Oscar Pistorius Shooting: How Strict Are South Africa’s Gun Laws?

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RODGER BOSCH / AFP / GETTY

A young gang member shows a gun and ammunition, in Bonteheuwel neighborhood in Cape Town, on November 17, 2012

The paralympian Oscar Pistorius has been charged with murder by a South African court following the death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, from gunshot wounds at his home within a gated Pretoria housing estate. The woman sustained wounds to her head and the upper body, and was reported to have been shot four times. A 9mm pistol was recovered from the scene.

According to Gunpolicy.org, there are just under 6 million licensed firearms in South Africa, which has a population of around 50 million. In a nation notorious for its high level of violent crime and where many people live in fear of home invasions, most South Africans who keep guns do so for personal security. A Daily Mail article in 2011 noted that Pistorius kept a machine gun and a pistol in his bedroom.

South Africa’s Firearms Control Act came into force in 2000, following a decade which saw a huge spike in gun-related homicides. People applying for gun licenses now undergo rigorous checks, which take into account issues like a person’s temper, recurring issues of violence, abuse of alcohol. Interviews with spouses are also carried out. Also, a bill which seeks to give police extra powers to arrest anyone carrying a dangerous weapon in public was introduced into parliament this week.

“We’ve got good gun legislation,” Alan Storey, chairman of anti-firearm group Gun Free South Africa (GFSA), told TIME. “What has been less than perfect has been the implementation of that gun legislation.”

(MORE:  Reeva Steenkamp: What to Know about Oscar Pistorius’ Girlfriend)

There is a huge backlog in gun license applications, putting the body that administers licenses under pressure — which can lead to negligence. An example: in March 2012, it was reported that notorious underworld figures Mikey Schultz and Nigel McGurk had been reissued with firearm licenses, despite having confessed to the 2005 murder of mining tycoon Brett Kebble (Schultz and McGurk were given immunity from prosecution for the murder because they agreed to testify against the alleged mastermind).

Asked whether gun control is adequate, Gun Owners of South Africa (GOSA) executive Wouter de Waal told TIME: “The state attempts to control guns. It’s a lengthy and costly process to obtain a gun license. On the other hand it’s dead easy to buy an AK-47 off the streets. That’s the problem with gun control. It only controls law-abiding people.” There are around 2,000 guns stolen from legal gun owners in South Africa every month, said Alan Storey. “There needs to be a sense of outrage that the legal gun owners are the pool where illegal guns come from,” he said.

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The specific crime Pistorius stands accused of is increasingly rare in South Africa. A study carried out by the South African Medical Research Council showed that between 1999 and 2009 the proportion of gun homicides committed by a woman’s “intimate partner” (defined as her current or ex-husband or boyfriend, same sex partner or a rejected would-be lover) almost halved. The study notes that this is most likely due to the gun control legislation implemented since 2000.

Storey feels that the gun lobby in South Africa invokes narratives similar to those propagated by the National Rifle Association in the U.S. “I believe, and GFSA believes, that it actually uses the crime situation in South Africa as a smokescreen for its real ideology. And if you’re familiar with the NRA in America, their ideological basis for carrying firearms is the right to be armed, according to their constitution, to defend yourself against the government. But that policy would never fly in this country, around the sensitivity of being anti-government, but they would hide behind the crime level.”

Regarding the use of guns for self-defense, GOSA executive member Richard Boothroyd told TIME: “A gun is the only practical tool for protection against violence.  There is a great deal of that in South Africa, which has one of the world’s highest levels of homicide, rape and robbery. But let me stress that I do not accept that crime should exceed any specific level before gun ownership is considered justified.  I do not accept that it needs to be justified at all, but aside from that, the most peaceful of societies are not free of violence, so a gun is a sensible insurance anywhere, anytime.”

MORE: Q&A: Guns, Cities and the Death of Hadiya Pendleton

7 comments
SarahKalell
SarahKalell

The stats from the USA show that you are 64 times more likely to be killed by your doctor than by someone else wielding a gun.  Doctors kill 783,936 people each year (106,000 adverse drug reactions; 199,000 outpatients; medical errors 98,000 and other medical related 380,936).  Whereas the actual number of deaths from other people shooting you is 12,174.  These figures are from 2011.

