no proof of ever materialising, is a gun-free society, one in which there are no guns in private hands. Respected criminologists and scholars of the world have much to say on the lack of a causal relationship between firearms and crime. All agree there is no evidence to back the claim that guns are in fact to blame for crime.
Summarising governments standpoint, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, then leader of the NNP, stated in Parliament "the draft bill circulating at the moment confuses responsible, legal gun ownership with criminal, illegal gun ownership". Those against the notion of a gun-free South Africa cite the impossible dream of disarming criminals and international examples in order to disprove the ideology that a gun-free society results in a crime-free society. For instance, two years after strict gun laws were introduced in New Jersey in 1966 the robbery rate had almost doubled and the murder rate had increased by 46%. Also, since stringent gun laws were enacted in Washington in 1976, the murder rate in the city has increased by 134%, while the national murder rate has dropped by 2%.
What is of most serious concern to many law-abiding South Africans is the perception that the new gun laws deny them of their democratic right to protect themselves. The majority of legal firearms are purchased for reasons of self-defence and protection. A gun helps many South Africans ensure their own safety and security giving the ability to defend life and secure property when faced with a crime situation. In a country as violent as ours, the ability to protect oneself and one's family is paramount.
However, those in favour of a gun-free society respond to the issue of self-defence by erroneously pointing out that gun owners are seldom able to defend themselves. Since no study has been conducted in South Africa the basis of this contention is simply a figment of imagination and desire to promote unattainable idealism, which disregards many international studies. Professor John Lotts acclaimed study in America presented in his book 'More guns, less crime', shows unrefuted evidence of the deterrent effect on crime produced by armed citizens. There are many other independent and government studies, which all confirm this result.
Gunfree South Africa in its attempts to discredit the good record of firearm owners continues to disparage licensed firearms owners, despite governments own admission that licensed firearms owners are not a significant contributing factor to violent crime. Negligence by licensed gun owners is a crime yet the number of prosecutions is insignificant.
In an endeavour to legitimise its unsubstantiated claims of negligence, Gunfree South Africa commissioned - and paid via the Open Society Foundation (OSF) - Antony Altbeker (Wits University) to conduct a study specifically to prove that firearms owners were negligent. Altbeker vehemently opposed to firearms ownership, starting from the premise that negligence was present and seeking ways to justify the premise, conducted his research within 1000 police dockets of cases of firearms "loss". Atlbeker was unable to provide the proof that firearms owners were anything but responsible.
According to the Institute for Security Studies, 20 000 handguns are stolen each year - 8 500 of those admitted stolen from the police and defence force. However State losses of firearms are hugely under reported and many are simply written off as accounting losses. The State is acknowledged as the largest supplier of illegal arms. Under 1% of licensed firearms are stolen – ‘losses’, which when compared with known SAPS firearms ‘losses’ - 7%, stolen motor vehicles - 10%, once again shows the unrefuted good record of licensed firearms owners.
It is difficult to believe that Gunfree South Africa, the SAPS and government in some demented thinking wish to hold firearms owners responsible for the theft of property. Both go so far as to illogically attempt to place the blame for further criminal acts committed with stolen guns on the owners. One can imagine the laughter which would be caused by owners of stolen motor vehicles being blamed for bank robbery and hi-jacking. Yet mention guns and with the conditioning and constant barrage of propaganda from Gunfree South Africa and government, just like Pavlov's dogs, people take such ludicrous statements seriously.
A survey commissioned by gun-free South Africa compared the incidence of gun related crime in South Africa to that of neighbouring Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. Katharine Mckenzie also vehemently opposed to gun ownership, ignored the majority of her own data to prove the preconceived premise on which the research was based and satisfy Gunfree South Africa. Dr. Richard Wesson an independent researcher examined McKenzie’s data and illogical comparison with Botswana simply because it was the only example of the 10 countries studied from which McKenzie could draw the conclusion desired. Dr. Richard Wesson using recognised methods has shown the reverse of McKenzies conclusion. The incidence of levels of firearm ownership has a deterrent effect on crime rates. Once again confirming the results of Prof. John Lott. McKenzie when questioned by the Portfolio Committee on the validity of the study conclusions, rather than explain the anomalies and unsupported choices, informed the committee that government should conduct its own study.
Another example of the unsupported and flawed policy coupled with the lack of evidence of user negligence is the claim that many licensed gun holders are not fit to own such a weapon. The draft bill attempted to evaluate a license applicant's mental and emotional stability. The draft policy addressed this by suggesting that license applicants undergo psychometric testing to assess their mental stability. Undeterred by the lack of any known test to make such evaluation and the insignificantly small number of people who would be denied a licence by such a test.
There is absolutely no possibility, ever, of a gun free society. This unattainable belief raises doubts about the willingness, validity and ability of the police to enforce very costly strict gun laws that serve no other purpose than to control citizens and empower crime and criminals. Would stricter gun laws make it any more difficult for criminals to obtain guns? Criminals will still be able to smuggle guns into the country with the tons of illegal drugs already flowing into South Africa, get them on the black market or as is already the case, manufacture their own in backyard factories. How then can criminals, rather than the law-abiding public, be denied access to firearms?
The reality is that it is not possible to deny criminals guns by any ideological legislation or harassment of law-abiding citizens. There is not one single implementation of gun control legislation anywhere in the world that has either reduced crime or the supply of guns to criminals. Such well-intentioned attempts have a 100% failure rate but as noted by Prof. John Lott and many other researchers who have confirmed his results, the likelihood of increasing crime and criminal guns is very great. Leading to hopefully unintentional and unnecessary but predictable increases of death, rape, murder and robbery. The public, the victims of violent crime pay the cost of injury and suffering caused by gun control and government’s disarmament agenda. Criminals by choice prefer unarmed and defenceless victims.
The general lack of faith in the police and the criminal justice system in this country leads to concerns over why new legislation has been introduced. Although the Act extends greater powers to the police the question remains as to whether the police, given their limited resources, experience and training, will actually be able to exert those powers. Or as found by the Dept. Safety and Security’s own study in the case of the far lesser powers of the replaced legislation, those powers given will be grossly abused.
All arguments lead to an acknowledgement that stricter gun laws are irrelevant to the combat of crime and are at best a planned diversion by government to draw attention away from a dismal failure to combat crime. Other measures need to be taken to reduce the high level of violent crime in South Africa. Anti-crime policy and legislation needs to be accompanied by a marked improvement in the police and criminal justice system. A more holistic approach that includes the root cause of crime rather than the simplistic surrogate of guns, needs to be adopted in order to change the whole culture of crime and violence in South Africa.
Is it reasonable that the SAPS should consume extensive resources of equipment, manpower, time and funding in a crime prevention tool that has no basis of validity? Gun control is one of the SAPS’s most expensive tasks, yet no audit of this “tool” has ever been carried out. The SAPS, government and citizens have no idea of the cost effectiveness in terms of value to crime fighting.
If we want reduced crime in South Africa, had we better not start evaluating the cost effectiveness of interventions? There can be no better start than examining where funding and resources that should be directed to cost efficient crime fighting are being wasted.
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