If we look at the numbers worldwide on gun ownership and homicide, they certainly disprove yet again the theory that if we take civilian guns away that murders will come down:

In the USA, there are 88.8 firearms per 100 people.  The homicide with firearms figure is 9146 people.  This is a rate of 2.97 homicides per 100,000 people.

Compare with South Africa:  there are 12.7 firearms per 100 people.  The homicide figure with firearms is 8319 people.  This is a rate of 17.03 homicides per 100,000 people.  There are currently 5.9m firearms licenced to an average of 12 firearms per owner.  There are approximately 1.8 to 2.0m licenced firearm owners.  Source:  SA National Police.

Compare with Jamaica:  8.1 firearms per 100 people; homicide figure is 1080; rate of 39.4 homicides per 100,000 people.

The figures do not say anything – other than one cannot correlate civilian firearm ownership with high levels of murders involving firearms.

I stated back in 2003, when the murder rates in SA were coming down, that the anti-gunners and the police would claim that the continuing reduction of murders would be due to the Firearms Control Act.  This is clearly disengenuous and designed to mislead the general public and further the aims of civilian disarmament.

You cannot stop evil or irresponsibility by banning them.


m.l.hedington
m.l.hedington like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

Your article's data is flawed, your bias is blatantly obvious. There are only roughly three million licensed firearms in South Africa these days. There were around four million until the Firearm Control Act was enforced, -in 2004 BTW, not 2000 when it was enacted-.  Pistorius did not have a machine gun as no civilian is allowed a working full-auto weapon. As with all of the Gun-free crowd internationally, Storey is merely another hoplophobe, (Google it). Gunfree's will always latch on to any media frenzy in order to further their  misguided aims, that being to disarm the innocent, law-abiding, freedom-loving person who merely wishes to retain the right to Self-Defense. Once that Fundamental Right becomes illegitemate, all others eventually fall away too. 

L.M.E
L.M.E

I like the points you raise @m.l.hedington and you are accurate. I have found myself rather more inclined towards better gun control though, simply because the more there are, the more fall into the wrong hands.

However we do have a huge problem with the main leak of guns to criminals in fact being through the police themselves. 

I don't know ... certainly we civilians should have the right to protect ourselves (better still, that the legal system and government should protect us) but that is only a single page in the book. A corrupt system like ours shouldn't aim at the law abiding before taking the care of the criminals.

I think that Americans with their weird gun-culture are totally over the top though and fear that we may follow their example! The European systems are far better, though they don't have our corruption and crime.

L.M.E
L.M.E

This is such a contentious issue with points on both sides. I find myself on the fence, as I imagine most people here in South Africa do. 

If guns are not readily available, that takes out the "impulse" or rage type of killings and suicides, it prevents accidents.  On the other hand we are in a war-zone here with our legal system seemingly impotent against the violence and crime that surrounds us daily.

It sure doesn't help that one of the biggest sources for criminals to obtain their guns is through police corruption. I seem to recall a figure in the region of 30 000* guns that have been "lost" by our police force!

Perhaps if we had a legal system that had more impact on crime, and a government that would actually condemn criminal acts instead of participating, then we could have a completely gun-free society. I would love that.

(*Open to correction)

fcs251
fcs251 like.author.displayName 1 Like

"If guns are not readily available, that takes out the "impulse" or rage type of killings and suicides" You do have valid data to back up such a ridiculous statement don't you? Of course you do not because none exist.If someone wishes to kill you they do not need a "gun" to do so. Another air headed fool. 

L.M.E
L.M.E

It's interesting that you need to pepper your response to my perfectly legitimate opinion with insults and abuse.   I do have data, and personal experience in the field to back that statement, but you are free to simply Google the matter and find out the facts for yourself..

I never claimed that killings would cease without immediate availability of guns but that IMPULSE killings and suicides would be reduced. This should be obvious, if you had anger issues (!) and had a gun at hand when you flew into a rage, or felt suicidal, you would be more likely to use it than if you had a period of time to calm down or think more rationally while you went in search for a weapon.

A knife or a baton requires close contact to kill, and that in itself permits a certain level of self-defence and escape, additionally can shock the culprit into a more sensible frame of mind. This is why knife attacks usually (but not always) result in wounds but not death.   

It seems from your post that your judgement is somewhat flawed and you may have impulse and anger management issues yourself, perhaps you should try to consider that other people have intelligent opinions that differ from yours.